You can tell that David Buico has had a long career in restaurant kitchens. He goes about his work with calm efficiency and economy of movement, whether he’s slicing prosciutto or making mozzarella or using his ever-present dish towel to wipe away a spot of oil on the counter.
Buico, Brooklyn born and bred, spent decades running kitchens in Manhattan, but his new Huntington Station spot, Mercato Cucina, represents a departure in more than just geography. First, instead of an audience of other cooks, he’s now in full view of his customers. Second, he’s not only the chef, he’s the owner.
Mercato Cucina (literally "market kitchen") opened in May on a stretch of New York Avenue just north of the LIRR station that, thanks to all the new housing, is now home to hundreds of new residents. At breakfast, they’ll pick up coffee and an egg sandwich. Mercato Cucina goes beyond standard brews with specialty drinks such as the "Dyker Heights," made with three shots of espresso, sugar and lemon peel, shaken and iced. Breakfast sandwiches ($6.95 to $7.95, served until 10:30 a.m.) include the "Cadillac," with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, eggs and smashed avocado on a club roll, and the "Mindy’s special," a cheese omelet on battered Italian toast.
Lunch sandwiches range from $11.95 to 14.95 and include the "Belt Parkway," with mortadella, turkey, Fontina and mustard on a club roll, and the bestselling "cugine" featuring eggplant, mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomato spread. Here Buico’s attention to detail is on full display: The eggplant are always slim specimens, to minimize bitterness, and the slices are breaded with panko crumbs, to maximize crunch. The mozzarella is his own homemade, but the slices destined for sandwiches will always be a few hours old so as not to "bleed out" on the roll. That roll is a custom-made "salami bread"— yes, that means it is flecked with bits of imported salami— from Cardinale Bakery in Carle Place.
Dinner, Buico figures you will have at home. He’s prepared ready-to-eat entrees that just need to be reheated and pizza dough that just needs to be topped with one of his sauces. There’s his own fresh pasta, ravioli from Raffetto’s on Houston Street and artisanal dried Mancini pasta from Italy’s Le Marche region. You could do quite a bit of your grocery shopping here as well, from the chef’s own giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and hot sauce, to condiments that he imports from Tuscany, to Calabro fresh ricotta from Connecticut and canned California tomatoes from Bianco DiNapoli.
Mercato Cucina will also cater your small or large party and, a few times a month, it hosts after-hours cooking classes.
When Buico left the NYC restaurant scene for Long Island, his first idea was to open a ghost kitchen. But when he happened upon this sunny little storefront, formerly a deli, he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning the kind of Italian market he grew up with in Brooklyn. He and his partner, Debbie Stone, created a décor that is retro without feeling like a stage set.
Mercato Cucina is at1046 New York Ave., Huntington Station, 631-205-6340, mercatocucina.com