On Long Island, it takes longer to boil water than to get to your nearest pizzeria-ristorante. Most are pretty good; a few, very good.
Then, there's Pepe Rosso 24, an airy and colorful space in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Chef Sergio Macancella hails from Puglia in Italy and cooked at Felidia in Manhattan; Capri-born co-owner Michael Tizzano offers recipe input and makes desserts. Together, they show what this kind of affordably priced eatery is capable of: excellence.
Surprising that such an ideal thin-crusted personal Margherita pizza comes from a gas-fired brick oven. Even more amazing is how the ultra-thin-crusted 16-inch pie retains its crispness under a delectable topping of speck (imported smoked prosciutto), house-made mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.
My eyes widen after one bite of the bresaola salad, air-dried cured beef topped with arugula that's dressed with lemon, crowned with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, drizzled with truffle oil. An appetizer special of crab cakes - virtually all crab - is of a caliber that's rare at twice the price.
Distinction informs simple classics. Take the pitch-perfect rigatoni Bolognese - al dente pasta topped with a heady cream-enriched meat sauce. A friend's eggplant rollatine is nothing short of sumptuous. There's also penne rustiche made with crumbled sausage and tender broccoli rabe in a garlic-and-wine sauce. Not fancy; just delicious. I taste the sea in the linguine with white clam sauce.
For dessert, Tizzano's transporting pear-and-ricotta tort is an airy Napoleon-like construct of delicate butter cookies, diced poached pear and creamy ricotta garnished with freshly whipped cream. His tiramisu is rich, light, subtly boozy.
Chicken contadina features juicy white-meat pieces, potatoes and sausage in a rosemary-wine sauce. It's a very good dish, but bone-in dark meat would have put it over the top.
Reservations are taken for four or more; put this one on speed dial.