Today I stumbled upon the best Margherita pizza I've had on Long Island. It was not in a pizzeria. It wasn't even in a restaurant. It was in a little strip mall deli-caterer whose basic elements are repeated hundreds, maybe thousands, of times throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties: prepared foods, ready-to-go soups and salads, imported Italian dry goods.
Along one wall is a display case housing prepared foods, hot entrees and freshly made sausage. Along the opposite wall are ready-to-go salads and soups, as well as a freezer case of ravioli and other fresh pasta. There's also a free-standing shelving unit with a nice assortment of imported Italian dry goods.
It was the back wall that caught my attention, dominated by a real-live wood-fired brick oven. Then I saw a pile of panini filled with colorful combinations of homemade mozzarella, plum tomatoes, arugula, broccoli rabe, hot sausage, eggplant Parmesan, you get the idea. "You bake the bread for the panini?" Of course, said the woman working the oven, whom I later learned was Roman-born Patrizia Colatosti.
"What else comes out of the oven?" That's when I saw the pizza: a textbook Margherita with a crust as delicious as its spare, perfect topping of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. For me, it doesn't get better than Margherita, but I was just as impressed by the artistry of another pie, the "baci," made with smoked mozzarella, pancetta and thinly sliced red onions.
Piccolo, it turns out, has been open since 1999 but, about four years ago, owner Sal Restivo expanded what had been an even smaller store and decided to install a wood-burning oven. His brother Charlie Restivo was an accomplished pizza maker (a veteran of Naples 45 in Manhattan and Naples 25 in Manhasset) and the family was in possession of various secret recipes for dough, sauce, etc.
This is not an ideal venue: Piccolo closes at 7 p.m., there are no tables or chairs, the delicate pies do not travel well. But I'd be happier eating this pizza alone in my car than most other pies in the swankiest pizzeria. -- Erica Marcus
Patrizia Colatosi takes bread out of the wood-burning brick oven at Piccolo Gourmet in New Hyde Park. (Newsday Photo / Erica Marcus / May 11, 2010)