204 Jericho Tpke., Commack
(Mayfair Shopping Center)
SERVICE: Attentive, upbeat
AMBIENCE: Sporty, casual, noisy
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 p.m.; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible
Prato 850's name takes in the temperature of its wood-fired oven, the Italian word for "meadow," and a Tuscan city known for luxury textiles.
This buoyant, wood-lined spot, free of tablecloths, is the heir to a branch of Ciao Baby, and has the same owners as the big-portion Italian-American restaurant, which continues in Massapequa Park. It may not be near a meadow, but freshness abounds.
The partners are Len Oliva, Rich Cammarata and Frank Cammarata, and the chef is Katelyn Hayes, formerly of The Frisky Oyster in Greenport. Prato 850 is part gastropub, part Italian-American eatery, and all in for colorful, flavorful food and the drinks that go with them.
The big, noisy restaurant has enough TVs to get you through the baseball playoffs and sufficient pizzas from that high-heat oven to comfort you no matter the outcome. The oven is tucked away in the southeast corner, but it's really Prato 850's centerpiece.
So, order one or two of the pizzas, led by the "Prato burrato," a playful, slightly sweet, and diverting pie capped with burrata, hot honey and roasted pistachios. Share it to start or as a middle course. The house's Margherita pizza, with house-made fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and basil, more than rivals it. The "drunken burrata" production boasts prosciutto, burrata, but too much vodka sauce.
If you're in a fiery mood, try the 850 chicken wings, which rates five flames on the heat-o-meter. At the other end of the list, you'll end up in the province of cotton candied wings.
Cool off with mini lobster salad rolls, perched on profiteroles and boosted by lemon-chive aioli and candied lemon peel. A special opener of cheese "cakes" translates into a wedge of goat cheese cake with a drizzle of warm honey and another made with blue cheese and scallions, served with crackers. It's right for a group. Likewise, the fried calamari tossed with a sweet chili sauce and toasted peanuts, which doesn't overdo it while delivering crunch to spare.
Buffalo potato chip nachos are fine with any of Prato 850's brews. The house-made chips emerge covered with bacon-strewn pico de gallo, blue cheese, hot sauce and, to ensure the upstate designation, celery, carrots and a blue-cheese fondue dip. Make that two beers. Arancini, or rice balls, are the ultra-mild, blond variety, offered as if to counter any of the spicier appetizers.
"A little sweet, a little heat" is the title given spaghetti in a spicy, garlicky red sauce that's refreshed with a dollop of whipped ricotta. "Nona's Sunday sauce" has the heartiness and aroma of the porky gravy that many remember as the best weekend alarm clock. This version arrives in a pot with veal-beef-pork meatballs, sausages hot and sweet, and some bone-in lamb. But the rigatoni that supports it is hard beyond al dente.
Braised pork shank, an ample affair that could feed two, is driven by rosemary, mellowed by fried polenta cakes and Parmesan cheese. Cotija-truffle fries accompany the juicy, marinated skirt steak. Capers and a caulflower-beet puree add some flair to the salmon finished in white wine beurre blanc with artichoke hearts.
Sandwiches include a lively, cross-border Cubano Italiano, with braised pork, mortadella, provolone, smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers, hot mustard and a pickle; and a skirt steak sandwich, dubbed Italian, with caramelized peppers, onions, cilantro and Cheddar cheese packed into focaccia-style bread. They'll brace you for a long afternoon with the Giants or the Jets.
Limoncello-spurred pound cake with watermelon sorbet finishes well ahead of so-so chocolate mini cannoli and the white wine-poached pear with vanilla ice cream.
But you may start thinking again about that "Prato burrato" pizza. It would be an apropos finale, too.