Sansone Market in Garden City Park is turning out some of Long Island's top pizza at the hands of Auggie Russo. Food writer Erica Marcus explores the offerings.  Credit: Linda Rosier

When the owners of Sansone Foods, a 68-year-old wholesaler of Italian specialty items, opened a retail market in 2019, they installed a state-of-the-art Neapolitan pizza oven. It was used intermittently until this month, when top-of-the-line Neapolitan pizza maker Auggie Russo joined the ranks.

Russo, a trained chef with decades of fine-dining and Italian experience, gained a following for his artisanal pizza during the pandemic when he first turned his apartment in Brooklyn into a pizzeria and then started popping up at bars all over the borough. His compact operation earned him the nickname Tiny Pizza Kitchen.

The setup at Sansone is tight — the oven is so close to the display case that his pizza peel sometimes jabs the calzones and prosciutto breads — but to Russo, it’s a big step up.

“I used to bake literally in the gutter,” he said. “I had three little ovens and it is so great to be inside and to be able to see six pies cooking all at once.”

Russo's still getting used to that oven, but his pizza is already among the best on Long Island, with a thin but supple crust and a rim that he pinches at regular intervals for “more contoured bubbles.” He starts his Margherita with a thin sprinkle of Pecorino and Parmesan and then uses a mixture of canned tomatoes — he’s got the pick of the litter at Sansone — topped with fresh mozzarella and a small amount of low-moisture “for that pull.” Finished with a chiffonade of basil, it’s a thing of beauty.

But Russo also has an innovative soul and he is particularly drawn to Middle Eastern flavors such as preserved lemon, dried rose petals, baharat (a spice mixture) and pomegranate seeds. He uses these to make a pizza with a blend of cheeses (mozzarella, Gruyère, Cheddar and more) that he calls, enigmatically, the Miss Betty White. There’s always a marinara pie (no mozzarella, but with an added fillip of thyme and toasted panko breadcrumbs) and, right now, the Fig & Pig (prosciutto, wine-soaked figs and fig preserve plus cheese, salted red onion, scallions, preserved lemon and dried rose petals). Pizzas, 12-inch round, range from $18 to $23.

Pizzaiolo Auggie Russo also makes sandwiches on his focaccia at...

Pizzaiolo Auggie Russo also makes sandwiches on his focaccia at Sansone Market in Garden City Park. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Russo’s pizza dough is pretty wet at about 72% hydration but, for his focaccia, he bumps it up to 85%, which results in a lofty bread full of air pockets. Square trays (16-by-16 inches) can be had plain ($19.99) or topped with olives or sun-dried tomatoes ($23.99). A smaller, naked square is $3.99, or have a square split and filled with mozzarella-tomato-basil, mortadella-stracciatella-arugula, or eggplant-prosciutto-pecorino crema ($15.99 to $18.99). There are also round focaccia split and stuffed with a variety of fillings, from grilled or fried chicken cutlets to broccoli rabe or roasted peppers ($7.99 for a half, $15.99 for a whole).

Everything is available to go or you can sit at one of the tables in Sansone’s small cafe where you can also enjoy coffee and pastries.

For now, Russo only makes pizza during Sansone’s business hours five days a week, but he foresees expanding his hours and adding some evening pop-ups in the future. “All I do is make pizza and think about pizza,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and ask Siri what time it is because I just want to get to work. Free nights don’t appeal to me because I just go home and read about pizza.”

Sansone Market, 2147 Jericho Tpke., Garden City Park, 516-447-3525, Open Wednesday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

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