What’s the best restaurant on the Island? Steve’s Piccola Bussola in Syosset, at least according to my own recent, completely unscientific survey of Uber drivers who’ve picked me up over the past few days. I myself had never heard of the place, further proof, if any is needed, that I’ve lived on Long Island for exactly five minutes. As anyone who’s been here even six minutes knows, there is a Piccola something on just about every street corner, and at least six Piccola Bussolas of different ownership and provenance Islandwide.
The one run by Steve Vaccaro (he actually runs three) boasts heaps of family-style everything, moderate pricing (see exception below), and a greatest hits list of Italian eatery faves: marsalas, Parmigianas, piccatas and the like. At the Syosset location I visited, it also boasts — according to an employee I talked with — a staff comprised almost entirely of Peruvians, Hondurans and Mexicans. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Steve’s can’t serve good, competent American Italian food — far from it — but it does perhaps explain why the sound system is tuned to “La Lambada” and other Latin favorites instead of, say, “Funiculi, Funicula.”
“It smells clean in here,” said my dinner companion, which is the kind of thing fans tend to say about Steve’s. They come for the dependability, the eight individually wrapped pats of butter accompanying a warm, if unremarkable bread service, and the “single” portion of calamari for $18 that will keep no fewer than three people in squid.
There are other happy surprises, namely Steve’s exceptional baked clams — rich and springy — and also a few unhappy ones. Order the cheapest red on the menu, as we did, a 2015 Robert Mondavi cab priced $35, and you may well get a 2017 that sells for $8.99 online. The décor too is a forgettable assemblage of Roma maps, sun-dappled and nonexistent Tuscan villages, and other hoary staples of Italian restaurant art.
But I’m not here to disagree with the Uberatti, not as long as Steve’s chicken marsala features well-cooked fowl surrounded by large sauteed mushrooms bathed in a savory broth ($24). The veal piccata swam in so much sauce it took the breading off the meat, but the meat itself was rich, flavorful and decently priced ($20).
Steve’s Piccola Bussola offers respectable Italian at mostly modest prices and the service is quite good. My conclusion: all in all, it pays to listen to the recommendations of Uber drivers. They rarely steer you wrong.
Steve's Piccola Bussola is at 41 Jackson Ave. in Syosset, 516-364-8383. There are also locations at 649 Old Country Rd. in Westbury and 352 Wheeler Rd. in Hauppauge. Info at stevespiccolabussola.com. Hours are Monday through Thursday, noon to 9:30 p.m.; Friday noon to 10 p.m.; Saturday 1:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.