1249 Melville Rd., Farmingdale
SERVICE: Counter service is friendly and swift
ESSENTIALS: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; parking lot; handicap accessible
If Talluci’s had a vestibule, a wine list and a waiter, it would be one of Farmingdale’s best Italian restaurants. This counter-service pizzeria has the kitchen chops and dining room style to rival that of its bigger, more ambitious and far more expensive neighbors.
From the salads to the tiramisu, restraint and class reign. And with its exposed ductwork, subway-tiled walls, reclaimed wood siding and marble counter- and tabletops, Talluci’s looks more like a chic gastropub than a neighborhood slice joint. I hope the students across the street at Farmingdale State College know how lucky they are.
The presiding spirit here is executive chef Danielle Cataffo, whose partner, her father, Arthur Cataffo, owned a succession of restaurants and pizzerias, including Carrington’s in Melville, The Grill Room in Hauppauge and Pasta Cucina in Farmingdale. The name “Talluci” is a mash-up of the elder Cataffo’s granddaughters, Tallula and Lucia (Danielle’s daughter).
Manning the deck ovens is Danato Nortesano, whose decades of experience are evident in his accomplished pizzas. While Talluci’s specializes in innovative, Instagram-worthy pies, it aces what it calls the “classic NYC round,” with a supple but giving crust and generous but balanced toppings. I had one with chunks of juicy sausage and just-browned mushrooms that could easily fuel an all-night cram session.
Most of the pies on the counter behind the glass are rectangular. Soon after Talluci’s opened in 2015, Cataffo observed, “Everyone loved our grandma crust, which gets baked twice — once when it’s just the dough, and then after it’s ‘dressed.’ ” So she expanded the rectangular offerings from the pitch-perfect grandma to include, among others, Buffalo chicken, chicken-bacon-ranch and the popular bacon-egg-cheese pie. “We’re next to a bagel place,” she said, “and in the morning I’d see the college kids split up because some of them wanted breakfast. So I made a breakfast pizza.”
Breakfast at Talluci’s means a crisp square of pizza topped with melted Cheddar, crumbled bacon and an over-easy egg ready to spill at the slightest poke. A full-scale Cimbali espresso machine means you can complete the meal with an expertly pulled cappuccino.
Next to the pizzas stands the proud, deep-dish rigatoni pie featuring macaroni tubes, lightly cloaked with vodka sauce, standing shoulder to shoulder inside a pizza crust and topped with mozzarella and Parmesan. A slab satisfies the jones for both pizza and pasta. Or take home a whole pie ($26) for a showstopping centerpiece to an Italian buffet.
On weekdays starting about 1 p.m., you’ll also see Nortesano’s freshly baked bread — chewy, crisp-crusted loaves that easily outshine the cottony specimens you find in the bread baskets of so many local Italian restaurants.
These loaves form the basis of Talluci’s heros, the finest of which is the meatball Parmesan, with soft, lush meatballs, bright sauce and gooey cheese. Nortesano also makes a round bread that, when hollowed out, makes a cozy home for three meatballs, sauce and ricotta.
There are also satisfying sandwiches on homemade focaccia, but skip the sliders, whose buns (not homemade) lack the heft to handle their fillings.
I would never have expected a pizzeria to serve such a virtuoso wedge salad, an entire head of crisp romaine cut in half to expose its pale heart and blanketed with blue cheese, chopped bacon and tomato — all for $7. On a more Italianate note, the Caesar was luxuriant with plenty of anchovy.
Most comforting among the pastas here is the rigatoni alla vodka, creamy and slightly sweet and, like the $7 wedge salad, more-than-reasonably priced at $10. Add an order of the not-too-sweet tiramisu ($3) and you’ve got an elegant $20 dinner for two.
Missteps here are rare: The tight, simple lasagna needed more sauce to come to life. Eggplant Parm, whether in a hero or a slider, had too high a breading-to-eggplant ratio. The generous quantity of spaghetti that served as a bed for the chicken Parm was overcooked and watery.
Talluci’s does not aim to be a full-service restaurant. Neither the limited menu nor the counter service nor, on a cold night, the draft that sweeps in through the front door bespeak an ambition to be more than what it is. But, as a neighborhood pizzeria, it delivers in every way possible.