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Father and son bring Italian espresso, gelato to Rockville Centre cafe

An affogato at Tazzetto, an Italian coffee shop

An affogato at Tazzetto, an Italian coffee shop that has opened in Rockville Centre and is planning more locations. Credit: Newsday / Corin Hirsch

A recent visitor to Italy can return home filled with complaints. “How can they call this carbonara?” might be one. Or, a deep grimace while sipping a Starbucks espresso. When it comes to gelato — compared to the cloudlike stuff they ate every day on the streets of Rome, they may be at a loss for words.

Vincent Arena and his father, Francesco, were familiar with such grievances, especially as they pertained to espresso. The elder Arena had moved from Calabria to the United States as a child, and later, spent years tracking down iconic Italian food and drink to import. A few years ago, he opened an Island Park café with his son, Tazzetto, to sell Italian-roasted coffee beans and the equipment for making it at home.

The espresso comes from a family the Arenas know in Italy who have won awards for their slow-roasted beans, sourced from various regions before being blended. “They’ve been roasting for three generations, and it's a medium roast with a really rich crema,” said Vincent Arena, 24, referring to the foam that froths across fresh-brewed espresso.

Earlier this year, the Arena closed their first café and opened a larger one in Rockville Centre. It's a sleek, modern, sun-splashed place where you can order espresso, cappuccino, and their brethren at the counter  — plus pastries, croissants, panini and pizzas, mostly imported from Italy — and kick back with a view of one of Rockville Centre’s busiest corners.

Of supreme importance to many, though, might be Tazzetto’s gelato. Here, the creamy stuff is made in small batches on Italian gelato equipment, with virgin ingredients such as raw pistachios and hazelnuts. “We brought in a gelato chef from Italy,” Arena said, to train the staff, and claims Tazzetto's gelato is as good as any you’ll find in Italy. The cafe keeps six or so flavors on stock, including a pumpkin spice gelato currently in rotation.

In an unusual twist, Arena (a trained engineer) and his dad are so committed to reducing their carbon footprint that they take spent coffee grounds home to spread in the garden. When they open a second spot in Oceanside by late October — in a former Starbucks — that compost will probably double.

Tazzetto, 263 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre. 516-442-1143. tazzettorvc.square.site

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