“An Italian cantina?” laughs a friend whom we’ve told about Tony’s. “What do they serve there? Pizzadillas?”
Well, yes, actually, they do. In 11 varieties. A name like Tony’s Tacos might be standard, but Mike Scotto’s place is anything but. His new Floral Park shop aims to make a serious, persuasive case for food that’s — I don’t know — Mexitalian? Think chicken parm tacos ($5), tortilla chips with guacamole and burrata ($9.95), and yes, pizza toppings on an open-faced tortilla ($8.50 to $13).
Your skepticism has been duly noted.
The About page for Tony’s tells a story that begins in Naples in 1988, when Scotto was 5. So let’s jump ahead, past the winter day he arrived in New York dressed only in a T-shirt and flip-flops. “Mike spent the next few years of his life working side by side with Umberto Corteo, the ‘grandma pizza legend,’” writes Scotto, and he rose to become the executive chef overseeing all of the Island’s Umberto’s locations. Along the way he taught several chefs the secrets to great pizzamaking, among them Joel Mejia, who repaid the favor by teaching Scotto the secrets to great Latin food. From there, it was just a short leap to Tony’s, which opened in June.
Maybe it was the stylish, hot pink signage on Jericho Turnpike, or the energy of Scotto’s employees, or the beverage dispensers filled with colorful gallons of organic, fresh-squeezed juice — watermelon, pineapple dragon fruit — along with frozen peach and mango margaritas. Anyway, something about Tony’s seemed legit. All right, I said. Bring on the chicken parm taco, the Genovese on tortilla, the guaco-ratta.
A few online commenters have noted that Italian sauces and flour tortillas can be an unwieldy combination, and I get that. Unlike pizza crust, say, tortillas quickly soak through, giving them the appearance of that brand of paper towel that’s always losing to Bounty in the commercials. Still, I didn’t give up on Tony’s tacos. Far from it. The chicken pieces were well-seasoned and fried-to-order, and the Genovese’s shredded beef laced with caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese seemed to actually gain something from the wheat in the tortilla. And while no chip has the integrity to stand up to the sponginess of burrata, the guacamole was decent and the pico de gallo inspired.
Fresh ingredients and bright flavors are the kitchen’s guiding lights, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to trying Tony’s cheese ravioli taco the next time I visit. Really. Oh, and those pizzadillas, which come topped with everything from barbacoa and black beans to chorizo and broccoli rabe. How much they’re going for an actual pizza taste is anyone’s guess, but every pizzadilla comes with a cauliflower crust option, which tells you something.
Tony’s Tacos is at 262 Jericho Tpke in Floral Park, 516-519-8998, tonystaco.com. Opening hours are daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.