Uncle Frank's Wood Fired Pizza & Cocktails opens in Wantagh
Chris Perrotta longed for a place that he could go to after he finished work at Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails, the Wantagh restaurant he and Frank Ubriaco opened in 2016, which has since established itself as one of Long Island’s very best. “Nothing fancy,” said the chef, “just a place nearby to have a good pizza and throw back a few beers.”
A few weeks ago, the partners opened that place: Uncle Frank’s Pizza & Cocktails has longer hours and is only a mile away from Blackbird, taking over the free-standing building that, until last year, was Corry’s Ale House.
The vibe here is easygoing and family-friendly. So is the fare; mostly pizza with a few starters, sides and pastas. Ubriaco noted that the restaurant wasn’t that difficult to open. “John Corry was a customer at Blackbird and he liked what we did there," he said. "When he decided to close his restaurant, he didn’t want another bar there. We made a deal in September and were open five months later.”
The partners did a tasteful renovation, installing a wood-burning oven in full view of practically every seat. The existing kitchen and finished basement were more than they could have hoped for. And they hit the jackpot with parking: The building has its own lot.
Even coming up with the menu was easy. At Blackbird, each dish — be it the smoked Gouda gougères with onion soubise, the tagliatelle with 24-month-old Parmesan and shaved black truffles, or the roast chicken with cauliflower, green-chili farro and pineapple hot sauce — is an expression of Perrotta’s culinary identity. “Blackbird isn’t for everybody,” he said. “It’s a niche thing. But Uncle Frank’s is eclectic and, really, pretty much everybody loves pizza.”
The signature “Uncle Frank” pie, for example, is topped with a blend of fresh and low-moisture mozzarella. A server described it as “the cheesiest one.” He may be one of Long Island’s most original chefs, but Perrotta knows that sometimes the best pizza is the cheesiest one.
Also on offer are the Queen Marg (a classic Margherita), sausage with Calabrian chili and shaved red onion, pepperoni (made with Ezzo, the Rolls-Royce of pepperoni), cacio e pepe (three cheeses and lots of black pepper), mushroom (with maitakes, shallots, Parmesan and fresh mozzarella) and the Testarossa, a vegan pie made with tomato, roasted garlic and Sicilian oregano whose name honors Perrotta’s mentor, Billy Sansone of Cafe Testarossa in Syosset. The chef even tests pizza traditionalists with a white pie topped with mozzarella, pineapple, speck (smoked prosciutto) and banana peppers.
Before, during or after pizza, you can enjoy meatballs with fresh ricotta, wood-oven roasted littleneck clams, fried artichokes with shredded romaine hearts in a puddle of Caesar dressing, or fried calzone stuffed with burrata, mortadella and pesto. Instead of pizza you might order rigatoni with braised pork, or torchietti with rock shrimp and garlic and lemon. Pizzas and pastas top out at $26; starters and sides are all under $20.
Uncle Frank’s wine list is concise and all Italian. Ten of the 15 selections are available by the glass and most bottles are under $60. Beer selections include Italian imports Peroni and Birra Baladin’s Super Floreale, as well as Grimm’s Wavetable and Blackbird’s own classic lager. Signature cocktails, conceived by beverage director Elizabeth Donohue, are all $15 and include L’Americano (bourbon, amaro, lemon, honey, egg white and a Lambrusco float) and the Quando, Quando, Quando (tequila, espresso, demerara sugar, Espresso Campari and orange peel).
Even staffing Uncle Frank’s came together painlessly. The partners have been developing talent at Blackbird for seven years and, in 2021, they bought Rustic Root in Woodbury (also established in 2016). They now find themselves with a couple of dozen hardworking employees — in the front and back of the house — who are looking for more challenges.
The new venue’s pizzaiolo, Mustafa Kahraman, for example, was a line cook at Rustic Root when the Blackbird team took over, and he turned out to have a real facility with dough. “I like the idea of teaching cooks how to make pizza," Perrotta said. "With three places I want people to have the freedom to bounce around and do everything.”
Perrotta himself has been fantasizing about a pizzeria since long before he opened Blackbird (whose tiny kitchen could not accommodate the tiniest pizza oven) and he can geek out at length about hydration, fermentation and other elements of the craft. But, he noted, “ultimately, pizza is site specific. You can’t finalize your dough until you know the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. Until you get to know your oven, you can’t start to perfect your pie.”
That initial learning curve is flattening out, and Perrotta finds himself eating a pizza every day. “I just never get tired of it.”
Uncle Frank’s Wood Fired Pizza & Cocktails, 3274 Railroad Ave., Wantagh; Closed on Monday and open from 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 516-308-3044, unclefranksli.com