Most every night, brothers Domenico and Anthony Sacramone greet diners to their old-fashioned Italian restaurant with smiles and handshakes. About twice a week, their 87-year-old mother, Maddalena, is in the kitchen making pasta. Family pride runs high at this spinoff of a long-standing Astoria place.
Both restaurants boast coal-fired pizza ovens, the one in East Meadow producing an "old-fashioned" pie whose crisp, fragrant crust is topped with a confluence of fresh mozzarella, basil and crushed San Marzano tomatoes. A cheese-free marinara pizza, while good, isn't quite as satisfying.
Grilled octopus, an appetizer special, is so tender and fresh, it almost transcends its balsamic marinade. If only the chef had used lemon instead. An appetizer portion of Mama Sacramone's spinach ravioli, al dente pasta stuffed with ricotta in a spinach-tomato sauce, is not piping hot but otherwise fresh and flavorsome. The meltingly good gnocchi, in a tomato ragu, gets it all right on all counts. Her meatballs, though, prove a bit dense -- not bready enough.
Lightness characterizes linguine with white clam sauce, fresh clams in their shells bathed in a sauce made with just the right amount of garlic. What impresses me about the small shells tossed with sausage and broccoli rabe is that the vegetable is tender and not the least bit bitter.
The spirit of Little Italy informs the salcicci con pepperoni, a coil of sausage smothered with peppers and onions, "San Gennaro" style. But a side of penne marinara arrives, surprisingly, some 15 minutes before the meat. Timing is well-coordinated, however, the night a friend orders eggplant Parmigiana, rich and airy-light. Chicken Marsala, a nicely executed classic, stars tender cutlets in a winey mushroom sauce.
Tops among finales is the only one made on premises: a sundae featuring bananas, ice cream and Tuaca, a vanilla brandy imported from Livorno.
Worth raising a glass to: The restaurant's intelligent, well-priced wine list. And its genial, caring crew.