If Chef David Buico could describe his planned marketplace in Huntington Station in two words, it would be “grandma’s house.”
Mercato Cucina is a physical representation of his childhood growing up in Brooklyn with his Italian grandmother, Clementina (also known as Mindy to those close to her).
His love for cooking started at 11, when his grandmother taught him how to make her classic dish, spaghetti pomodoro.
Every Sunday was her “shopping days” and those turned into little adventures for young Buico.
He jokes that as a kid he wasn’t always thrilled to go on these errands, saying he could’ve been “playing stickball or riding bikes instead of hiking all over Dyker Heights to buy groceries.”
“She would send me to five different stores to get the special product that she wanted,” he said. “As I got older, it was a dream to take that childhood and bring it back to reality.”
He realized as he began his journey into the culinary world how those grocery trips introduced him to the importance of fresh, quality ingredients.
Buico worked in landmark kitchens of New York City restaurants for over 30 years, and it was time for him to get back to his roots.
“Grandma B,” as Buico called her, became his driving force to opening up Mercato Cucina, which translates to Market Kitchen in Italian.
Located at 1046 New York Ave., Mercato Cucina is a grab-and-go kitchen that offers a selection of fresh homemade pastas and sauces, fresh mozzarella, salumeria offerings, as well as an Italian-inspired breakfast and lunch menu.
“I had a little fun and made some cool sandwiches that remind me of my childhood,” Buico said. “Each sandwich has a story or is named after something in my life as a kid and as a young adult.”
The chef also honored his parents with one particular breakfast menu item, the Stevie’s Special, potatoes and egg on semolina bread.
He says his mom would make potato and egg omeletes for his dad when he would go off to work at a clothing store named Stevie’s in Brooklyn.
Buico credits his girlfriend and business partner, Debbie Stone, for coming up with the name of the marketplace and then running with the idea.
The atmosphere is made to feel like a person is walking into an Italian grandma’s house for Sunday dinner, Buico said.
Patrons can browse cans of tomato sauces, polenta, olive oils, meats, and cheeses while Frank Sinatra sings in the background.
Mercato Cucina has all the ingredients to make an authentic Italian family meal without the hassle of shopping at a supermarket.
“It’s about trying to get the family back to sitting at the table again,” he said. “Put down the cell phones, put down the computers, turn off the video games, and sit down to have dinner with the family.”
He’s hoping to host a grand opening on May 1.
Right now, Mercato Cucina is in a soft-opening stage, during which he and the team have been working out the kinks and headaches, but people are welcome to stop in and shop.
“This is my life, I love what I do, I’ve been cooking for 30 years and I want to make sure it’s perfect,” he says. “The area is bright and lively, and everyone who walks through the door is so excited because it’s something that the neighborhood needed.”
Top: The exterior of Mercato Cucina in Huntington Station, opening May 1. All photos courtesy of David Buico.