Michael Napolitano wanted Nunzi’s to stand out from the many traditional Italian restaurants on Long Island.
Firstly, the location needed to be off the beaten path enough to skirt main street bar scenes. He also wanted monthly nightlife parties. And above all, the place, he said, “has to be Instagramable.”
“Your phone does everything before you in today’s day and age,” Napolitano said. “Your phone eats first, your phone drinks first, your phone walks into a place before you do.
“If you are going to a place in three or four days, you’re looking at the place on Instagram to see what’s going on there, what’s happening, what’s the vibe of the place,” he added.
For the new restaurant, this means not only picture perfect food, but photo opportunities across the restaurant. Everywhere from the dining room to the back-lit bar and from the back of the restaurant to even the restrooms are designed as social media story tapestries.
Among the pieces most likely to earn Instagram and Facebook likes and shares from Napolitano’s family and friends is the giant dining room painting of his grandfather, his namesake with the nickname “Nunzi,” who passed away three years ago at 76. Napolitano mentioned that unknowing visitors ask if it’s actor Joe Pesci.
His relatives see the place often, considering they are key part of the staff. Napolitano’s father Vincent, with decades of hospitality experience in Manhattan, guides him and his mother Stephanie greets diners on weekends. His younger brother, Vincent Jr., manages and waits tables.
And inside the kitchen is his grandmother, Haydee, who teaches the chefs a thing or two about her traditional family recipes.
Nunzi’s: modern Italian
When it came time to work out a menu that stood out from traditional Italian spots, Napolitano stuck to the tagline, “modern Italian.”
For him, executive chef Marc Wisehart and his uncle Anthony LoCastro, a seasoned chef, this meant classic Italian ingredients and family recipes infused into new mediums.
The clearest examples are the Lemoncello wings, doused in sugary sweet sauce made from real Lemoncello, and the rotolo di uova, which Napolitano refers to as Sicilian egg rolls, stuffed with sausage and broccoli rabe.
“My Uncle Sonny used to bring us these egg rolls every holiday,” he said. “We love these, why wouldn’t we put them on the menu?”
The restaurant has also produced hits with its sweet and savory Philly cheesesteak appetizer with shaved ribeye and caramelized onions, as well as its spicy rigatoni alla vodka entrée.
Of course, the classics are still to be found. Napolitano said he offers what he ate growing up, and still eats every Sunday, like Grandma’s Meatballs, an amalgamation of beef, veal and pork with a subtle red pepper kick, Grandpa’s Rigatoni in traditional red sauce, and an array of meat and fish dishes.
Striking while the iron’s hot
With three months of Nunzi’s under his belt, Napolitano said he is already looking to make some changes and grow the Nunzi’s name.
In 2022, Nunzi’s will open for lunch hours. Further down the road is a second — and possibly a third and fourth — Nunzi’s.
“You got to strike while the iron’s hot, so we’re already looking to do the next one,” Napolitano said. “We have a couple of ideas of where we want to go with it. We want to do another regular Nunzi’s and we want to do a couple of off-brand concept ones, like a Nunzi’s seafood type place or a Nunzi’s steakhouse.”
Location and hours
Nunzi’s is located at 125 Secatogue Ave. in Farmingdale. They’re closed on Tuesdays, but open for dinner the rest of the week. The eatery opens at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Nunzi’s on the inside: Picture perfect
Top photo: From left to right, managing partners Frank Azzara, Vincent Napolitano and Michael Napolitano.