Best of The Wursts: From Nautilus to Nonna

Steak night at Nautilus Cafe can’t be beat.
Steak night at Nautilus Cafe can’t be beat.

La Nonna Bella is a bona fide Italian restaurant in Garden City operated by chef Lino DeVivo, who comes from Conversano, a Bari suburb in Puglia on eastern Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Puglia is renowned for wholesome and diverse tastes of simple and healthy recipes passed down for generations. La Nonna Bella means the beautiful grandma, and you can taste  grandma’s love in the recipes here.

DeVivo presents dishes from this region that yields like the native orecchiette pasta made from duram wheat. Pastas from Puglia tend to be made from only flour and water because eggs were once a luxury. At La Bella Nonna, as in Italy, the ingredients are fresh, wide ranging and simply prepared.

Our waiter, Nelson, recommended several appetizers: Carpaccio de Manzo adorned with arugula and shaved parmesan cheese; Insalata Di Polpo e patate with celery, olives, and drizzled with a lemon garlic-infused olive oil; and a special, tartare of succulent shrimp, balanced with avocado, corn, wasabi mayo, and balsamic.

We had the choice of having branzino served as a whole fish filet or whole and deboned tableside. We chose cooked whole because there is so much flavor that comes from the bone. The server masterfully trims the fish, but if you prefer, DeVivo will debone it in the kitchen. The fish was served with fresh herbed olive oil and assorted delectable vegetables.

Amongst the homemade pastas is Gnocchi di Alberobello with olive gnocchi with cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, arugula and shaved ricotta. Don’t pass up the Cavatelli Conversanese, homemade cavatelli sautéed with caramelized onion, spinach and smashed fava beans, reminiscent of DeVivo’s hometown. The other selections of meat, fish and fowl remain tempting for future visits.

The substantial wine list has wines from Toscana, Puglia, Calabria and Piemonte, ranging from $38 to $370.

We opted for berries for dessert after our generous meal, although we were very tempted by the homemade bomboloni, aka donuts – one filled with Italian custard, another with nutella, and the third with cannoli cream.

La Nonna Bella, 660 Franklin Ave., Garden City, 516-248-0366. lanonnabella.com


Freeport’s Nautical Mile is renowned for seafood restaurants. Recently we visited the Nautilus Café, which has been on Woodcleft Avenue since 1988. The restaurant continues to deservedly enjoy an excellent reputation for fresh fish and meats.

Brian Crofton is owner and executive chef of this staple waterfront eatery where wood walls complete the feel of being on a boat. Our attentive waitress, Vicki, guided us through an impressive list of specials as a creative bread assortment arrived.

Wednesday night is steak night, when the menu includes choice of a cocktail, salad or soup of the day, and potato or vegetable. The main dish is boneless prime rib, grilled marinated skirt steak, aged shell steak or veal porterhouse chop.

Our appetizer was tender sesame-crusted rare tuna harmonized with soy sauce, cucumber wasabi sauce, and ginger sesame sauce.

All dishes come with a Caesar or house salad. The Caesar was freshly dressed so as not to overpower the crisp, fresh romaine lettuce. The flavorful dressing is prepared daily from
scratch. It was amongst the best Caesar salads we have had outside of the famous Brown Derby in Los Angeles.

We couldn’t resist the great deal on the steak night menus and ordered the succulent porterhouse veal chop unified with a new twist of vegetable, burnt broccoli. The veal chop was thick, moist and broiled to our liking.

Fresh swordfish was a special that night. We chose to have the well-executed blackened swordfish. Too often swordfish is dry and overcooked, but not at the Nautilus. It was thick, delicate, delectable and perfectly cooked.

We resisted the sweets and finished with fresh strawberries, but without the fresh homemade whipped cream. We did eye the selections at neighboring tables. The sizzling apple crumb pie, frozen mud pie and warm chocolate lava cake looked tempting.

The Nautilus Café also has a nice wine selection of reds, whites and sparking varieties ranging from $30 to $145 per bottle along with by-theglass selections.

Nautilus Cafe, 46 Woodcleft Avenue, Freeport, 516-379-2566. nautiluscafe.com

Jeff is a practicing attorney. Vera is a retired schoolteacher. Both love Long Island food and wine and are delighted to share their discoveries with you. Contact them at [email protected]

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