Jeff Manzullo, currently head chef at the newly opened Tiki Joe’s Captain’s Table at Captree Boat Basin is no stranger to cooking up some of the tastiest seafood on Long Island.
Saying that cooking is “in his blood,” Manzullo, 57, has been navigating hot stoves and busy kitchens for the better of three decades since graduating from top culinary school Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island in 1982, four years after celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse graduated. Recalling his early days as a chef, Manzullo jokes that he had originally planned to be a marine biologist but then learned there was little money in the profession, so he decided to change things up.
“I went from studying fish to cooking them,” he says.
Manzullo once appeared as a contestant on the cooking show Top Chef many years back. He recalls that his grandfather was also once a sous chef at the New York City landmark Waldorf Astoria Hotel back in the 1930s.
Over the years, Manzullo says, he has cooked at a number of restaurants across the country, including a few in the Florida Panhandle, before coming to Long Island where he owned and ran his own restaurant, Mulligan’s in Hampton Bays, from 197 to 2003. That, he says, was before rising rents in the now super trendy Hamptons forced him to close.
Ironically, Mulligan’s was primarily a popular burger spot. He recalls routinely going through up to 900 pounds of chopped meat per week.
Manzullo also spent considerable time crafting cuisine at other notable Long Island restaurants including Morgan’s Beach House Restaurant in Patchogue, Mickey Felice’s Steakhouse, also in Patchogue, Long Island National Golf Club in Riverhead, and Larry’s Crab House in East Moriches.
Asked about his start in cooking, Manzullo nonchalantly says he kind of “stumbled” into cooking despite the fact that he was always very good at preparing food.
“I didn’t picture myself sitting behind a desk…I have a hard time sitting still as it is,” he explains, describing his frenetic, always-on-the-go style of cooking.
“This is a good business for me because there’s always something exciting going on,” Manzullo says. He notes that he’s had his share of crossed paths with notables and dignitaries alike, including cooking at one time for LI radio personality WBAB-FM’s Bob Buchmann and his Jukebox Café as well as cooking for former President Gerald Ford.
Manzullo’s current focus is helping Tiki Joe’s Beach Club visitors to discover the joys of quality yet moderately priced seafood at the just-opened Captain’s Table restaurant upstairs at Tiki Joe’s Captree Boat Basin. The restaurant is on the former site of Captree Cove.
The mostly seafood menu at the Captain’s Table was a joint effort between Manzullo and his boss Joe Vitrano, president and CEO of J&B Restaurant Partners, which owns Tiki Joe’s Captain’s Table in Bay Shore as well as a number of other Tiki Joe’s concessions across LI, including Smith Point, Cedar Beach, and Cupsogue parks, in addition to a number of Friendly’s locations.
The reasonably priced menu, which features only a couple of items topping $20, includes standards such as calamari, baked clams ( which Vitrano says are “likely the best baked clams you’ll ever have”), mussels, clams on the half shell, marinated flat-iron steak, mahi-mahi, and lobster ravioli.
Manzullo’s specialties include puttanesca mussels, and a popular Tiki Joe’s favorite, a lobster salad roll, will soon make its seasonal debut.
And as a student of marine biology, Manzullo ensures the fish is always as fresh as those coming in off the boats at the pier just outside the restaurant. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tiki Joe’s Captain’s Table is open daily for lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. It is located at 3500 East Ocean Parkway, Babylon. It can be reached at 631-333-1781 or tikijoesbeachclub.com