Nunzi’s in Farmingdale Puts Modern Take on Classic Italian
With Executive Chef Marc Wisehart at the helm, Nunzi’s in Farmingdale is tackling classic Italian dishes with modern twists and trendy vibes.
Owner Michael Napolitano says the idea for Nunzi’s, named for his grandfather, sprang to life about four years ago during a discussion of new business ventures that were unlike his day job; he owns a chain of LI-based nutrition stores.
“My dad was in the hospitality industry for the last 20 years or so. He had a few places in New York City… and I always was around the business,” he says. “I always wanted to open a restaurant.”
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After scouting several locations, Napolitano settled on the Farmingdale venue and signed the lease in January 2020, just before the pandemic. “It’s been quite a journey,” he says, explaining that Nunzi’s has been open now for a little more than a year.
“We opened when things were starting to get better…the timing was decent,” he says, adding that they were fortunate to open when they did, to avoid pandemic-related shutdowns.
“My main goal was to bring a Manhattan-style, meatpacking district-type vibe to the restaurant,” says Napolitano, who manages the restaurant along with several partners including his dad Vincent Napolitano and Frank Azzara.
“We saw there were many people coming out to Long Island from the city and we wanted the design of the place to have a very New York City style.”
Indeed, the restaurant exudes a trendy, Instagram-worthy vibe, with modern and eclectic artwork visible throughout the space.
Asked about the division of duties, Napolitano says he handles mostly front of restaurant operations as well as floor management while his other family members help with everything from kitchen tips to bartending and everything in between.
“It’s really a family business that works well…I’ve worked with my brother and dad for years.”
In the kitchen, Nunzi’s menu design was put in the capable hands of Napolitano’s uncle Anthony LoCastro, who’s also a seasoned chef.
Partner and Executive Chef Wisehart helped bring the twists of the modern Italian menu to life with customer favorites including limoncello wings with grilled lemon and Calabrian pepper as well as the popular eggplant parmigiana.
Wisehart’s extensive experience in the culinary world includes more than 30 years of cooking Italian, Cajun and Creole food at venues such as Asia de Cuba, Il Bucco in NoHo, and Vero Midtown Wine Bar.
Other popular menu items include spicy rigatoni alla vodka with crushed red pepper and grandma’s meatballs, a very popular item that Napolitano says is not only a best-selling appetizer but a dish which is a specialty of his grandmother Haydee, who also helps in Nunzi’s kitchen from time to time.
“She helps out with some Sunday brunches here and there…she’s a rock star in the kitchen,” Napolitano says. “She’ll come in once per week and help out, show some of the chefs how to prepare certain dishes.”
He adds, “You can’t ever go wrong with meatballs at an Italian restaurant, but hers might be the best I’ve ever had.”
Napolitano says his personal favorites that have made it to the menu include the heritage pork chop, made with white wine, garlic, cherry pepper jam, and a truly modern Italian take on the egg roll, dubbed egg roll Italiano, made with sweet or hot sausage and broccoli rabe.
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So far, early reviews of Nunzi’s have been very positive on social media and elsewhere.
Darren Anselmo, CEO at ElementZero Nutrition, says, “It’s very difficult to mix a trendy atmosphere with traditional Italian without sacrificing one area … somehow these guys made it happen. Must try!”
Napolitano says that since the restaurant’s opening in September 2021, business has been good overall, despite a summer that was a bit slower. A newly renovated outside dining area with a patio opened at the end of June and has helped for those who still want to mostly dine outdoors.
As for the pandemic’s impact, Napolitano takes it in stride.
“Everyone has been dealing with the increases in food costs for a while now…it’s just part of doing business in this new environment,” he says, adding that it’s still very hard getting certain things such as liquors and other imported items due to ongoing supply shortages.
“You have to figure out how to navigate supply issues and just move forward.”
Nunzi’s is located at 125 Secatogue Ave., Farmingdale. It can be reached at 516-586-8447. Visit at nunzis1274.com.