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Café Al Dente

Customers at Phil Morizio’s restaurant, Café Al Dente, taste the flavors that evoke his family’s kitchen in the Bronx, as well some of the finest kitchens in Manhattan.

“It’s the food I grew up with. I learned to cook from watching my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother,” said Morizio, who has operated Café Al Dente, an Italian-American restaurant on the corner of Spring and East Main, Oyster Bay, for 20 years.

“When I make the bolognese meat sauce in my kitchen it smells like my house on Sunday mornings when I was growing up,” Morizio said. “My chicken pastina is my grandmother’s recipe. It is one of my biggest sellers.”

Still, the restaurant business was not his original plan. Though he worked his way through high school and college at delis and restaurants, he majored in computers at Queens College. After graduating in 1981 he went to work for IBM.

“I hated it,” Morizio said, so he took a job cooking at the Algonquin Hotel. “We had a lot of celebrities,” but he was most impressed when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was in with her son, John F. Kennedy Jr.

“I had to look out from the window in the kitchen,” Morizio said. She noticed him and waved. He waved back. “She asked for me to come to the table, thanked me for the meal, and introduced me to her son. Of course, I already knew who he was.”

Later he cooked for other hotels and also at Lutece, the legendary Manhattan French restaurant. “I learned so much from the chef-owner,” Andre Soltner. “He gave me some very good advice. He told me to make every customer feel special.”

His first job out of Manhattan was Old Gerlich’s in Glen Head.

Morizio started his own restaurant in 1987, the first Café Al Dente, in Sea Cliff.

“We received good notices from the The Times and Newsday.”

For three years, he operated the Café Pizzazz in Rego Park, but decided to return to Long Island in 1993.

“I looked at 50 different locations but I came to Oyster Bay” where he saw an existing restaurant for sale. “I walked around the town. I fell in love with Oyster Bay. I sat down and wrote a check.

“I have been for happy to be here. I love the customers. I get talking to them and sometimes I almost forget that they have to pay,” he noted with a laugh.

“I use fresh food – wild-caught seafood such as salmon and shrimp. I use organic produce — spinach and mushrooms. I try to use local produce. I use a local clamer and a local seafood market.”

Though he takes pride in his family recipes, “I like to be creative, too. Every night after we close I go on the computer for two hours looking for different recipes.”

Though an Italian-American restaurant, “we like to try different specials — Asian dishes, French entrees,” Morizio said. “In fact, my most popular special was shepherd’s pie,” an Irish dish, he added with a chuckle.

His most popular dish is Rigatoni Fiorentina, with chicken, pasta, fresh mozzarella cheese and organic spinach.

“I have the same menu I started with but I have eight to 10 new special a week,” Morizio said.

Though he looks forward to Mother’s Day, “I don’t have a special menu for holidays. I don’t price gouge. People want the foods they know when they come.”

He says that he tries to keep the prices affordable. “For example, I have a catering menu and I have kept the prices the same. I have a $40 family dinner combo that feeds a family of six. I sell 10 to 30 of those a day.”

Morizio says that his restaurant has done well in Oyster Bay. “In recent years profits have been down with the recession but I have 14 employees with 12 children and I have been able to keep everybody working. My profits will come back when the economy improves.

 “I plan to stay in Oyster Bay until I retire,” Morizio said. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

News

On Saturday, July 5, Building J on the Western Waterfront was opened to the public for a free concert of classical music played by talented youth in the Oyster Bay Music Festival. The acoustics in the large metal shed were lively as the backdrop of the Ida May, a wooden oyster dredge under construction, lent artisanal flavor to the rich stew of mostly sea-related musical selections. People sat on stacks and benches of freshly milled wood or stood in the cavernous space. They soaked in beautiful solos, duets and trios that combined voice, piano, flute, cello and violin. Frank M Flower & Sons provided fresh oysters that engaged the palate, and representatives from Steinway & Sons gave a quick overview of how their pianos are made, relating several aspects of their meticulous process to the construction of the Ida May.

Last week was one of Oyster Bay’s biggest, most anticipated summer events, the Italian American Society’s St. Rocco’s Festival. Returning to its usually spot in Fireman’s Field on Shore Avenue, the festival was filled with amusement rides, live music, and great food and company.

“We come every year to St. Rocco’s with friends,” said Laura Regan of East Norwich. “The rides and awesome food make it a lot of fun.”


Sports

Oakcliff’s intensive training program provided a high level of competition last weekend at the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship in Oyster Bay.

This year, the teams selected for the event were highly ranked through the United States, and several of the competitors are past and current Oakcliff trainees, including Elizabeth Shaw, Kathryn Shiber, Madeline Gill, and Danielle Gallo.

A total of 11 members of St. Dominic Track Team (grades 1-8) recently medaled at the Nassau-Suffolk CYO Championship Finals at Mitchel Field. In the finals, the athletes competed against the finalists from all three regions, representing more than 2,500 athletes from 23 other parishes.

In addition to the student athletes’ success, the track coaches were honored as well. St. Dominic CYO Track coaches Phil Schade (grades 1-3), Julie and Mike Keffer (grades 4-6) and Rich Cameron (grades 7-8) were selected by peer coaches in their region for the NSCYO Team Sportsmanship Award. The Saint Dominic CYO track program, in its second year, has already proven to be a force to be reckoned with and the young runners are among the best on Long Island.


Calendar

OB Band Concerts

Wednesday, July 23

Music Under The Stars

Friday, July 25

Annual Chicken BBQ

Saturday, July 26



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com