FOR HIS AMBOY ROAD RESTAURANT, THIS CHEF/OWNER’S GOAL WAS RECREATING FAMILY SUNDAY DINNERS, IN PART BY ADAPTING HIS GREAT GRANDFATHER’S COOKBOOK
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
When Rob Deluca was designing the Old World interior of his eponymous Tottenville restaurant, he wanted it to feel like home. From splashing the dining room walls with dozens of elegantly framed family photos to lighting the space with sparkling chandeliers, the budding restaurateur chose each and every element of his bistro to represent family values and traditions. Oh, and he strategically placed his sweetly cantankerous and kitchen talented mother at the front door.
“I thought it was a nice touch,” Deluca laughed, detailing how the matriarch of his family greets every single guest and knows the regulars by name. “She comes in every morning and hand rolls the meatballs herself, so I think it’s only right for her to welcome the customers, too.”
Deluca “fell in love” with the restaurant business in his late teens, working in a variety of kitchens before attending culinary school at the age of 22.
For his new business, he went straight to his great grandfather’s cookbook when it came time to design the menu, and decked the interior in antique gold and dark lacquered wood… more homey touches.
“Sunday dinner was a big deal in my house—the sauce, the pasta, and, of course, the antipasto,” Deluca said. “My goal here was to recreate and share those dinners, including ‘Mamma’s Meatballs.’”
And share he has. To date, Deluca tallies his meatball sales somewhere in the 30,000 range.
“If my projections are right, in the 15 months that we’ve been open, we’ve actually made and sold that many,” he said of the locally famous delicacy, which are pan fried and served with a side of ricotta. “It’s our signature item; you can walk around the restaurant at any given time and every table has some. And we’ve made countless trays for parties and plenty of orders to go.”
But he won’t share the recipe.
“We use beef,” he said when prompted for an ingredient list. “And a lot of love.” Deluca reported that seafood takes a close second in popularity: the grilled octopus, baked clams, and lobster crostini are among his top sellers. The Fioretti Boscaiola, a beggar’s purse pasta stuffed with pear and ricotta in a mushroom and prosciutto cream sauce, is also a customer favourite, as is Deluca’s simple Pappardelle Bolongese and Orecchiette Barese an ear shaped pasta served with broccoli rabe and sausage.
Other menu highlights include a Salmone Dijonnaise (filet of sole baked with lemon, garlic, and breadcrumbs), red snapper served in a light tomato sauce with olives and capers, and the Costoletta di Maiale, a pork chop smothered in a cognac walnut sauce.
“I love to see the expressions on people’s faces when you give them a stellar experience at a restaurant,” Deluca said. “This is all about great food and great service; I want everyone to be floored by the food and impressed by the entire experience of the meal when they walk out of that door.”
Deluca, a former bartender and self proclaimed wine lover, stocks close to 50 different vintages and has a number of select wines that he shares from his private cellar.
“I hand pick the wine list myself and have an ‘off the wine list’ cart of wines that I find and bring in as a nightly special,” he said. “One of our most popular is a Tignanello Super Tuscan Meghan Markle’s favorite, a fact my mother loves sharing with guests.”
Desserts, which include tiramisu, Italian cheesecake, crème brûlée, gelato, and a Nutella calzone, are made in house. An outdoor bocce court is open for league play every Tuesday and Thursday.
“It adds a nice element to our traditional dining experience,” Deluca said, adding that in the future, he hopes to build upon this success, by adding another location. But for now, the young chef is focused on providing an unforgettable experience.
Deluca’s Italian Restaurant
7324 Amboy Road / 718.227.7200