By Danny Schrafel
Al Salese is all about making sure his customers leave his restaurants happy. He certainly has the experience to know how to do it.
At Eatalia, Huntington village’s only family-style Italian restaurant, he’s calling on 32 years of experience gained at Junior’s Pizza in Halesite to leave ‘em smiling.
“People have been loving the concept,” he said. “People who know the concept know what to expect. People that don’t know what it’s about are thrilled.”
Salese’s brother, Frankie, founded Junior’s in 1982, and Al took the wheel in 1984 after graduating college, bringing in his younger brother, Mark – who now owns Almarco up the road – as a partner.
“We’ve built a nice clientele. We’re able to do a lot of our advertising right in-house,” Al Salese said. “When you can rely on your reputation, it does give you a leg up.”
At Eatalia, large, sharable plates are served in a sleek, yet homey, dining room that marries muted gray and slate colors with rich blues and brick accents as designed by Al Salese’s daughter, Alyssa.
Plates like the beet salad ($18 family style, $14 solo) entice with a medley of mixed greens, goat cheese and walnuts topped with balsamic. Adding protein to the selection of seven salads have been a popular choice, especially with gym patrons next door. Family-sized pastas, like the Shrimp Fra D’Avolo linguine ($29/$22) leave a tingle on your tongue with spicy tomato sauce, al dente pasta and perfectly prepped prawns. Start with polpetini ($14), mini meatball morsels perfect for dipping house-baked sea-salt Italian rolls and focaccia barese.
Fried calamari ($21) is another standout starter. Traditional favorites like linguine in clam sauce ($24/18), penne Bolognese ($22/$17) and either chicken Florentine or Marsala (both $29/$22) are must-haves we’re told by the staff, and we will give them a try in a future visit.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to enjoy for the solo diner. Classic chicken parmesan heroes ($8.75) come in home-baked ciabatta and toasted in the pizza oven for a satisfying crunch. Panini and wraps “sell like crazy,” Salese said. Take one bite of the juicy roasted pork panini ($8.50) and you’ll understand why. It starts sweet with grilled onions and finishes with a little spicy kick, a selection reflective of their efforts to step up the panini game in town.
Already, they’re off to a fast start. Their opening night on May 31 was a fundraiser for Walt Whitman High School graduate Ann Marie Cortina, who is battling cystic fibrosis an needs a lung transplant.
Eatalia has hosted six parties in the past month in its party room, which holds 35, and Salese said people are already jockeying to book the space for holiday parties.
A liquor license is on the way for those who like a little libation with their linguine, and when football season arrives, so too will seasonal specials. A bar menu is on the way in the meantime.
For those on the go, the front of the house is perfect for fast-casual dining, and the $9.99 lunch special offers generous portions of many favorites. If you don’t see your favorite, ask for it and Salese will right-size it for $9.99 and pair it with soup or salad.
It’s another way of doing family-style dining – treating the customers like family.
34 New St., Huntington village
Atmosphere – Chic, yet casual
Cuisine – Family-style Italian
Price – Moderate
Hours – 11 a.m.-11 p.m., seven days