By Jano Tantongco
After serving in the corporate realm of Italian cuisine, Vito DeFeo embarked on a buon viaggo to return to his Neapolitan roots to establish a legacy.
“The concept was born under one simple premise: I was creating a concept that I wanted to give to my children,” DeFeo said. “For them to actually grow into something, it would need to be here 20, 30 years from now.”
Though DeFeo wanted to call his restaurant Viaggo’s, the name was already taken, so he settled on Viajo’s, which has since become a Huntington staple.
DeFeo once worked as the vice president of the Umberto’s Pizzeria chain, where he eventually worked to mediate a partnership with Sbarro as the director of training. Eventually, the struggle to maintain quality pushed him to leave the corporate environment.
DeFeo partnered with Sbarro to develop the concept since he was from Naples, home of the Sbarro family.
Going back to basics, he aimed to create a restaurant that emanates a homey environment, balanced with high-quality, fresh food with large portions. With that in mind, he opened Viajo’s in December 1998.
“If you like good, homemade, old-fashioned style Italian food done the way grandma used to make, everything we make, we make to order from scratch,” said DeFeo, of East Northport.
DeFeo said that everything on the menu is made fresh to order, with three exceptions. The meatballs are made every other day, with the lasagna also made every other day so that it’s firm enough to cut.
The gnocchi, DeFeo said, are made every couple of days and are unique for being made with whole wheat and are shaped orecchiette style, appearing much like a small ear, the way his grandmother Ida used to make them.
DeFeo added that his recipes hearken back to the classic Italian style of cooking from the early 1900s.
The Chicken Alla Viajo’s ($18.95) is prime example of hearty Italian cuisine, featuring chicken breast sautéed with garlic and onion, topped with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and melted mozzarella cheese in a white wine pomodoro sauce. The chicken itself stays perfectly moist and takes in the subdued acidity of the sundried tomatoes. Meanwhile, the pomodoro sauce adds a light, savory finish that renders each bite a true treasure. The artichoke avoids being saturated and stays softly layered, while adding just a touch of tanginess.
The Eggplant Parmesan ($14.95) with linguini features plum tomato sauce, topped with melted mozzarella cheese. The eggplant has no breading, lending itself to a purer experience that lets the innate earthy flavor of the nightshade.
“The reason the eggplant is extremely popular is because we’re the only ones who really do it old-fashioned, no breading,” DeFeo said. “Our eggplant is just simply flour and egg, so you get the true flavor of the eggplant.”
Rigatoni Alla Viajo’s ($14.95) features a chewy rigatoni pasta in a pomodoro white wine sauce with onions, raisins, spinach and pigtail nuts. The mild sauce acts as an excellent underlayer for the raisins and pigtail nuts, which add a surprisingly satisfying addition to the plate. The spinach maintains a slightly crisp texture that skirts each bite.