Trattoria DiMeo opened 50 years ago at its first location on Northern Boulevard when a trio of brothers off the boat from Naples, chefs Aurelio and Roberto and host Vittorio, decided to try their hand at serving Italian food to diners in Roslyn.
Fifty years later, the family business is still going strong.
The dinner crowd for Trattoria DiMeo starts shuffling in around 6 p.m. on weeknights, making idle chit chat at the bar and waiting for their parties to convene in full. Chef and owner Salvatore DiMeo and the staff recognize the regulars—there’s a lot of regulars—and catch up with them in spurts while going about their work. There’s something familiar about the atmosphere. As high-end an eatery as Trattoria DiMeo is, that kind of personal touch reminds you of a gathering in an Italian household, where family members peck at antipasto in the kitchen while talking about everything and nothing.
After working in the restaurant all his life, DiMeo said his greatest challenge is having to turn away people he knows from reservations on the weekends because the place can only ever seat so many. It’s part of why he wants to expand to a larger restaurant.
“The ambition is to find a bigger place so I can host more people,” DiMeo said. “I turn away too many. The biggest problem I have, because everybody’s known me since I was a kid, is when they can’t get in on Saturday night two or three weeks in advance. That makes me feel bad.”
DiMeo has worked at the restaurant that bears his family name for his whole life. Like many a great restaurateur, he said the secret to Trattoria DiMeo’s long string of success is consistency.
“You have to be consistent, people can’t be surprised,” DiMeo said. “You have to have their usual, and it’s got to taste good every time. If you change it up and add new things, you better make sure that you like it first before you serve it.”
There’s a lot at Trattoria DiMeo that’s stayed consistent throughout its five-decade run. A sizable portion of the menu is made up of the same classic Italian comfort food that the DiMeo brothers brought over from the boot; the parmigiana dishes and pasta and seafood that made Italian cuisine world renowned. There’s consistency in the staff too, with more seasoned veterans having put 20 to 30 years of work into the place.
But for all that consistency, Trattoria DiMeo succeeds today in large part because of the changes that have been made to the business over the years. Since Salvatore took over his business from the previous generation, the restaurant has changed locations and revitalized its menu with more modern cuisine. Sesame tuna, roasted duck and tropical-accented calamari salads now rank among some of the most popular items the restaurant has, bringing an East-Asian flare to the Italian restaurant’s assortment of offerings.
“We have almost two different styles of cooking here,” DiMeo said. “You have the old world and you have the new world, which is more eclectic and continental. We still have the old-fashioned dishes too, so you can come here and have that old world dinner or you can come here and have something more new and modern.”
But through all the changes the years have brought, the restaurant the DiMeo family helms still prides itself on serving consistency, warmth and a heck of a good tomato sauce. Though Vittorio has passed, and Aurelio and Roberto have long since left the business to Salvatore and company, the brothers are immortalized in a photo of them posing in the earliest incarnation of Trattoria DiMeo’s kitchen. The trio smiles in the framed portrait that hangs in the front of the house, watching over the thriving eatery they built all those years ago.
“What gives me the most joy is seeing my dad and my uncle,” DiMeo said. “To see the thrill on their face that this place is still going, all that hard work they put in and all the dishes they created. We even have dishes named after them.”