Local Eats: Abeetza Next Door

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Abeetza_081414BMy first taste of the fare at Abeetza Next Door was at an anniversary party for friends. We feasted on dishes such as Mediterranean salad, eggplant rollatini, baked clams, salmon, a couple of penne creations and tiramisu. Everything was delicious and I decided to spend some time with the chef and learn more about the restaurant.

I figured Abeetza was the name of a region in Italy and thus a style of cooking. Don’t go searching for it on a map—there’s no such place as Abeetza except for the 12-year-old pizzeria Abeetza and the adjacent not-yet-a-year-old restaurant Abeetza Next Door at a strip mall in Greenvale. Joseph DeLorenzo, the chef/owner of both restaurants, says the name is a childhood rendition of “pizza” spoken with a thick Italian accent, similar to that of his grandparents who came from Naples. Try it out; you’ll see. And definitely try out Abeetza Next Door. It is worth the visit.

Abeetza Next Door is unpretentious and small with room for about 30 people. There is some seating at banquettes and other high tables rest on large oak wine barrels. Rustic is the feeling. The “next door” theme is carried through with wit in the back walls finished off with reclaimed doors that DeLorenzo scouted out throughout New York State. The music is quiet.

The meal starts with hot garlic bread, which is baked to order for each customer. It is so popular, says DeLorenzo, that diners sometimes fill up on it, which would be a shame since everything is so good. Whatever can be made in-house, they do—the sauces, the mozzarella, the sausage. The pasta is fresh, never dried.

Abeetza_081414EAs an appetizer, we chose fried calamari and proscuitto wrapped figs with a dollop of Gorgonzola on top. Both were immensely satisfying. The calamari was pleasantly chewy but not rubbery and had just the right amount of coating. Good-sized pieces of calamari are given a light sprinkling of imported Italian oo flour (the double oo is the finest texture flour), which keeps this more refined. The sweet fig, sweet/salty proscuitto and pungent Gorgonzola worked well together. Our salad was arugula with heirloom tomatoes and burrata in a dressing made with a balsamic reduction. The rich burrata—a fresh cheese that is made from mozzarella and cream–oozed nicely into the salad.

We had to try a pasta dish – all the pasta is made in-house. A good choice was fettuccini and short ribs. The ribs are braised from 12 to 14 hours and mushrooms are cooked in the short rib sauce and combined with the meat and the fettuccini. Other popular pasta dishes are rigatoni Bolognese, linguini with shrimp marinara and penne Abeetza, homemade sausage that has been removed from the casing and sautéed with mushrooms, caramelized onion in a light red sauce.

All the pasta dishes can be prepared with freshly cut zucchini in place of the pasta layers for a lighter dish. One regular zucchini-related dish that is very popular is Angry Shrimp, spiced with garlic and red pepper flakes and served with zucchini noodles.

Zucchini even finds its way into a three-cheese lasagna, taking the place of the pasta. DeLorenzo estimates that about 30 to 40 percent of his customers opt for the zucchini.

Remembering the tiramisu, the hit of the anniversary party, I tried it again. It was as good as the first time. DeLorenzo says he soaks the ladyfingers in espresso, whips the mascarpone until it is very airy, layers it and sprinkles cocoa powder. Somewhere along the way he adds some liqueur but won’t tell what he uses.

I asked DeLorenzo how he decides what to have on the menu. “It’s all about me and what I enjoy,” he said with a big smile. “We try to put a ten-star product in this casual, relaxed environment.”

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Lyn Dobrin is a writer for Long Island Weekly, specializing in food and travel features.