As a self-proclaimed foodie, I am very passionate about food. When I get the chance to meet someone who shares that passion, it’s a delight to eat what he or she cooks. I had the pleasure of meeting Frank Spatola, owner and chef at Parto’s Pizza in Riverhead, and eating the food that he serves. Born in Italy, Spatola was taught by his mother that fresh, quality ingredients make for the best recipes, and it’s a lesson he sticks to with every item he serves at his restaurant.
We started with Parto’s garlic knots, which were huge masses of bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkling of garlic salt. The bread was soft and chewy on the inside and the exterior was just golden brown and slightly crunchy. A great way to tease the palate!
Next, we chose two soups to try, the Pasta Fagioli and Peas & Bacon. The Partos’ version of the classic pasta fagioli (meaning “pasta and beans”) is full of healthful vegetables like leeks, spinach, fresh tomatoes and is loaded with cannellini and kidney beans, which Spatola soaks overnight to reconstitute them. Spatola kept the classic ditalini pasta (Italian translation: small thimble), which is short and tube-like, without the bend of elbow pasta. The aroma of the Pasta Fagioli brought me back into my great-grandmother’s kitchen, which always smelt of garlic and tomatoes. Spatola made the next soup we tried, the Peas & Bacon, a lot for his children when they were growing up, and it’s a staple at “his place.” The broth is smooth, smoky and buttery with a hint of parsley, and it’s loaded with peas that pop in your mouth and a mountain of sliced Canadian bacon that gives you a “mmmhhmm good” feeling. If I could eat that for lunch everyday, I’d be one happy foodie.
We couldn’t visit Parto’s Restaurant and not try the pizza, so we asked to sample a slice. We found the pizza to be excellent, with a sturdy crust and the perfect cheese-to-sauce ratio. Spatola explained that he uses two types of cheese on his pies: half whole milk mozzarella and half part skim mozzarella. The two together is the perfect combination, Spatola says, because it melts perfectly and is neither too oily nor too dry.
The rest of our meal happened naturally. The menu at Parto’s is so extensive, and when I asked Spatola what he recommended he chuckled and said in his charming Italian accent “It’s all good, you tella me whatta you like, and I-a make it for you.” First, he brought out a fried veal cutlet, plain, no cheese, no salt, no marinara. For Spatola, the best kinds of recipes happen when he has the freshest, highest quality ingredients and prepares them simply. The veal cutlet may not have looked like much, but one taste of the perfectly prepared high-quality veal (made with breadcrumbs Spatola makes himself by toasting bread in the pizza oven and processing it together with salt, pepper and parsley), and you’ll understand the phrase “less is more.”
Next Spatola brought out Veal Parmesan, Rigatoni Bolognese and Chicken Francese -– just a few of our favorites. The Veal Parm was fork tender and baked until perfectly crisp. The cheese melted beautifully on top. The Bolognese, one of my personal favorites, was hearty and flavorful and filling. Parto’s makes a different version of Chicken Francese than what we usually see – Spatola uses carrots, zucchini, leeks and capers to add substance to the dish, and while some may think it takes away from the “normal” Francese, I was delighted at the addition of all the fresh veggies. The sauce was light and lemony, still rich with butter flavor, but not greasy at all….and did I mention it was tender? Fork tender. A true winner, winner chicken dinner.
Spatola continued to impress us by bringing out one of my favorite things to eat – Fried Calamari. I’ve eaten it since I was a kid and would help my uncle make it in his restaurant. It’s what I compare all Fried Calamari to, and Spatola did not disappoint this Italian foodie. The calamari were fried with a light batter, salted ever so slightly, and served with lemon and marinara – we may have been reaching the full point, but we were still eating.
We ended our meal with a cappuccino and Spatola’s freshly made Riccotta Cannoli. Spatola purchases the finest quality semi-dry Ricotta cheese, and mixes it with confectioner’s sugar until it’s light and fluffy and ready to fill that cannoli shell – which is huge. The filling was deliciously airy and dense at the same time, and honestly, I could have eaten an entire tub of it.
Frank Spatola is a true chef who works with fresh, quality ingredients to make outstanding food for his patrons in the place he built basically with his own two hands (check out the wall décor next time you go there).
Parto’s Restaurant is located at 12 West Main Street in Riverhead. They’re open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. For more information visit their web site at www.partosrestaurant.com or call 631-727-4828.