Once every week or so, I meet up with my twin brother for a family happy hour. Our menu criteria is simple. Along with good drinks we need bar snacks – preferably Italian fried snacks like arancini, croquettes, fritters or any other manner of crispy fried vehicle for cheese, meat or seafood. So when i saw that Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana, recently opened on Ditmars Boulevard, had a Dolce Fritti or Fried Treats menu, I was determined to try it out.
The opportunity arose when Queens food writer Bradley Hawks (Amuse Bouche, BORO, Grub Street) arranged a dinner this week to sample the fare and meet the Mennas, the family behind Tufino. Like our weekly happy hours, Tufino is about family, and the ways food is woven through familial relationships as a means of connection and a source of great joy. Maria, of the husband and wife team of Stephen and Maria Menna who own Tufino, shared that most of the 18 pizzas on their menu were created during “pizza parties” in their home where they tried out new recipes for friends and family.
Each pizza, prepared in a Stefano Ferrara wood oven shipped over from Naples, has a personal story associated with it. My favorite pie that I sampled was the Il Greco, inspired my Maria’s Greek heritage and by Astoria itself. This pizza expertly combines Italian and Greek flavors and ingredients including fresh mozzarella (fior di latte on Tufino’s menu), fontina, kalamata olives and a healthy sprinkling of oregano. Fresh lemon juice provides acidity and brightness and makes this a pizza that you’re going to want to go back for. Another favorite was the Nonna which consists of organic tomatoes, house made mozzarella and creamy ricotta, parmigiano-reggiano, basil, and the highlight, Neapolitan meatballs from Stephen’s mother’s own recipe. Rounding out my top three, the San Gennaro, which tasted and smelled like wandering through the famed street fair, combines tomatoes, mozzarella, locally sourced Italian sausage, roasted peppers, onions, parmigiano-reggiano, and a thoroughly unique and wonderful drizzle of honey piccante.
Tufino’s Neapolitan pies are delicious, but they also call themselves a “friggitoria,” and I was anxious to sample the fried treats to see how they might fare for a family happy hour. I can happily report that the Dolci Fritti are delicious. I especially enjoyed the Calzone Fritto, a crisp fried calzone overflowing with fresh ricotta, mozzarella and prosciutto cotto that reminded me of street fair and carnival food in the best possible way. The Panzarotti, a fried potato croquette filled with fontina and prosciutto di parma was another standout. And the Mozzarella Fritto, an entire block of fried fresh mozzarella stuffed with sopressata picante and porcini mushroom was an epic treat, and not to be missed if you happen to love cheese as much as I do.
Reflecting on the meal over an excellent espresso (served with a lemon peel, just how I like it) and a delectable Trio of Cannolis – classic, pistachio and orange zest- each one better than the next, what I liked most about Tufino was immediately clear. Tufino is about family: the kind and welcoming Menna family, and the fact that Italian food is my family’s comfort food and I could picture all of us there, enjoying a great meal. In fact, once they secure their liquor licence, which is coming soon, I am quite sure you’ll find my brother and I there, thoroughly enjoying a family happy hour.
Many thanks to Bradley Hawks, for introducing a group of Queens food enthusiasts to Tufino. Thank you to the Menna family for their kindness, hospitality, and wonderful food.
Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana, 36-08 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria