By Rachel Rosenstein
The “Tuscan feel” of Restaurant Joanina, located in Huntington, NY, is what keeps it a local favorite. The Italian home cooking and wood-fired specialties transports patrons to a cozy cafe in Italy. It’s the closest experience you will have to a meal in the old country. The main dining room resembles an Italian courtyard, and its yellow stucco walls are covered in faux windows with charming green shutters and a Juliet balcony. The outdoorsy ambience is accentuated by exposed ceiling rafters, lovely hanging plants (silk, but they work), and strings of white lights running across the room. The restaurant seats 100 people comfortably, and there are three tables outside; I’ve yet to score one of those coveted outdoor tables – my guess is the regulars claim those well in advance.
In 1999, waiter service began at Restaurant Joanina. Prior to that, it was a gourmet deli where you could purchase incredible coffee and Italian delicacies. There was such an overwhelming flow of customers that they had to double in size! They became a full fledged restaurant, and the rest is history. The kitchen staff has been there for over a decade, so the food is consistently excellent. The attentive dining room staff also knows exactly what they are doing. Several wait staff members approached our table to make sure we were having the perfect dining experience.
Once seated you are given a delicious basket of Italian bread and garlic knots both fresh out of their wood-burning pizza oven. There are several types of pizza to choose from, so naturally we were torn on which one to order. We finally agreed on the one with homemade mozzarella and mixed mushrooms; it did not disappoint. If you are not in a red sauce mood, go with the Pizza Bianca Con Speck. It looked and tasted amazing! It is a white pizza with a Prosciutto like ham, mushrooms, and a white truffle oil drizzle. In my opinion, white truffle oil makes everything better. In addition to starting with a pizza, we also shared one of the many appetizer options. We settled on the Calamari Fritti which was perfectly golden brown and served with a spicy tomato sauce. Salad is an option, but don’t waste your time. The pasta that I would order again and again is their lasagna with homemade noodles and a sauce loaded with meat that is actually ground in the restaurant. If you love ravioli, I would recommend the Agnolotti Alla Melanzane; the pasta is homemade and filled with creamy ricotta and shiitake mushrooms then topped with a light tomato sauce and diced eggplant.
There are so many wonderful entrees to choose from. After studying the menu intensely, I decided to try their Pollo Scarpariello. I order this dish often and truly use it as a gauge to determine how good an Italian restaurant really is. This one was exceptional. The moist chicken on the bone (only way to eat this dish) was roasted in the wood-burning oven with garlic, lemon, homemade sausage, potatoes, and hot cherry peppers – a perfect mix of flavors. If you are looking for a healthier option, try the Salmone Al Pistachio. It is a nice sized piece of fish coated with a pistachio crust and served over sautéed spinach; my dad thought it was a winner. Desserts here are made both in house and brought in depending on what you order. The creamy cheesecake drizzled with caramel was excellent. I don’t know if it was made there or not, but it doesn’t matter; it was scrumptious!
Restaurant Joanina gets mobbed, especially on the weekends, due to it’s fantastic food and reasonable prices. Reservations are a must; the number there is 631-549-2727. They are open Monday through Friday for both lunch and dinner, while Saturday and Sunday are dinner only. The restaurant is located at 35a Gerard Street in Huntington. For all you ladies, the meal ends on a perfect note when they hand every female diner a long stem rose. I can’t say I have ever had that happen before, but it was a very nice touch. Go check out Restaurant Joanina and take a stroll through the beautiful town of Huntington. It will undoubtedly be a memorable experience.
Photos by Rachel Rosenstein