Born Here, Made In Italy

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Passione makes a culinary connection to the past

The old-world open-faced Lasagna Bolognese (Photo courtesy of Passione)

Emilio Branchinelli sits in a cozy booth under warm lighting at his restaurant, Passione, in Carle Place. In front of him are two heaping plates of linguine with white clam sauce—one made with fresh linguine, the other with the boxed variety. The restaurateur, whose culinary lineage traces back to some of New York’s earliest pizza pioneers, wants to taste for himself how the preparation pairs with the different pasta styles.

“I like the fresh,” he said, before conceding that “people might be more used to the boxed linguine.”

This scene from an Italian restaurant epitomizes Branchinelli’s belief that running an eatery is about more than counting dollars or agonizing over bills. It’s about providing hungry patrons with what he believes is the truest representation of what he grew up eating—food that is fresh, carefully curated and so comforting that you could eat it multiple times a week.

Cavatelli Sardinia with crumbled sausage (Photo by Steve Mosco)

Branchinelli’s storied connection to Italian cuisine begins with his father Gino, who in the 1950s became a trailblazer in the New York City pizza scene. Surrounded by Italian food his entire life, Branchinelli eventually opened Emilio’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Commack in 1980, which still thrives to this day. After years of refining recipes and building a staunch set of standards for how to run his business, Branchinelli would open another eatery, the grand Passione Della Cucina on Old Country Road in Carle Place about six-and-a-half years ago.

With high ceilings and soft lighting, the restaurant is also impeccably clean and professionally run, thanks to Branchinelli’s tireless devotion to the lessons taught to him by the generations that came before. As for the food itself, every morsel Branchinelli purchases is for use that day—meaning every item prepared is fresh and truly farm-to-table—a phrase that he follows as philosophy, not fad.

“I have a lot of pride in my food and I want the customers to know that,” he said. “The food we serve is meant to be comforting, but also fun and exciting.”

Impossibly cheesy pizza (Photo courtesy of Passione)

The fun starts with the appetizers, which entice eaters to create a shared celebration centered around food. The Mama Mia Meatball App is served “right out of the sauce,” which cooks for around eight hours, developing its own deep flavors. Passione’s meatballs are first oven-roasted, where they baste in their own juices before being dropped into the pot of sauce. This style gives the meatballs some outer texture, perfectly complimenting the juicy interior. Next, the Baby Rice Balls, served with Neopolitan red sauce, are crisp and hide a so-cheesy-it’s-creamy inside. Meanwhile, Passione serves calamari four ways, with the cherry pepper-laden Arrabbiata spicing up meal in the most pleasant of ways.

Other intriguing apps include Cappellini Alfredo Cakes, the Angry Pot of Mussels, and Shrimp Scampi Bread.

There are plenty of classic salads to choose from, along with every pasta favorite imaginable, from the baseline Pomodoro to lobster ravioli and everything in between. Passione also serves Naples-style pizza with options like the original Margherita, with fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, organic basil and hand-shaved parm. It’s the simplicity that makes this one stand out from the rest. There’s also pizzas with Sunday meatballs, a five-cheese white pizza, a burrata pie, and even a roasted cauliflower pizza.

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But flip the menu over for a look at Passione’s true taste revelation, the homestyle signature pasta dishes. These entrées are like a warm hug for dinner, and it all starts with the Homemade Rigatoni Napoletana, with pink tomato cream sauce, fresh basil, and homemade mozzarella. Passione’s fresh rigatoni will make you forget all about the boxed version. It is thick, toothsome and wide, holding onto the flavorful sauce and the melted strains of mozzarella. Next, the aroma of fennel from sausage is pleasantly strong in the Cavatelli Sardinia (or “gavadeels, depending on your upbringing). Another hearty, lovingly prepared meal, this dish served with crumbled sausage in a pink tomato sauce, with scallion and grated Pecorino Romano.

Other signature pasta dishes include giant cheese raviolis, penne and chicken Carbonara, and the old world open-faced Lasagna Bolognese.

The next section of the menu is divided by “From The Land,” “From The Sea,” and “Old Time Favorites.” From the Land features the likes of Chicken Scarpariello, veal cutlet with hot and sweet peppers, Parmigiana-crusted pork loin, and the wildly popular Skinny Girl, which sees grilled chicken served about spaghetti squash. From the Sea nets seafood fare including a red snapper roasted in a clay pot and served Livornese or Francaise style. Old Time Favorites contributes your grandparent’s favorites like Scungilli Fra Diavolo, Cioppino Italian Fisherman’s Stew and Naples Seafood Pescatore.
Finish your meal with an espresso, some gelato or one of the recommended dessert specials.

From start to finish, a meal at Passione represents Emilio Branchinelli’s culinary journey from old world to new—celebrating traditions gleaned from previous generations, mixed with contemporary tastes.

“I hold hands with yesteryear,” he said. “My family always had a lot of pride in their work, and I try to bring the same in what I do here.”

Passione Della Cucina, 231 Old Country Rd.; 516-741-4800; www.passione-restaurant.com

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