Chain restaurants often find themselves the recipient of fury from foodies who scoff at the notion of eating in an establishment that dares to cross state lines with a homogenized product.
That righteous wrath is warranted at times, as some franchises willingly bow to the whims of freezers and microwaves. But eaters should not dismiss the suggestion of a chain restaurant simply because of the sins of the few. Maggiano’s Little Italy opened its first New York location on the grounds of Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City this past September—and any doubts about the restaurant’s authenticity should be checked at the door.
Maggiano’s boasts a true scratch kitchen. Every item on the menu is made fresh to order and the only product in the restaurant’s freezer is ice cream. The ingredients are simple and authentic, with contemporary flair only used when necessary. The family-style portions encourage sharing, and the dishes taste as though they were coaxed from grandma’s coveted recipe box.
The appetizer menu has all the favorites, but the best bet orders are the calamari fritté, bruschetta, tomato caprese and the stuffed mushrooms. The calamari, lightly fried, is exceedingly tender and yields to the bite thanks to a 24-hour marination in skim milk. The bruschetta’s simplicity surprises, with fresh tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic on a buttery crostini, while the caprese offers similar delight minus the bread. The stuffed mushrooms star on the appetizer list, with spinach, garlic and seasoned breadcrumbs sitting atop a delectable butter sauce.
Maggiano’s collection of classic pasta dishes are clearly made with care by chefs with professional palates and a deep knowledge of where and when to use certain ingredients. The Mom’s Lasagna is warm and comforting, as it should be, with crumbled meatballs and sausage, ricotta and marinara in layers of perfectly cooked pasta. Maggiano’s also offers four-cheese ravioli and braised beef pappardelle, along with “lighter take” dishes offering lower calorie options.
And in the spirit of Italian generosity, all classic pasta dish portions can be doubled for $5. And, somewhat amazingly, Maggiano’s allows guests to bring home any dish from the classic pastas menu “on the house.”
As for the specialty pasta menu, Maggiano’s gets creative with dishes like Rigatoni “D,” featuring herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms and caramelized onions in a Marsala cream sauce. The level of culinary perfection placed into each item is astounding, with the chicken pulled apart by hand and the onions slow cooked for hours, all coalescing into a multi-layered flavor experience. Other specialty dishes include gnocchi and Italian sausage and chicken and spinach manicotti.
Keep dessert in mind, as Maggiano’s has a long list of house made favorites. Topping the list is the rich and decadent Gigi’s Butter Cake served over a honey mascarpone cream alongside roasted balsamic grapes. It’s one of those bites that makes you believe in love.
So, food snobs, find your way to Maggiano’s and become a believer.
Maggiano’s Little Italy, 600 Garden City Plaza; 516-877-9640; www.maggianos.com.