Written by Laurie Wilson, email@example.com Friday, 06 December 2013 00:00
Owner/chef Luigi Muto gets a jump on his long day, hours before his Great Neck eatery, La Rotonda Pizza & Restaurant, opens for lunch at noon. On most summer and fall mornings, you’ll find Muto at a local farm, like Rottkamp’s Farm in Old Brookville, picking the freshest of produce to use in any number of recipes that day for lunch and dinner.
“At the restaurant, we have a very small kitchen, we have no basement, and we don’t stock anything,” says Muto proudly. “At Rottkamp’s, their tomatoes are very nice and I find their spinach interesting, as well as other produce. I look every day.”
The popular 12-year-old La Rotonda, in downtown Great Neck, is much more than just a restaurant to Muto.
“I have worked really, really hard to get here,” says Muto. “I fell in love with this place. I love the style. I love the ambience in Great Neck. I worked hard to get here. I love this place, it is my heart.”
The 100-seat restaurant is all about family. Muto’s daughter, Maria, is the general manager. And Chef George, who hails from Palermo, Italy, and who is also a partner in the business, has been with the restaurant since its inception. Even the many paintings of Venice that line the dining room walls give a nod to family. Not that Muto has ever been to Venice. He never has. But his mother, who has passed away, had visited the romantic Italian city.
“My mother loved Venice,” says Muto. “When I look at these paintings, I think of my mother.”
Muto came to the United States as a 16-year-old young man from Catania, Italy, and worked for several years at his uncle’s pizzeria, Alfie’s Pizzeria, in Ridgewood, Queens.
“My uncle taught me a lot,” says Muto, “and the pizzeria is still there.”
When Muto was 19 years old, he opened his first pizzeria, also in Ridgewood.
“Since then, I bought a lot of pizzerias,” he says.
With his years of operating pizzerias, Muto is still working his pizza-making magic, and you’ll find him manning the wood-burning pizza oven at La Rotonda.
“The pizza is a hit with customers, especially the Quattro Formaggi,” says Muto.
Favorite dishes of Chef Muto?
“It’s all good,” he says. “But I’d have to say we have a great rack of lamb served with baby spinach. I also love the Chicken Sorrentino and one of our most popular sellers is the Penne A La Vodka,” which, he adds, customers tell him is like nothing else they’ve experienced at any other restaurant. Oh, and then there’s the Tilapia Piccata, “people just love that,” he says.
“Italian dishes here in New York restaurants are so different from those in Italy,” says Muto. “In fact, in some parts of Italy, they don’t even know the dishes we do here in New York. Especially in Southern Italy, in Sicily, for instance, cooking is all they know,” he says. “The love they have for food and cooking is amazing. Yes, we do Italian style but it’s not Italian style from Italy. It’s Italian style from New York.”
The restaurant has recently jumped full speed ahead into the catering business, hosting Sweet 16s, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and soon holiday and New Year’s Eve affairs in an expanded dining room. Bonus: A gas fireplace to cozy up to in the winter months with a glass of Chianti.
Even Cupid would approve of La Rotonda as a place for wedding anniversary and engagement parties — the renovated restaurant officially opened its doors to parties on Valentine’s Day last year.
And the future?
“Nobody knows what is going to happen in life,” says Muto. “You just go on.”
But, in the meantime, this much he knows for sure:
“The food at La Rotonda is always consistent and has been for the past 12 years,” he says proudly. “Whatever you order, it will always be the same. You will always get the same great dish you love.”
La Rotonda is located at 8 Bond St., Great Neck. The phone number is 516-466-9596, and the website is www.larotandagreatneck.com.