The taste of tradition

November 11, 2014 Helen Klein
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Flavorful, old-fashioned food with 21st century style is served up with flair at the comfy, casual Zito’s Sandwich Shoppe, at home on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge for eight months.

Marcello Bucca, the eatery’s Brooklyn-born-and-bred owner, says the restaurant recreates the food and ambiance of the salumerias that he enjoyed going into all throughout his youth – a successful recipe that he crafted initially for his first restaurant, in Park Slope, now three years old, and has recreated in Bay Ridge.

Waxing nostalgic about the fragrances and flavors of those venerable establishments, Bucca said that Zito’s – which specializes in Brooklyn Italian classics according to its menu — “continues the tradition of the salumeria, with a bit of a modern twist.”

That modern twist includes not only food (think mac and cheese balls as well as the more traditional rice balls, potato balls and fried ravioli — $6 for four) but also a broad beer selection, with six brews on tap at once, plus a gluten-free beer selection, and wine on tap, meant to appeal to a wide range of palates.

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The main course selections range from sandwiches to salads, with the menu reflecting both Bucca’s love of traditional Italian fare and his ease in recreating the classics with contemporary tweaks.

I sampled half a dozen of his specialties, and savored them all.

The meatball sliders ($9 for three) were lightened-up versions of the traditional meatball hero, each comprised of a single large meatball poised dramatically on a small roll, bathed in a red sauce that was sweet and savory at once. As for the meatball, it was light, its flavors perfectly balanced, satisfying without being overly filling.

That was a good thing, as I next sampled several of Zito’s appetizers. The fried ravioli were crisp on the outside, delectably creamy within. The potato croquette was similarly balanced, with the breaded exterior providing a counterpoint to the silken smooth mashed potato filling.

The mac and cheese ball was comfort food reinterpreted, both in form and flavor, combining provolone, cheddar and mozzarella in its melty interior, its breaded exterior spiked with parmesan. The rice ball, the last appetizer I tried, was equally comforting, with tender rice enrobed in a cheesy, creamy filling – again offering a delightful contrast with the crispy exterior.

Among the sandwiches, I indulged in the Panelle ($8-$10.50) – traditional Sicilian chickpea fritters served up on Italian bread, a house specialty and one of those recipes that Bucca is anxious to preserve. I sampled Zito’s Special Panelle, in which the nutty chickpea pancakes are topped with ricotta and parmesan, and reveled in the contrast in flavors and textures.

One of the most treasured ingredients in Zito’s formula, however, is not edible. Rather, it is Bucca’s commitment to community. Growing up in Bensonhurst, and now a resident of Dyker Heights, the Xaverian grad described himself as “a guy from the neighborhood who wants the neighborhood to have a casual place where people feel comfortable hanging out with their kids, having a beer, and watching a few games.”

To that end, Bucca offers numerous specials. Parents get 25 percent off when they dine in with their kids, and teachers get half off wine, beer or sangria, Monday through Friday. At lunch, Zito’s offers wine, a bottle of beer or a soft drink for free with any sandwich. Finally, delivery customers can get a free order of appetizer balls with a minimum $25 purchase, with a coupon printed on Zito’s menu.

7604 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Free delivery in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights

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