With the aroma of sweet tomato sauce, fresh Parmesan cheese and garden grown parsley filling the air, and the soothing tones of Umberto Tozzi and Andrea Bocelli playing from the speakers above, Puglia distinguishes itself from other Italian restaurants in New York City by making customers feel as if they are dining in Puglia, Italy.
This establishment of 92 years is located in the midst of Little Italy on Hester Street. The owner Benjamin Mancuso and his two sons Anthony and Michael decided to share the authenticity of Puglia with the residents of Staten Island by opening Puglia of Hester Street in September 2009.
According to Pugliaofhesterstnyc.com, Gregorio Garofalo came to America from Puglia, Italy in 1919 in hopes of achieving the American Dream. In that same year, Garofalo took his passion for cooking and talent of creating delectable homemade wine and opened Puglia, making his dream a reality.
After his death in 1972, his restaurant remained in the family. His daughter Mary, her husband Anthony Mancuso, and her brother Joe Garofalo each assisted in running Puglia.
“Puglia of Hester Street has a very warm and welcoming feeling,” said co-owner Michael Mancuso. “Because the restaurant has been passed down, we are a well known family. When people see recognizable faces mixed with Italian traditions, they feel at home.”
In a study done by businessweek.com, 60% of all new restaurants either fail or change owner within their first year of business. Puglia of Hester Street has overcome this statistic by offering customers fresh Italian food made with quality products.
According to Mancuso, Puglia is known for serving peasant food. Capuzello, sheep’s head, and tripe, the lining of the stomach of a young ox, are old style dishes difficult to find.
Not only does Puglia cater to the older generation by offering these rare dishes, but to all generations. Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50), Linguini with Clams ($14.50), and Eggplant Rollatini ($15.00) are classic Italian dishes.
Puglia of Hester Street also offers a various selection of original brick oven pizza pies. The Heart Stopper ($19.95), which is loaded with roasted peppers, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, and of course fresh mozzarella, is bound to stop any pizza lover’s heart, or at least make it skip a beat. Puglia’s Famous Rigatoni Vodka Pizza ($15.95) is covered with creamy vodka sauce as the mixture of tomato and marinara sauce is simmered to perfection. On top of this creamy texture is rigatoni pasta and fresh mozzarella so soft, it melts in ones mouth.
Puglia helps customers find their true Italian roots by offering a wide variety of food choices, allowing customers indulge themselves in an assortment of sauces, pastas, pies, and fish. This wide selection has certainly paid off, as Puglia serves between 1,000 t0 1,500 customers a week.
“I come to Puglia of Hester Street at least twice a month with family and friends. Their friendly service, weekly seafood specials, and great food at reasonable prices always makes Puglia my top pick,” said Staten Island resident Danny O’Shaughnessy.
Weekly entertainment is also a way Puglia is able to attract customers. Jorge Buccio, who you may recognize from Adam Sandler’s film, “Big Daddy” performs Italian hits such as “O Sole Mio,” adding a romantic atmosphere for customers sharing a meal with their loved ones. Another entertainer is Debra Ente, also known as Debbie Broadway. Ente assists Jorge with duets but when on her own, she performs upbeat songs ranging from the “Tarantella,” an energetic Italian dance, to more modern songs such as “All the Single Ladies” by Beyonce.
“Puglia of Hester Street has remained successful since its opening and that is thanks to the traditions and values passed down from my great grandfather,” said Mancuso proudly.