(AT first look, we make a quick visit to a new downtown New York restaurant or bar to give readers an idea of what to expect. Our food critics may eventually visit these places and share their opinions with us, but we want to share what’s new in our area. If you know of a new location, please send an email to email@example.com or call/email me at 315-382-1984. If I accept your offer, I can treat you to food.)
Liverpool, New York. Whatever is cooking in Claudio Bueti’s kitchen, he will tell you in his thick Italian accent that it is the best thing you have ever tasted.
Lasagna? “I don’t make American lasagna. I’m making Italian lasagna. I use bolognese sauce, not your regular sauce. This is what my grandmother did. It’s the best it’s ever been.”
Pizza? “I have been making pizza for 40 years. It was the best pizza in New York. Just wait.
Sauce? “Oh my sauce. It’s like nothing you’ve ever had before. I feel like crying when I think about my sauce.”
He really shed a tear last week talking about his sauce and the recipes he creates at Il Limone, his new restaurant at Glenn Crossing Plaza in Liverpool. The restaurant opened two weeks ago in a store located between an Aldi supermarket and a nail salon on Oswego Road.
Claudio, 68, moved to Brooklyn in 1973 from his home in Calabria, a region in southern Italy. It was then that he opened his first restaurant and has been cooking in the kitchen following family recipes ever since. Over the past 40 years, he has owned six pizzerias in New York.
He and his wife Antonella left their friends and restaurants in town to move here to be close to their daughter, an elementary school teacher, and her 3-year-old son. It didn’t take long for him to decide he needed to keep working, so he moved the brick-lined Attios oven from Enzo & Claudio’s Pizza Italiana on 7th Avenue to a mall in Liverpool.
Everything he serves here is made here, as a rule, according to secret recipes passed down from generation to generation. Claudio, for example, rolls meatballs in the kitchen every morning. These are the same meatballs he made in town: 85-15% lean ground beef, loosely rolled to the size of a softball. He always used only beef because a large percentage of his customers in the big city were kosher and wouldn’t eat pork.
“(Some food vendors) tell me, ‘Use frozen meatballs. It’s easier for you. I say “No. People in New York are still talking about my meatballs,” Claudio said as he pulled two meatballs out of the oven to prove his point. “Once you try my meatball, you won’t want to try another one. This is the best meatball you will ever taste. Just look at them.”
Meatballs should be good; just last week he sold them for £60 and the restaurant hasn’t even opened yet.
Claudio has always made his own mozzarella cheese, which he uses in caprese, lasagna, margherita pizza and deep fried mozzarella balls served with marinara sauce. Last Thursday, he taught his kitchen workers how to turn a 20-pound brick of BelGioiso curd cheese and some boiling water into 6-inch porcelain-white semi-soft spheres.
“If you’re going to work here, you need to know how to make this cheese,” he said.
The restaurant with a capacity of 82 people is technically still in the opening phase. The government has approved Il Lemone’s license to sell spirits, and Italian beer and wine will go on sale on Thursday.
Claudio and his employees solve problems and hire staff. During my three visits in the last week, four potential employees were looking for work.
You must try…
Chicken Riggies ($19): Before moving to Central New York, Claudio had never heard of chickens. He’s been making a creamy vodka sauce for decades, but he’s never added hot cherry peppers, sliced chicken breast meat, and thick ribbed pasta.
His family and colleagues urged him to try it because the Utica-born dish is wildly popular here.
“These are the best things I have ever eaten and I have eaten them all my life,” said Ashley Graham-Boswell, one of the waitresses. “I’m not just saying this because I work here. They are superbly good.”
I immediately became pessimistic when I ordered the rigs because Claudio didn’t ask me how spicy I like them. (I have a high tolerance, so that matters.) Luckily, the main course was very tasty, but it wasn’t so spicy that you couldn’t taste every ingredient.
The vodka sauce itself was not spicy at all. It’s a simple blend of heavy cream, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, shallots, and vodka. I asked him to pour me a small cup on the side. It became a reservoir for two small loaves of Italian bread that Claudio baked this morning. When the bread was gone, there was some sauce left, and I hate ruining good food. Some people drink vodka; I make portions of vodka sauce.
Yes, this 2lb rigga was one of the best I’ve had.
Pizza Margherita ($18.95 16″ Medium / $24.95 18″): Il Limone’s menu includes 11 specialty pizzas in addition to the traditional pizza with 11 toppings available. (Don’t even think about ordering pineapple for pizza. It doesn’t happen.)
The best pizza, according to Claudio, is Margherita, also known as caprese. He can cook one for you in about two minutes and take it out of the oven in less than 10 minutes.
Like all his pizzas, he stretches and tosses the dough he cooks throughout the day. He tops it with a thin layer of shredded Saputo Gold mozzarella cheese and evenly distributes 22 slices of homemade fresh mozzarella. Then comes about 18 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes and spices.
This pizza belongs to him personally. He boasts passionately about being the number one pizza in Italy.
“My sauce. Ouch! It’s not pizza sauce,” he said firmly. “We only use plum tomatoes from Italy.”
Once it’s out of the oven, Claudio tops it with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped basil, then drizzles extra virgin olive oil on top.
“You will see the difference,” he said. “You will feel the difference. You tell me.”
The 9½” x 8″ x 9½” triangle folded in half perfectly with a slight crunch, like a piece of Manhattan. A small amount of regular pizza cheese gives you a slight taste of a traditional slice of cheese, but a checkerboard of crushed tomatoes and silky cheese makes it anything but traditional.
This pizza could win Central New York’s Rookie of the Year award.
Chicken Marsala ($15.95): I needed something light for lunch, something that wouldn’t send me to the parking lot for an afternoon nap in the back seat. Marsala was tender enough to leave room in my stomach for a productive day, but it was full of earthy flavor.
Chefs beat a couple of chicken cutlets to about a quarter of an inch thick and fry them quickly. Marsala reduction sauce is made by boiling fortified wine to a syrupy consistency with finely chopped mushrooms and a pinch of chopped garlic. Pour sauce over chicken and sprinkle with basil.
You can order marsala with chicken, veal or shrimp, and serve it with vegetables or pasta. I chose the linguine because Claudio said it was “the best”.
So, in the last eight days, according to Claudio, I’ve had the best pizza, the best ridges, the best lasagna, the best marsala, the best meatballs, and the best mozzarella. At least that’s what I think he said. He’s hard to follow because of his accent and everything.
Welcome to downtown New York, Claudio. You will like it here, and we will definitely like you. You are the best.
Location: Il Limone, 7421 Oswego Road, Liverpool (next to Aldi at Glenn Crossing Plaza); (315) 320-5700
Watch: Tuesday-Sunday from 11:00 to 21:00
Credit cards? Yes
Dress: As casual as you want.
Alcohol: Italian beer and wine this week.
Gluten free options: No.
There is? Yes.
Parking: Large mall parking lot.
Charlie Miller finds the best food, drink and entertainment in downtown New York. Contact him at (315) 382-1984or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find it under @HoosierCuse on Twitter and beyond Instagram. Subscribe to his free weekly Where Syracuse Eats fact sheet is here.
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