By Pamela Silvestri
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Nino Cusenza retired from a career as a construction worker for Local 79 over a year ago. But after a lifetime of constant movement, the idea of slowing down hardly appealed to the Castellemare di Golfo native. So when the opportunity presented itself to open a restaurant, Cusenzo reached for it. Now he can claim La Bottiglia at 293 Port Richmond Avenue as his first foray into the ala carte food business.
Open about one month, the freshly renovated, sit-down Italian restaurant stands as an anomaly among the neighborhood’s Mexican and Latina shops and eateries. In fact, the predecessors of La Bottiglia have been South of the Border-themed watering holes for at least the last two decades, said Cusenza. He has owned the building in this stretch of time and was saddened when the pandemic’s dining moratoriums squashed spirits of the prior entrepreneur, a loyal tenant.
“The last restaurant owner came to me and says, ‘Nino, I’m leaving. I can’t survive like this,’” recounted Cusenza. With COVID-related restrictions on restaurant owners, Cusenza found it impossible to rent the space.
“People were opening nothing,” said Cusenza in his observations of the normally dynamic Port Richmond section. He wanted to help restore some of the bustle to the business strip.
He said, “It popped this idea — let me open something! That’s when I decided to open the bar and then the restaurant.”
WINE AND APPETIZERS IN THE SICILIAN SPIRIT
Cusenza built out the space with family and friends, who also were experienced in the construction business. Now, with a few weekends tucked away in the “hands on-restaurant experience” department, Cusenza said he loves the customers and has received warming feedback from neighbors who have ventured into the dining room and lounge.
In motion at the restaurant during the day is a lunch menu, served from noon until 4 p.m. weekdays. Prices on antipasti, salads, sandwiches — pulled pork, meatball parmigiana, sausage and broccoli rabe, etc. — plus pastas and entrees cost between $7.95 to $17.95. Happy Hour runs within the same midday time frame as lunch service with rotating drink deals.
For dinner, the offerings start with appetizers such as Polpette Della Nonna (meatballs with ricotta and tomato sauce), fried calamari, seafood salad plus a hot and cold antipasto.
There are three salad choices — Caesar, mixed greens and arugula with shaved pecorino and cherry tomatoes.
In the $18 to $24 range are pastas — to name a few, Risotto with calamari, clams, mussels and shrimp, a Farfallette al Salmone with smoked salmon cream sauce and Bucatini Amatriciana with pork cheeks, onion and slow-cooked tomato sauce.
The “Secondi” portion of the meal includes options such as grilled branzino with roasted vegetables ($31), grilled wild salmon ($28), rack of lamb ($32) and “Rolle de Pollo” ($20), two chicken breasts stuffed with ham, cheese and spinach served with mashed potatoes. All entrees — from the ribeye steak to the pork chops and seafood in between — come with potato and/or vegetable.
La Bottiglia is open for Easter Sunday with a $65 prix fixe meal that includes soda, desserts, espresso, tea and cappuccino.
As the name of the restaurant suggests — “La Bottiglia” means “the bottle” — there is an emphasis on Italian wines.
LOVING THE BUSINESS WITH ALL ITS CHALLENGES
Cusenza admitted, “It’s a challenge for me. It’s a little tough. I’m learning.” He spoke lovingly of his core crew yet struggles to additionally staff the front-of-the-house as needed in the obvious growth of La Bottiglia’s clientele. As a result, family and close friends pitch in. They wait tables and work the bar to fill in the gaps.
“While it’s difficult to find the people to work, the kitchen is perfect. So far, we’ve been doing really well,” said Cusenza.
He confessed, “I had a lot of people who said you’re not going to make it in this area. No one’s going to go here. I said, ‘We’re going to make it.’”
He added with resolve, “Little by little, we’ll do it. That’s what I tell everybody.”
La Bottiglia is located at 293 Port Richmond Ave., Port Richmond; LaBottegliaRestaurant.com, 929-364-0505. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday with hours on Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon until 11 p.m. and Sunday noon until 9 p.m. The bar is open later.