Staten Island Dining 101

Julie Besonen

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For a summer getaway, how about cruising to Staten Island? The free ferry is full of tourists snapping selfies and shots of the Statue of Liberty, disembarking at St. George only to ride it right back to Manhattan. Next time, stay for a spell. Several restaurants make it worthwhile, including the Italian nonna–run Enoteca Maria and the German beer and wurst specialist Nurnberger Bierhaus. Another favorite, Bayou, has been delivering a taste of the Big Easy for 10 years while steakhouse Ruddy & Dean has served up dry-aged steaks and spectacular views of New York Harbor since 2000. In our slideshow we're featuring a mix of old and new places, from classic pizza joints to an adventurous Sri Lankan buffet. Some are within walking distance of the ferry terminal while others require a bus ride or a few stops on the Staten Island Railroad (or better yet, a car). On your return ferry trip to Manhattan, be sure to stand on the deck like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and take in the panorama.

Blue. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Beso
11 Schuyler St., 718-816-8162, St. George, Staten Island
Blue
1115 Richmond Terrace, 718-273-7777, Randall Manor, Staten Island
Kissing plays a prominent role at Beso (which is Spanish for “kiss”), a dark, sexy restaurant with vintage movie posters referencing the act as well as an occasional couple stealing a smooch at a shadowy corner table. Since it's just up the hill from the St. George ferry terminal, an after-work crowd gathers at the convivial bar for pitchers of margaritas or white peach sangria. The Spanish-Mexican menu features tapas-style small plates, including tender grilled lamb chops in smoky chili vinaigrette, lobster enchiladas and littleneck clams simmered in briny lobster broth. Dinner gets more ambitious with grilled sea bass on a cedar plank, and saffron-infused, seafood-heavy paella studded with chorizo.

Beso chef and owner Julian Gaxholli is also behind the popular Cajun-Creole Bayou and more recently, Blue, a Mediterranean waterfront lounge and restaurant with manicured grounds and a dressy crowd. Look for rich seafood bisque, chicken tagine and Sunday clam bakes ($25 for three courses) along with views of passing tugboats. Blue is also appealing for its proximity to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. This picturesque complex was once a sailors' retirement community and now houses the Staten Island Children's Museum and Noble Maritime Collection, among other attractions.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Carol's Cafe
1571 Richmond Rd., 718-979-5600, Dongan Hills, Staten Island
Carol Frazzetta is like a one-woman band—she grows her own herbs; makes her own pasta, pie, ice cream and soufflés; runs the kitchen; mingles with guests; and teaches cooking classes on the days the restaurant’s closed. She's been at it for decades so she's got all the parts under control. Carol's Cafe is clearly a labor of love, a charming, brick-walled, tin-ceilinged space in a suburban enclave. The eclectic menu speaks to what she's in the mood for, from caramelized shrimp or calf's liver flamed in port wine to meatball pizza on homemade sourdough crust. A three-course, prix-fixe menu is just $23.95.

Joe & Pat’s. Photo: Peter Borghard

Denino's Pizzeria & Tavern
524 Port Richmond Ave., 718-442-9401, Elm Park, Staten Island
Joe & Pat's
1758 Victory Blvd., 718-981-0887, Castleton Corners, Staten Island
Denino's, a celebrated pizza joint with lines out the door on weekends, has been open since 1937. Up front is a tavern with sports on TV and a jukebox that favors Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Once you're ushered to a long table or tight booth, your no-nonsense waitress expects you to order pronto. Most people do, having come here for decades with no need to consult the menu. Everybody goes for the fried calamari—lightly battered, golden rings that are as habit-forming as popcorn. Paper plates are thrown down for the pizza, but the thin yet sturdy crusts barely make contact since this is a place where slices are handheld and folded New York–style; using a fork and knife here just looks silly. It's also not a place to worry about grape varietals: carafes of “Burgundy” and “Chablis” are $14. Pitchers of beer are just $11, presenting little problem in case you forget that it's cash only.

A troupe of guys briskly manning the pizza ovens is the first sign that Joe & Pat's pies are serious business. This beloved stronghold has been open since 1960, its upscale diner décor sporting a painted ceiling of a clouded blue sky and frescoed walls of Italian landscapes. Of course, every table should have a thin-crust pizza with classic toppings, but they've got other things down pat, too. Chicken cutlet parmigiana is pounded to schnitzel slenderness and is truly phenomenal. And just because pizza is coming, that doesn't mean you shouldn't stuff yourself first on savory zucchini sticks, fennel and baby spinach salad with pecorino and broccoli rabe with garlic and oil. Dominating the tables are multigenerational families and local football teams piling in after games but the space is big enough that you’ll rarely encounter a wait. Getting here without a car isn't easy, though if you're determined you'll figure out a way.

Photo: Alex Lopez

San Rasa
226 Bay St., 718-420-0027, Tompkinsville, Staten Island
Staten Island has long welcomed new immigrant populations, with one of the latest waves coming from Sri Lanka. A number of good Sri Lankan spots have sprung up, many of them focused on take-out, but for a sit-down meal Islanders swear by San Rasa. It's a cinch to check out for yourself since it's only a few blocks' walk from the St. George ferry terminal and wonderfully cheap, including bottles of wine starting at $12. A souvenir shop's worth of inventory—baskets, bowls, woven placemats, elephant carvings—decorate the cozy dining room. Sri Lankan food is similar to Indian, with lots of curries and biryani, but “hoppers” set it apart: a hopper is a thin, bowl-shaped rice-flour pancake filled with egg and your choice of curry (beef, chicken, fish, lamb, prawn). Chef Sanjay Handapangoda also prepares lamprie, a Dutch colonial specialty with a little bit of everything (curry, rice, eggplant, plantains, cashews), wrapped in a banana leaf the size of a dish towel. Sundays feature an all-you-can-eat $11 buffet.


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