The word “real” gets thrown around pretty a bit within the culinary world. When Danilo Mongillo, the owner of Strega in Branford, lived in Italy, he was a police officer for the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. It became his activity to guard the integrity of any product that had “Made in Italy” on the label.
Not most effective did Mongillo increase a wider understanding and appreciation for wine, olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese, however, he constructed connections that make sure while the aircraft from Italy touches down in New York City every Wednesday, simplest fresh, authentic ingredients will be making their way up I-ninety five to Branford. “Italy is lovely. Italian meals are wholesome. It’s gotta be wholesome, it’s gotta be sparkling, it’s gotta be seasonal,” Mongillo says. “The Mediterranean is so loopy. … Every month, nature gives you something.”
Mongillo grew up on the own family farm and his dad and mom had been strolling a butcher shop due to the fact 1979 out in their home in a small metropolis inside the province of Benevento. His love of meals and feeding humans is sort of palpable. He tugs at his shirt sleeve, saying this material may be reasonably-priced and faux, however, what you positioned internal your frame simply matters.
Our first ride to Strega is the Monday after Father’s Day, and it is expectedly sluggish with just a few tables occupied in the sixty five-seat space. This proves to be extraordinarily helpful, as our server spends quite a piece of time at our desk going over the menu. If you didn’t take a couple of years of Italian in high college, you may want a pocket translator to get thru it.
An assortment of small pieces of bread, taralli and olive oil — no butter — is served on a timber cutting board. Mongillo seems to have a selected disdain for butter. We start off with the Fiori di Zucca, tempura squash vegetation stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, basil, and tomato Alla Puttanesca. It’s light, delicate and easy, and in no way just like your usual cheese-stuffed fried Italian ingredients.
The carciofi e finocchio is an artichoke and fennel salad with avocado mousse and coffee-infused mustard dressing. I’m used to a little crunch, or at the least a variance in textures, in my salads, but apart from the similarity of every chew, I haven’t any proceedings about the freshness or taste.
With the primary two dishes, I discover myself turning into conscious of what I’m consuming and feeling proper about it. Knowing the beginning of the meals and the commitment to pleasant demonstrated with the aid of Mongillo provides to the amusement of the revel in. It’s clean to equate Italian delicacies to the purple sauce and oily cheese, and that’s been one of the obstacles Mongillo has faced seeing that establishing in 2016. He desires customers to agree with him and chef Marco Giugliano, and step out of their comfort quarter.
“People will ask for fowl parm. ‘You don’t have any chicken on the menu?’ Not absolutely. I mean, 50 cents a pound, what I gotta promote? C’mon,” Mongillo says. “I don’t feel cozy charging 20 bucks for something I gotta pay 50 cents. And it’s just the breast. It’s dry, no taste. What I gotta prepare dinner? We can prepare dinner tuna, we can cook dinner salmon, we will cook dinner ribeye. I’m a butcher’s son. Give me the Angus. Give me the blood.”
The next route is while the skills of Mongillo and Giugliano virtually shine, and also you understand the accolades from Gambero Rosso are nicely deserved. (Strega is the primary Connecticut eating place diagnosed by means of the Rome-based authority on Italian food and wine.) After one chunk the rigatoni alla Genovese joins the listing of quality dishes I’ve ever had. Freshly made al dente rigatoni is accompanied via an onion-based sauce — the taste is akin to an incredible French onion soup — with slow-cooked Angus New York strip loin. I might endorse towards sharing this with dining partners. Forks could be flying to your path till the plate is smooth.
In addition to being the owner and supervisor, Mongillo is likewise the pizzaiolo. We opt for the Paesana with fior di latte cheese, Sicilian caponata, and cured pork belly. Mongillo receives to work at the Neapolitan-fashion pie in the front of the timber-fired oven in simple sight of the eating room. Sixty seconds at 900 ranges later we’re offered with a light, ethereal, best non-public pizza this is skinny but sturdy sufficient to help its toppings. There’s a moderate char however it’s now not burnt or crispy, and the areas darkened by the fireplace still taste like crust, now not an ember.
Giugliano is also in charge of the cakes, and the tiramisu and deconstructed cannoli both meet the bar formerly raised via everything we’d already loved. The cocktails are fresh and tasty, however not overly sturdy. That’s a criticism or a compliment, relying on your outlook.
Fully inspired after our incognito go to, I reach out to talk with Mongillo and he invites us again for a complimentary tasting. Imagine touring to a lovely place you’ve in no way been to before. It’s great, you love it. Then you go lower back a 2d time, but now you have got a nearby tour guide who indicates you all the excellent spots. Even better.