As Fabrizio Castelli tells it, cut open his veins and “tomato sauce pours out.”
His family has been in the restaurant business for over a century — first back in Sicily, then in Brooklyn and onto Long Island. His earliest job after moving to the U.S. was at his family’s pizzerias. He delivered pies on a bicycle.
His relatives opened the pizzerias in a post-World War II New York where such places were still very much a novelty — if you can even imagine that.
Later, in the early 1970s, he and his brothers opened their first of several Italian restaurants in Suffolk County, in Farmingville. This was still when Italian restaurants weren’t exactly commonplace on eastern Long Island.
“It was like living in Florida 20 years ago,”Castelli said. “You couldn’t get many products, like in the city. Most people moved from the city into the suburbs and they were looking for things they missed, and we supplied that. Many landlords would actually contact us to open up.”
He and one brother sold the last of the family’s Francesco’s restaurants in 2004.
After a seven-year hiatus, he launched Primo Piatto Gastro Bar & Pizzette in Huntington in 2011 with his children.
Thanks to the success of that restaurant, the Castellis will soon be opening up a second restaurant, this time in the New Village at Patchogue complex.
So how does the family take that Italian food of yesteryear — many of their recipes go back several generations — and bring it into the new age?
The answer is simple.
Instead, they double down on history, showcasing traditional Sicilian dishes and other components of Old World Italian cuisine they feel got lost in recent decades.
“Most of it doesn’t need to be modernized,” said Francesco Castelli, who cooks in Huntington. “We feel like everyone else has been modernizing to the point where the old classic is gone. They modernized too much. This is how my great-grandmother made it. It was good back then; it’s good now.”
“Put it on cool plates and in a cool environment and you’re good to go,” said his sister, Ariana Castelli, who with over a decade of restaurant management experience in New York City and Miami, handles the business side of the food.
The family’s concept for the Patchogue restaurant, which they hope to open this summer on West Main Street under the name Locale, is slightly different than Primo Piatto on Route 25-A in Huntington.
“We’ll still do classic Italian dishes, but we want to focus even more with our brick oven pizzette, our artisan pizzette,” Francesco said. “That’s going to be the focal point of the restaurant. We also want to do a little bit more salumi, like imported prosciutto, imported salami. Stuff that Patchogue needs.”
They’ll also be bringing the meatballs that Newsday has featured at least a half dozen times.
It helps that Francesco grew up making meatballs as young as 9.
Later, at 18, he was too young to open his own restaurant when the family sold the last remaining Francesco’s, in Selden. Eventually, he got a union construction job and worked mainly in the city.
“I was really just waiting around to get back into the restaurant business,” he said.
Meanwhile, his sister had migrated south to manage the famed Van Dyke Café in Miami Beach.
“It was great job and it helped to bring us to where we are today, but I missed my family,” she said. “Growing up in the business, it didn’t make sense for me to be doing it for somebody else.”
After some initial conversations, the family decided to get back into restaurants, and soon they found their location in Huntington.
“We came to a foodie town,” Francesco Castelli said. “You know how many Italian restaurants are in Huntington? To make it here, you’re either good, or you close.”
“Huntington is like New York, New York,” his dad added. “You make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
They chalk it all up to the emphasis on family — both at home, and in the restaurant’s kitchen and dining room.
“Family is very important to us,” Fabrizio Castelli said. “We try to bring that into the restaurant. And our customers become a part of who were are. We want you to feel like you’re coming to visit us. This is an extension of our home, basically, our business.
“And that is why we’re very successful.”
Top: Fabrizio, Ariana and Francesco Castelli at Primo Piatto. (Michael White)