It’s hard to say which is more impressive at Cucino A Modo Mio in Corona, the Calabrian-style Italian food or the site specific folk art installation that passes for decor here. It’s kitschy and wonderful, or maybe wonderfully kitschy.
You enter this wonderland through a pizzeria. Penetrate a little deeper and it’s a bar. The rear houses a sit-down restaurant. Throughout the space, the walls are lovingly hand-fabricated of brick and bamboo to accommodate myriad recesses, precisely designed to accommodate specific collections of tchotkes. There are multiple round niches for wagon wheels, and rectangular ones for groupings of everything from wooden kegs and pottery crocks to the seven dwarfs and items sporting Holstein cow motifs. No opportunity for display is overlooked. The ceiling is hung with rows of baskets, bells, jugs and mugs.
Care for a bottle of wine with your meal? There is a nice selection of mostly Italians at varying price points. In keeping with the aforementioned theme, the wine list is presented as a label on a gargantuan wine bottle.
But fear not, there’s nothing gimmicky about the food. It’s traditional Italian fare, using mostly imported Italian or house-made ingredients. There is a pizzeria menu, which includes a selection of both standard and exotic pies, and the usual pizzeria heros and plates. The ristorante menu boasts Calabrese-style appetizers, pastas and entrees. If you sit in the dining room, you can order from either or both menus, or the whiteboard specials of the day.
Instead of the standard hot antipasto/cold antipasto choice, you can try a sampling of Calabrian specialties. The Mixto a Modo, which deviates slightly by whim of the chef, offers house-made fresh cheeses, eggplant, potato and sausage croquettes, nduja (a spicy Calabrese cured sausage), sautéed red onion, sautéed eggplant, Parmesan, and maybe something else the chef thought was good that day. The nduja is memorable. It is like pepperoni, but less dry, and even more garlicky.
Sinfully rich Burrata with Speck and pineapple was a special antipasto, the saltiness of the meat and acidity of the pineapple marrying perfectly with the creamy cheese. Even when not listed as a special, Burrata Caprese is always on the menu.
Cavatelli Primavera, another special, was a bit of a surprise. Instead of the brightly colored, tender crisp veggies we anticipated, we got thoroughly caramelized onions and bits of tomato, eggplant and pepper that had been sautéed into submission. The handmade cavatelli, were dense and chewy. It would have been a comforting dish on a chilly winter’s night, but not at all evocative of spring, or summer for that matter. This must be the Calabrese way.
The list of entrees is concise — one veal, one seafood, one chicken and one steak plus whatever daily special is being offered. The signature dish, veal scallopina bongusto is prepared with fresh asparagus, tomatoes and topped with fresh mozzarella. At $18, it’s a great value for a veal dish. Won’t eat veal? Get them to prepare it with chicken instead.
Desserts are proudly displayed on the whiteboard. We were lucky enough to catch a tiramisu served as a pudding in a bowl rather than a cake. Yum.
Cucino A Modo Mio serves authentic Calabrese fare made with quality ingredients. Their prices are affordable. The surroundings are both charming and amusing. This is a place you can take a date or your family.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cucino A Modo Mio
51-01 108 St. • Corona, NY 11368 • (718) 271-4300
Price Range: Entrees: $18—22, Pizza small: $9—18, large: $20-35
Cuisine: Pizza and Calabrian-style Italian
Setting: Alice in Tchotkeland
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Hours: Monday - Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday - Saturday 11 a.m. - Midnight; Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Alcohol: Full bar
Parking: Small lot in rear, valet on weekends
Children: Perfect for kids
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
WIFI: Coming soon