Pick Of The Month: Forno Siciliano, Astoria
The sense of community at Forno Siciliano is palpable. Maria Spatola, one of several owners of this family-run restaurant that has been a cherished part of our neighborhood for almost 30 years, warmly greets relatives and friends as they arrive for dinner. She moves in and out of the kitchen, efficiently relaying orders to the chef. Spatola already knows the favorite dishes of most customers, as they dine here every night. She serves her husband and then a close friend. As the meal simmers, stories are exchanged. When the food arrives, a brief silence falls as patrons savor their dishes. But that silence doesn’t last long, and for Spatola, the night has just begun.
The most impressive thing about those orders? According to Spatola, many of the dishes her regulars are eating aren’t even on the menu. Longtime patrons of Forno Siciliano start by ordering something off the menu, then, over time, alter their order slightly, until each customer has their own perfect meal that they designed. Some restaurants might take exception to this. But Forno Siciliano encourages creativity on the part of the customer, “The good thing about us – say you want to swap out sausage for chicken. A lot of places don’t do that. With us, anything can be changed.” In fact, some of the regulars even have dishes named after them. Spatola explained, “Even if it’s not on the menu, we’ll make it for you.”
Spatola’s family and friends aren’t just a part of the scenery, they’re a part of the business model. “The mozzarella we use: my father owns a mozzarella company. Everything here is family made.” It’s not just the food. Spatola owns and runs the restaurant with her sister’s in-law. In addition, a recently hired server and her family have eaten at Forno Siciliano several times a week for her entire life. Working there for less than a month, she already knows every nook and cranny of the restaurant.
There’s a reason that Spatola and her family have so many devotees: the food is absolutely fabulous. When you arrive, you’ll receive a mouthwatering surprise: Forno Siciliano’s homemade focaccia bread. “As soon as you sit down, you get bread out of the oven. The bread is made onsite and comes out hot,” Spatola said. The focaccia and pizza are made in a wood burning oven, and the bread comes out crispy with enhanced flavor. And don’t expect to find that just anywhere. “If you wanted to build one now, you couldn’t,” Spatola explained. “We’ve been grandfathered in.”
For new customers, start small by ordering a meal that is on the menu. Try the pizza alla Modena, with light tomato sauce, arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto and shaved parmigiana. Or order up the orecchiette alla barese, a pasta and sausage with fresh broccoli di rabe in garlic and olive oil. Want to try one of those gems not on the menu? Ask for a cheese basket salad or the pappardelle Bolognese with burrata cheese.
As for Forno Siciliano’s presence in Astoria, it’s only natural according to Spatola, “We all live in and grew up in Astoria, born and raised. Astoria, I would say, is diverse. You can get your hands on almost anything. But our food is really, really good. Even if people move away, they always come back to visit.”
43-19 Ditmars Blvd. / Phone: 718.267.0790 / fornosicilianoastoria.com