Angelina’s Brings Old Favorites and New to a Familiar Address

By Maria Scandale | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Maria Scandale

Brighton Beach — Angelina’s Cucina Costa is like home to Karen and Jim Spinelli. Their new restaurant in Brighton Beach is at the same location as their former Pinziminio, which they had sold, and where they have returned. Guests who savored their fresh sauces and Italian specialty dishes will feel at home, too.

“We’re just super-happy to be back; we’re really thrilled to see all our old guests who we’ve been feeding for 20 years and we’re really excited to meet new ones,” said Karen Spinelli.

Dinner guests can enjoy something familiar: Chicken Angelina, Chicken Milanese, Seafood Salad. Or something new: Crab Fettuccini, Flank Steak Pizzaiolo, and more, the owners invite.

The signature sauce is now named Angelina’s sauce; it is the recipe that past patrons asked for. “That has always been a great, phenomenal dish for us,” Spinelli said.

“Our special Angelina’s sauce is pretty much a Puttanesca where we put our little spin on it. It has the capers, Calamata olives, garlic, anchovies, and it is in a chunky tomato base. But we’ve added the sweetness of some currants and the kick of some hot peppers.”

The name Angelina’s is for her grandmother, an inspiration behind the art, but Spinelli is also a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.

Many summer vacationers both from the block and from up north will share something in common with Spinelli’s culinary influences. Born in Manhattan and raised in Queens, she lived in Bergen County for her high school years, but her grandmother and all of her family is from Queens.

“My grandparents were first generation – they were Sicilian and southern Italy – so every Sunday we were at my grandmom’s cooking constantly, making our own pastas, everything. Most of my basic cooking skills definitely come from my family.”

What past patrons will notice first as they walk a few stairs to an elevated dining room is lighter decor. It is still a white tablecloth room, with high pillars and tile defining elegance. But now the mood is updated by gold-tipped sheer curtains at the entrance, captivating framed floral designs on the wood-planked back wall, and circular suspended light shades.

“Even though we’re still a dinner-style restaurant, the atmosphere is more comfortable. We just wanted to lighten it up, give it more of a fresh, beach feel, a relaxed, lighter feel,” Spinelli described.

For the summertime, they added patio garden seating outside. The hours start at 5 p.m. every day. “We always were a nighttime restaurant, and it’s what we do best.”

Spinelli describes the selection as “a very tight menu.” They have put effort into choice offerings that are made fresh.

“We don’t use frozen products; we just don’t believe in that,” she emphasized. “Our freezer is a chest freezer and it’s the size of this table,” she pointed to the dining table in the restaurant. “It has calamari and gelato in it. That’s it.”

A standout on the antipasti menu is octopus, “one of the hottest things right now,” Spinelli noted. The description of the preparation is mouthwatering, starting with its citrus marinade.

“We’re marinating the octopus and then when you order it, we’re grilling it. We’re serving it on top of some arugula with shaved fennel; we’re topping  it with some fried capers.” It’s in a basil emulsion.

As Spinelli is talking, the conversation animatedly alternates between the old and the new recipes.

“We have our eggplant Parmesan, which we’re, I hate to use the word ‘famous’ for, but it’s definitely one of the recipes that put us in the good graces with people. It’s all sliced thin and hand-fried.”

Seafood risotto (shrimp, scallops, lobster) is a huge seller, she said, and they just added pan-seared scallops to the menu, very well received. On the other hand, chicken parmigiana is an old favorite made by hand. “It’s an antibiotic-free, no hormone chicken that we cut down ourselves; we’re pounding it, we’re breading it.”

“We have our same meatball recipe as always,” Spinelli added, divulging that the secret to their moistness is extra virgin olive oil. “And we have our No. 1 seller, which is the penne chicken sausage Gorgonzola.

A tasty blend of sausage now distinguishes the housemade Paccheri Bolognese ragu in a creation of the husband-wife culinary team.

“We did a little bit of experimenting and started blending sweet and spicy sausage out of the casing. It’s just such a beautiful taste, because you have the spiciness from the hot sausage, and then you have the sweet, and the flavors just really jump at you.”

Rather than add daily specials to the menu, they keep the menu farm-to-table to feature fresh ingredients in season. A great example is the fresh asparagus coming abundantly into season – it will replace sweet peas in the risotto that underlies the scallops. Heirloom grape tomatoes will be featured as well. The Berkshire pork chop is succulent with broccoli rabe and long hot peppers and roasted potatoes.

Among distinctive seafood dishes is grilled swordfish accompanied by a nontraditional grain, Po Valley black rice. “It’s a very long grain rice, it has a nuttiness to it, and that with tomatoes and asparagus underneath the swordfish is just beautiful.”

The restaurant is BYOB. The best way to preview the seasonal menu in its entirety is to pick one up from the holder outside the front door, or to look online at the website, angelinaslbi.com. The phone for reservations (accepted but not required) is 609-492-8701. The address bears those same last four numbers, 8701 Long Beach Blvd.

“When I opened the first Pinziminio in Beach Haven,“ Spinelli said, “my goal was to have a beautiful seasonal restaurant, a nice dinner restaurant, on LBI. Finally I am focused on this goal, 22 years later!”

Although the couple wants to stay open into December when the post-season schedule will go back to weekends only, she added, “I’m hoping to spend my winters someplace warm and sunny!”

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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