Though I've yet to sample from their full dinner menu, I can't resist gushing about the molto fantastico eggplant napolitana I had this week at Manducatis Rustica on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. Long-time LIC resident and owner, Gianna Cerbone, brings classic back to the table with fresh pastas, cheeses, breads, thin-crust pizzas, gelato, and pastries in the cafe section, as well as a more formal dining room with fresh, old-world style Italian dishes. With a few couches and a working fireplace added to the mix, you'll have a hard time decerning whether you're at a cafe or at your nonna's (that's if your nonna lived in hip LIC).
I'll go ahead and brush past the bland farro soup that my honey ordered (I realized after a bite that it was likely made with chicken broth... oh well, guess I should've expected that one!), and the tasty salata misticanza with goat cheese drizzled in oil, and get right to the, um, meat of it... I've never had a more divine eggplant napolitana. Now I've had excellent eggplant rollatini before, and you come to expect the appetizer to be dripping with cheese. Which is fine I guess, but it makes for an awfully heavy appetizer. Here at Manducatis, I was delighted to find perfectly thin eggplant drenched in nothing but fresh tomato sauce, cooked until soft but not to the point where eggplant turns slimy, and broiled (I'm assuming) with some pecorino romano on top. The fresh, light tomato sauce and the layer of grated cheese made all the difference- the eggplant was not heavy, and perfectly crisp on top.
Since that just wasn't enough during our short visit to Manducatis Rustica, we also took a pizza to go... a brick-oven ortolana pie with endive, radicchio, mushroom, and eggplant. The pie was just like the eggplant- thin, perfectly crisp with a wonderful tomato sauce to bring together all the sharp, earthy, and sweet flavors of the veggies. With my honey away for the last few days, I'm lucky enough to savor those true slices of heaven all to myself.
Manducatis Rustica, 46-31 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, (718) 937-1312