“A lot of people see my name and they’re, like, ‘A Greek chef in an Italian restaurant?’ I find it funny because they’re leaving and they’re, like, ‘This is good Italian food.’ I take pride in that.”
Allora!” It’s an Italian word that simply means “well,” used in heavy rotation by native speakers to bookend sentences and enthusiastically pepper responses the same way Germans “genau” for “exactly” and English speakers absentmindedly “yes, yes” or “right, sure” to carry a conversation along. It was a favorite term on the second season of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series, “Master of None,” where Dev’s character employs it often, emphatically and annoyingly.
It’s also the name of Bayside’s new Italian eatery in the Bay Terrace shopping center, flanked by Five Guys, an allergy center and an AMC theater. The owners wanted to revamp and reinvent after nearly a decade of dinner service with the steakhouse chain Tony Roma’s; they wanted to create something new and authentically local for the neighborhood (they’re a standout in a shopping center that also houses Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Panera Bread and the like). So they tapped Corporate Executive Chef Steve Koutsoumbaris and Executive Chef Brian Fisher (a Hearth and Momofuku alum) for their brand new venture that opened in January 2017.
Koutsoumbaris, a Bayside native, brings both notoriety and local cred to the table: Before this he commanded kitchens for Michael Psilakis’ restaurant group, including Kefi, Anthos (where he earned a Michelin star) and Astoria-born MP Taverna for nearly a decade.
He and Fisher set to work crafting a family-style Italian menu that doesn’t entirely eschew more traditional dishes (you can’t get much more classic than Nonna’s meatballs, a Koutsoumbaris family recipe of ground beef and pork, topped with gravy, whipped ricotta and a homemade sauce), but is a playful modification of the classics—a more contemporary interpretation. Bayside—a historically affluent Italian, Greek and Jewish community—brings in the saltiest of critics: wrinkled matriarchs who waggle their fingers at the chefs, saying, “Hey, you’re not doing it right!” and “That’s not bolognese!” But both Fisher and Koutsoumbaris chuckle because those same commentators keep coming back night after night.
“I don’t have an old Italian grandmother,” says Fisher. “I don’t have to be held to those rules,” and Koutsoumbaris furthers the “we’re doing it our own way” sentiment: “A lot of people see my name and they’re, like, ‘A Greek chef in an Italian restaurant?’ I find it funny because they’re leaving and they’re, like, ‘This is good Italian food.’ I take pride in that.” It’s a familiar way of doing things for the chef who’s flavorversatile and previously riffed on Asian and Greek cuisine in his close work with Psilakis.
What to expect of his new riffs at Allora? He gives some dishes a bit of a Mediterranean twist (like Fisher’s light, crispy tuna cannoli or the grilled octopus served on a three-bean salad with fresh yogurt), but keeps everything authentically Italian. Allora’s crown jewel is its two Italy-imported Morello Forni domed brick pizza ovens that crank out round pies like the Clam Pie, topped with chili-flaked Manila clams and garlic confit; or the Frenchy, a play on the Alsatian Tarte Flambè topped with fresh mozzarella, caramelized onions and bacon. The other big draw is their yeast-abundant Detroit-style squares. They’re designed to be airy and a bit lighter, so you’ve even (in theory) got room to gullet down a chicken parm entrée after putting back a couple of slices.
Fresh-made pastas, sausages and fermented pizza doughs are all made in-house daily, a much different tune than the space was singing in its Tony Roma’s days, and one that resonates with locals as much as it does with trend-seekers who frequent Allora for the perfect Instagram shot of their overflowing “wacky” milkshakes, laden with dessert-fascinators like full candy bars, cookies, sprinkles, pretzels and edible-gizmos aplenty.
And speaking of out-of-towners, Bayside can be tricky to reach without a car—the MTA doesn’t quite do the trick; from outer boroughs and further stretches of Queens, food-curious explorers must take the LIRR and then a bus that drops off a few blocks from the restaurant. It makes sense that this is a by-locals, for-locals spot; you have to really seek it out. If you do, you’ll be well rewarded, and you certainly won’t leave hungry. Or thirsty, for that matter: The craft cocktail program at Allora is flush with heavy hitters that flirt with frou-frou, yet don’t come off as precious. It’s Bayside, not Brooklyn, and therein lies the charm and identity of this new neighborhood joint.
Allora Italian Kitchen & Bar: 210-35 26th Ave., Bayside; 718.225.5672