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Don't let the unremarkable Queens location obscure what dozens of boldface customers have known for years: Manducatis is New York's best not-so-secret Italian restaurant.
As we walked into the restaurant, the warm, homey, old world atmosphere quickly washed away the day's cares. There was real wood burning in the fireplace, and the lighting was soothing. Vincenzo Manducatis, the proprietor was our gracious host.
The pungent aroma of little black cigars blends with the loud chatter of sidewalk encounters and the spirited shout of sparare reverberates down a cellar bocci court as senior citizens in the Italian enclave give vent to hard-core traditions.
Dining at Manducatis is just like dining at Grandma's house -- if your grandma happened to be Ida Cerbone. The chef and her husband, Vincenzo, have owned the Long Island City restuarant for more than 40 years, and it has become a favorite stop for many.
Manducatis is a classic mom-and-pop operation, a big room covered with art where the owners, Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone, oversee everything from rich fettuccine in its dense and silky meat sauce to whether you'd maybe rather sit closer to the fireplace.
I'd walked by Manducatis many times over the years without knowing what it was. When I finally ate there recently, I told the owner's son that I hadn't realized it was a working restaurant. "Nobody does," he replied with a smile.
On the first visit to the then-modest-looking restaurant, my friends and I knew we had stumbled into the presence of genius. It was not that the menu looked different from many another Italian menu; it didnt. But what came out of the kitchen was different.
Diverging from celebrity chef hopefuls, the people behind these restaurants don’t advertise, seek media attention, or even hang a sign. They remain conundrums to the outside world, with only a select few joining the inner circle of diners privy to their culinary secrets.