To the great relief and joy of pastrami lovers all across Queens and New York, Sapienza in Howard Beach is open for business.
Although Sapienza opened on Sept. 24, it is only the latest iteration of a restaurant that Angelo Mugnolo, who co-owns the business with Anthony Calore, says has been around for over 100 years.
Although the Italian food bistro’s owners pride themselves on their excellent hot steamed pastramis, corned beef and brisket, their menu offers a wide range of options for all diners. There are soup, salad, sandwich, wrap and seafood options. “We do a full breakfast. We’re carrying one of the tastiest bagels on the boulevard,” beamed Mugnolo.
They also do catering. Mugnolo explained that one of his most popular catering orders, heroes in a basket, is a traditional, long, catered sub (think a 3-, 6- or 12-foot sandwich) cut into sections and served in a basket.
Sapienza bears the motto “The Pastrami King of Queens,” and this is no joke. I ordered their claim to fame, a pastrami with mustard on a roll, and it just might have been the best I’ve ever had. It was lean but soft, and savory without being too greasy. And they don’t skimp on the meat either. The restaurant itself was pleasant too, with an unimposing and welcoming appearance. All of the customers seemed to be enjoying themselves, from construction workers to neighborhood grandmothers to young families.
The idea for the restaurant, says Mugnolo, came about when people started complaining that there was no place around to get fresh, high-quality pastrami, corned beef or brisket. “We added pastrami, corned beef, brisket, and seating. That’s what people wanted. That’s what they kept asking for,” explained Mugnolo.
And it would seem that people got what they asked for. “The amount of people coming to me and shaking my hand saying ‘Thanks,’ it’s like I should run for office,” said Mugnolo. And indeed, one customer after another could be heard at the cashier thanking the staff for their delicious work.
“He’s the only pastrami guy around,” said John Amoroso, a regular diner. “The only decent stuff. It’s a nice place, it’s pretty.”
“It’s something you can’t get around here,” said Mugnolo. “We’re very affordable. The same sandwich could cost you 18 dollars in Manhattan. There’s nowhere else like it.”
Mugnolo boasted that, on an average week, they sell about 2,000 pounds of pastrami and 500 pounds combined of corned beef and brisket.
Although the restaurant only opened recently, it has been doing very well, even exceeding Mugnolo’s expectations. “There has been such a great neighborhood response,” he said. “This is something on this boulevard that no one else does.” He also pointed out that the burgeoning restaurant will only do better in the summer, with the hope that the flavorful aromas will entice New Yorkers on their way to the beach.
“This business is for people that enjoy good food. I get to put a smile on their faces, I get to make a lot of friends. That’s why we’re in this business,” said Mugnolo. “We thank everybody for the business. We’re happy to serve everybody that we can, and we really appreciate the feedback.”
This is a local restaurant with New York-wide appeal. It’s located at 164-26 Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach. You can call them at (718) 323-4011.