25 West Main St, Patchogue
delfuegorestaurant.com, (631) 569-5400
Just because a restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Thus it goes with casual, rustic, no reservations, walk-in Del Fuego. Televisions showing sporting events are everywhere. At times Del Fuego, with its big central bar, overhead fans, industrial ceiling, bare wooden tables and vibrant, lively milieu, is reminiscent of a sports bar. But the walls scream Southwest: brightly-colored collages, steer heads, Texas license plates and sombreros.
Believe it or not the Southwestern, Tex-Mex razzmatazz comes from the Italian DeNicola family. Joseph DeNicola, the co-owner and corporate executive chef, is the point man of this venture along with his three brothers. They predictably started out with Ruvo, an Italian restaurant in Greenlawn and then opened another Ruvo in Port Jefferson. From then on it’s been Tex-Mex all the way with Del Fuegos in Saint James, Babylon and now Patchogue.
The modestly priced food here has no right being as good as it is. Its robust, vibrantly seasoned dishes feature entrée-size appetizers and take-home-size entrées. Most of the dishes are multi-ingredient concoctions boasting big, bold flavors that explode in your mouth, thanks to Steve Hamerman, the presiding chef.
The first impression at most restaurants is the bread. At a Tex-Mex spot it’s the tortilla chips. Here they are a crisp, warm, multi-colored amalgam accompanied by some zingy salsa. Yes, they are addictive.
The first and least expensive dish sampled, a big bowl of black bean soup with a swirl of herb encrusted crema and a centerpiece of fresh cilantro, cotija cheese and pico de gallo ($6) was a mellow, smooth pleasure. More hearty eaters opted for a half rack of dry rubbed ribs in a lager barbecue sauce covered with spicy pumpkin seeds ($12) or shrimp and chorizo flautas with pico de gallo and cheddar jack cheese in grilled flour tortillas spiked by some guajillo chili ($11). Note: a cross cultural Santa Fe shrimp Caesar salad with bacon, black beans, corn, scallions and greens was far too much as an appetizer ($15).
Only bland, neutral Yucatan chicken enchiladas ($18) fell short, but soft corn shrimp tacos with chipotle aioli ($14), a three mushroom quesadilla simply adorned with scallions and melted cheddar jack cheese ($10) and a big bang of barbec ue brisket enchiladas ($19) all combined multiple ingredients into satisfying compositions.
Diners can finish up with a dense, warm chocolate brownie crowned with deeply flavored Mexican chocolate ice cream ($5) or a warm tender apple empanada topped by salted caramel ice cream and a caramel drizzle ($5)