Joseph DeNicola wants customers at his new Tex Mex eatery, Del Fuego, in St. James to experience one thing.
“Fun,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for here.”
Del Fuego is a departure from the Italian-style fine dining experience found at DeNicola’s three other establishments, La Tavola in Sayville and Ruvo, with locations in Greenlawn and Port Jefferson. He runs all four in partnership with his brothers, Jim and Leo.
Their latest project opened three weeks ago after six months of building in a former butcher shop on Route 25A. It had been dinner and drinks until the lunch menu was introduced last week.
“We try to do one thing right, before we do two things wrong,” DeNicola said.
The restaurateur said the move was a reaction to the changing industry. While fine dining certainly isn’t out, DeNicola said, more people are looking for fast, fresh and casual.
“There’s a trend of people getting appetizers and drinks without the four course meal. I’m trying to fill that niche here,” he said.
He does that with a mixture of traditional Mexican food and Southwestern dishes, with subtle twists on the old favorites. The pulled chicken quesadillas contain a mango barbecue sauce which brings a distinct sweetness to the Mexican staple. The Burger Yu’r Way features chili spiced fries, and the dry-rubbed pork ribs come with red cabbage slaw and spiced pumpkin seeds.
Everything from the nacho chips to the chili-infused tequila is made in house. DeNicola said the menu was formed with an emphasis on healthy. The meat in the chili is half ground turkey for less fat. There are a number of salad options, fish tacos, and few greasy fried items.
The cocktail menu features custom concoctions by “mixologist” Josh Goldman, who splits his work week between Del Fuego on the weekends and Manhattan. The Casa del Fuego, a blend of chili-infused tequila, passion fruit and strawberry puree and pineapple juice with a Cointreau topping, has generated some hype already, DeNicola said.
The bar boasts more than 50 varieties of tequilas and 30 different beers. A selection of wines on tap include DeNicola’s own brand, Ruvo, produced on the North Fork.
The atmosphere is casual. Dark wood furnishings sit under a colorful assortment of artwork and hot sauce bottles decorating the walls, including large Spanish-style collages by Three Village-based artist Niko DeMaria, who helped DeNicola with the rest of the décor.
While DeNicola is aiming to add some variety to Smithtown’s dining landscape with the foreign-inspired restaurant, he finds satisfaction in supporting American workers in the process. He said he gets most of his ingredients from local sustainable farms, including Schmitt's Farm in Laurel, and furnished the place almost exclusively with materials and products made in America.
“People here need to work,” he said.