On a recent trip to Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, I stumbled upon a restaurant on Commack Road. Verde Wine Bar and Ristorante offers a true experience in dining; food bursting with bold flavors and textures that is intricately prepared by one of Long Island’s up-and-coming chefs, James Ahearn. Ahearn looks as if he just stepped off the set of Chopped or Top Chef, and so does his food. His confidence in his cooking abilities and technique comes through quite clearly, which makes for a fantastic dining experience.
James and his partner, general manager Anthony Carcaterra, opened Verde in July 2013. They have a long history together; as childhood friends, they worked in Anthony’s parents’ restaurant, Papa Joe’s at the same location.
Where else does Kerriann Eat?
“My parents started at a local pizzeria in 1984, which was around the corner,” Anthony says. “They moved here in 1993 when I graduated from high school. James and I were friends. I was a server and eventually became restaurant manager, and James bused tables.”
The two friends ended up pursuing an education in culinary arts, and attended New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip, back when they had a culinary program. Both came out with culinary and business degrees, and went their separate ways.
Carcaterra had a successful career working for famed New York City caterer, Abigail Kirsch, while James worked at Butterfields in Hauppauge, along with some stints in restaurants in New York City. Eventually, Carcaterra’s father was looking to retire.
“He made a call to me and it was the perfect time in my life,” says Carcaterra, “because I was looking to make a change. I contacted James, and we were both ready to do something on our own.”
The two decided to create an American wine and bourbon bar, and a new Italian/American restaurant where all of the products are domestically sourced. Carcaterra is in charge of mixology. Not only is Verde a wine bar, they also offer craft cocktails made with domestic spirits. Their mixology menu is quite extensive.
Although Carcaterra has a say in menu development, he leaves it to Ahearn to handle what goes on with the food and in the kitchen.
“Food-wise it’s really interesting,” says Ahearn. “We have a classically produced methodology behind the food, with a modern interpretation as far as presentation. So you’ll find a lot of old world flavors presented new. We are Italian based, but the influences come from all over the world. We are creating a new Italian/American cuisine. That’s pretty much where we’re focused.”
The menu at Verde is very diverse. They offer everything from rabbit leg and tripe to pasta and eggplant parmesan. Most interesting is their offal menu. For those who may not be up on this culinary term it means “the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food.” I asked Ahearn about customer response to dishes like veal sweetbreads, Wagyu beef tongue and foie gras.
He says, “There was a trust issue at first, but then once they found they could trust the chef, they sort of relaxed a little bit and tried it. I decided to include these items on my menu because a lot of it comes from my background. My grandmother was an Armenian immigrant, so she had offal on the stove all the time. There was always tripe on the stove when I was a kid. Liver was like chicken nuggets to me. This is what I was eating when I was a kid. So a lot comes from heritage, and what we actually like to eat. I wanted to do something different.”
He adds, “The nose-to-tail movement is also incredibly strong right now. It is the complete utilization [of the animal] as far as scraps. Anything you would normally throw out, we now use. And this holds true from vegetable to meat products. You can really extract some really big flavors and get really interesting textures out of things you would normally throw out.”
For the less adventurous, other options include pasta, which Ahearn says is most popular. You can also get homemade pizza and even a burger at Verde.
“There are some reasons why we have eggplant parmesan and chicken parmesan on the menu,” says Carcaterra. “One, is that my parents started a pizzeria, and we had a base clientele. I wanted to make sure we stayed true to some of the things [my father] did very well, and it meant a lot to James and me.” He adds, “Also, we get diners—a party of eight or 10—and maybe not everybody wants to have foie gras and sweetbreads.”
What’s interesting about Verde, is that the menu completely changes every three months, to keep things new and exciting.
Verde is prouds about being farm-to-table, and they get their produce from as many local vendors as possible including Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. Verde is mostly organic, and all center plate meats are hormone free and free range. What’s interesting about Verde, is that the menu completely changes every three months, to keep things new and exciting.
“I have rabbit on every menu,” says Ahearn, “but it changes all the time. On this particular menu, it really has almost a Latin feel with piquillo pepper, fennel, saffron, chorizo, potatoes, capers and cilantro. I pretty much stick to a motif of a dish, and then just bounce around on it. When picking produce for menu options, we want to complement a dish, and then put method on it, so it’s not just fennel, it’s the way you cook the fennel.”
The meal I had at Verde was extraordinary. While I was perusing the menu, which was whimsically placed on a wooden clip board, three different kinds of breads were served with an incredible dipping oil. I ordered a glass of white merlot from Leib Cellar’s second label Bridge Lane Wines, which went perfectly with the roasted clam appetizer. Five succulent clams featured Sarvecchio parmesan, shallot, citrus and a generous piece of pork belly, atop a slice of homemade rustic bread, which soaked up the juices from the clams and sauce beautifully. Following that I had probably the best foie gras I have ever tasted. The flavors and textures were incredible, and the dish consisted of chestnut conserva, vermouth, carrot and currant granola. The meat and cheese board was simple yet elegant, and featured a delicious Von Trap Oma, Jasper Hill Vermont cow’s milk brie that was outstanding paired with honey and dark chocolate. Pickled carrots, eggplant caponata and oil-cured olives accompanied the cheese along with a dried, whiskey-infused salami. Just when I thought I had enough, the chef brought out a magnificently prepared hamachi-style tuna with watermelon radish, scallion, fennel, ghost chili and bottarga, which is dried tuna roe, shaved on top. Outstanding! I ended the meal with homemade zeppoli with toasted granola over a yogurt panna cotta, and an affogato, a pool of warm espresso topped with hazelnut gelato. Pure heaven.
A 6- or 9-course chef’s tasting menu paired with wine is offered and served nightly, along with the regular menu. Reservations for the tasting menu are recommended for Saturday nights; Sunday brunch is offered weekly.
Verde is open Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m.–11 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Verde is closed on Mondays.