Tony Bruno has either just taken on his “sixth or seventh” delicatessen, he says. (With that many delis under a man’s belt, how could he be sure?) His newest is on the northwest corner of Route 25 and Wading River Road in Wading River.
That sixth-or-seventh delicatessen is The Deli At Wading River Commons.
Tony tells me he started cooking at home way before he bought his first deli in Woodlawn around 1977. In 1983 he sold that one, and the deli he also owned in Center Moriches—just north of the railroad tracks in a building occupied originally in the early 1900s by Harry Bernstein’s pocketbook factory, later Joe DiCarlo’s grocery store, now another deli—and went into the frozen wholesale/retail meat delivery business with partner Jason Hean.
In 1994, he and Jason bought the Shoppingtown Deli in the King Kullen shopping center at the west end of Main Street, Center Moriches.
“I’ve always run a couple of stores simultaneously,” says Tony, noting the help of his family. The ones he likes best are “neighborhood stores, where you get to know your customers and they get to know you.”
He was especially fond of the Center Moriches stores.
“I only sold the Shoppingtown Deli because the cost of renovations was impractical. I bought a small deli in Hauppauge while I looked for a bigger neighborhood location that ‘felt good.’
Bringing his son Frank into the business full-time was a priority. He found the potentially right deli in Wading River.
“The Wading River place is a good store,” says Tony. “The owner wanted to leave, so it was a good deal. It was well-established, with regular customers.”
Since then, he and Frank have established their own strong, friendly ties with their customers.
When you approach the building, if you look in the front window, you’ll see Tony or Frank at the grill. If Tony sees you pull up, he’ll wave; and by the time you walk in the front door, your order will already be in progress. That’s how well both he and Frank know their daily customers. You’re not just clientele.
This store has given the men the opportunity to expand again, with an active catering business like Shoppingtown, but Frank says, “We have a few new twists: outdoor catering events for groups like Boy Scouts take us further into the community. This deli has counters and tables with seating, so people can sit and talk to us and each other while they have coffee, a breakfast burrito, a pastry; or while they wait for their turn in line at the register.”
“Frank is great with customers at the counter,” says Tony. “He can talk and work at the same time!”
The truth, however, is that both guys can whip up a complicated order for the hurry-up breakfast and lunch crowds sooner than most customers can reach for their wallet. Meanwhile, Frank has tossed the old menu blackboard and computerized the menu.
“I used to have to write the menu by hand on the chalkboard and it was so worn out I’d have to repaint the thing every two weeks. Now I just click and key up the menu on the neon sign!”
He’s also streamlined ordering and inventory procedures.
“I go to tell Frank to do something and it’s already done!” Tony says.
But Frank says his Dad will always be right there, hovering over his shoulder even after Tony insists he’s “really retired.”
“That’ll be a cold day in— ” Frank adds, laughing. “Who’d make Dad’s famous rice pudding?”
It’s a great question. Tony’s rice pudding is the “hottest dessert in the cold case.” It’s made from scratch, the way Grandma cooked it—if you were lucky. Tony kindly shared his popular recipe—enough for a family gathering, a pajama party, a few hungry men, a daily deli staple—so you can make it yourself at home, too. The cinnamon-y aroma will, hopefully, evoke happy days now and ahead.
Tony’s Rice Pudding
Note: This is a huge recipe, but it is easily broken into halves or fourths, so you can fix it for a crowd or your family. Buy the milk, and butter at a local dairy and fresh large eggs from a local chicken farm, to make it extra-special.
- 1 lb. uncooked rice
- 1 lb. granulated sugar
- 1 gallon plus 1 qt. milk
- 8 eggs, separated
- 1/4 lb. butter
- 2 large capfulls vanilla extract
- ground cinnamon*
- Melt the butter in a very large pot.
- Add the rice, sugar, milk and vanilla, stirring constantly.
- When the rice is fully cooked and the liquid absorbed, remove the pot from the heat. While it’s cooling slightly, beat the egg yolks and whip the egg white to stiff peaks.
- Rapidly stir the beaten egg yolks into the pot of rice. Integrate thoroughly, so they cook in the very warm rice mixture without coagulating into scrambled eggs.
- Let cool completely and fold in the whipped egg whites. Add cinnamon to taste. (*Tony uses the cinnamon as a garnish. I swirl it in a marbled pattern.) Refrigerate.