By Kathianne Boniello
The word “tempesta” means storm in Italian, but the five friends who recently opened the new Cafe Tempesta in Fresh Meadows have succeeded in creating one of the more tranquil eating spots on Union Turnpike’s busy shopping strip.
Less than a block away from St. John’s University, Cafe Tempesta co-owner Robert Johnson said he and his four partners had always dreamed of starting a restaurant together.
“We’ve been friends for years,” Johnson said. “We always wanted to open a restaurant and we finally got the time and money together, and went for it.”
Johnson and his partners — Lorenzo Mastrandrea, Matthew Kohm, Joseph DeVone and Anthony Accardi — hail from Bayside, Whitestone Flushing, New Hyde Park and Lynbrook, L.I., he said. Since several of the partners are graduates of St. John’s, establishing their own business near their alma mater was a natural choice, he said.
After six months of construction, Cafe Tempesta at 176-61 Union Tpke. opened in May and has been offering fine Italian cuisine to the diverse neighborhood in and around St. John’s ever since.
“We wanted to give it more of a feel of Manhattan in Queens,” Johnson said of the eatery.
With an impressive stucco facade and a cool, breezy interior, Cafe Tempesta offers personalized service and a menu Johnson said includes specialized Italian dishes created by the eatery.
While chef and co-owner Lorenzo Mastrandrea will make a classic Italian meal like chicken parmigianna on request, Johnson said customers should not be afraid to check out something different.
Orecchiette Tempesta, for example, includes crumbled sausage, broccoli rabe tomatoes sautéed with garlic, olive oil and tossed with pasta, according to the Cafe Tempesta menu. Pollo Tempesta, another house specialty, is chicken sautéed with prosciutto and shallots, served with fresh mozzarella and white wine sauce.
And as customers dine, Johnson said they should not be surprised if one of the five co-owners comes over to say hello.
“Everyone is treated like family here,” said Johnson, with the partners taking turns staffing the restaurant’s dining room. “There will always be a boss around — there will always be someone there for the customer on a one-on-one basis.”
The calm decor of Cafe Tempesta works to draw the customer’s attention to the food being served — as long as they do not look up.
Pale gray covers the walls and slate tile floors in muted colors provide an understated backdrop, while plain black tablecloths accentuate the food. But one glance skyward reveals a startling surprise: a ceiling handpainted in striking hues of orange, purple, red and yellow.
“We decided to name ourselves Cafe Tempesta, partly because of our proximity to St. John’s” and the school’s team name, the Red Storm, Johnson said.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.