Sapienza’s Bagels, Deli and Restaurant has been one of the more popular places to grab a bite to eat in south Queens for years. When the former owner - for whom the establishment is named - sold the restaurant in 1993, it was strictly a deli, and even then, its popularity was unrivaled. Still, current owner Angelo Mugnolo had some ideas for improvement.
“I figured, everyone loves bagels,” said Mugnolo. “So we added those, and then we just kept expanding.”
Now, Sapienza’s, on Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach between 156th and 157th Avenues, is more popular than ever.
“We’ve got 50 catering or delivery orders for tomorrow [Friday, December 21] alone,” Mugnolo said.
Sapienza’s is everything a neighborhood deli should be - it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with nothing on the menu standing out as particularly expensive. A bagel, egg and cheese sandwich can get your morning started for less than $3. Around lunch time, you can get a deliciously generous serving - more than half a pound’s worth - of pastrami on rye for about $7. Sapienza’s has plenty of salad options - including a made-to-order salad bar, macaroni salad and potato salad.
When asked what makes Sapienza’s so popular, Mugnolo could only reply with what he’s heard from customers.
“Everyone says it’s the freshness,” he said. “Our pastrami is our biggest hit, and we cut that thin with a machine while everybody else cuts it with a knife.”
Sapienza’s also makes its own bagels, with a baker arriving in the wee hours of the morning to begin hand-rolling dough. On a given weekday, they go through about 200 dozen bagels, and 300 dozen more each weekend.
Mugnolo said he also goes through 50 pounds of tuna salad and chicken cutlet each day, and his menu has expanded to include such unlikely items as a Tex-Mex burger and a pizza bagel.
“I never ate avocado in my life, but I couldn’t believe how many people wanted
it, so we included it,” said Mugnolo. “Everything on the menu is popular. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be up there.”
But, while the food at Sapienza’s combines Queens prices with Manhattan quality, the real reason it has remained one of the area’s most popular eateries is the ambience.
“It’s a place where everybody’s on a first-name basis,” said Mugnolo. “In the mornings, we’ve got sanitation officers, UPS guys, DEP guys, and they all know each other. From the time we open until around 3 p.m., you’re lucky if you can get a seat.”
The fact that Sapienza’s provides seats at all gives it the legal right to be called a restaurant, but it maintains a casual, welcoming atmosphere, complete with holiday decorations, lots of light, and a plasma TV.
Mugnolo said he wasn’t sure what business he wanted to go into when he took over Sapienza’s, but nearly a decade-and-a-half later, there exists little doubt that he’s made the right decision.
“We just try to give people what they want,” he said.
Sapienza’s Bagels, Deli and Restaurant
156-28 Cross Bay Boulevard
HOURS:Monday through Saturday, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
PARKING:Lot in back; 105 spots.
CREDIT CARDS:All major credit cards accepted.