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Del Fuego Spices Up St. James [International Flavors of Smithtown]

Owner says his new Tex-Mex endeavor brings some variety to the village.

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.

stjamesBri November 18, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Ruvo in Port Jeff is fantastic and Joe is a good guy. Can't wait to take the family to his new place, we love tex mex. And I'm always up for supporting a local business, especially one that buys from LI farms. Good luck with the new place Joe and we'll see you soon.
Valerie B December 17, 2011 at 01:54 PM
HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE THEY TREAT THEIR CUSTOMERS SOOOO RUDE! Four co-workers/friends Went there one Friday night after a long very stressfull day, we work down the road & myself & one other lives in the area, figured we'd give the restaurant a try, what a mistake!! Before we even got to order our dinners (we had purchased appetizers & soup) or finish our pitcher of sangria, a young man came up to the table and asked if he could buy us a drink at the bar (which was packed with no seat available), we thought it was a customer & of course replied no, he then said he needed the table, still confused we ask to speak to the manager who told us there are only 25 seats in the restaurant and we need to leave our table...we had not finished our wine, food or asked if we wanted anything else...never heard of this in all my years, of course we asked for the check & left immediately, this is NOT the way to start a new business in the area or to treat prospective regular customers or anyone..Needless to say, myself, my friends & everyone I know in the area WILL NOT be patronizing this Horrible establisment & we recomment the same to all who read this!!!
John Robertson January 02, 2012 at 02:25 PM
My family and a few friend ate there the other night and we all loved it. The service was impeccable and the food was delicious. We welcome this new Mexican Restaurant. We called ahead for reservations and we are glad we did. The place is small, but we were led right to our preset table waiting for us. They offered a guacamole menu instead of just the same old same old, and we ordered the shrimp and crab guacamole along with traditional. I had a pulled brisket with a smokey Chipotle sauce. I loved it. I will recommend this place to my friends.
Rachel February 05, 2012 at 04:19 AM
My husband and I loved it. Went after a friend highly recommended it. Our experience is totally opposite of the comment above. The staff couldn't have been nicer. In fact, we interacted with at least four members of the staff and they were all very nice and welcoming / giving suggestions on what to order at the bar and at our table. The rib app was amazing - meat so flavorful and tender. Our drinks were great, and our meals were excellent. Large grilled shrimp in the quesadillas, chicken burritos delish, and got the toasted coconut Icecream bc my friend had suggested it - and so glad we did. We will be back - loved it.

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