Chef Angelo Cuculino shows off some of the many signature dishes offered at Tuscanello’s Italian Dining in Ocean City.

Edward Lea

Chef Angelico Cuculino has worked in the area for a decade. He and partner John Czop believed that Ocean City was in need of a great Italian restaurant. When Czop bought one of the condo units at the Homestead Hotel they began to formulate a plan.

“It was a great location and the area was in need of true, authentic Italian food,” says Cuculino

Just as they decided to go ahead with the project, the entire inside of the building was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

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For the partners, it was only a bump in the road.

Renovations were completed in several months and the restaurant opened in July.

“The building looks phenomenal, tremendously upscale, and definitely a lot different than what it was,” says Cuculino. The new building has tile on the columns, walls and a New York-style decor and has prompted much-renewed attention.

Comments on Facebook and Trip Advisor describe Tuscanello’s Italian Dining as something that Ocean City simply didn’t have before.

The menu has plenty to offer, too, with that special touch that a 100-percent-from-scratch kitchen provides.

Cuculino’s family is from Rome, and that is where the flavor comes from.

“What I grew up with was, when a dish came out, you did not need salt and pepper,” Cuculino says.

Bruschetta ($9.95) is not the same as most other restaurants.

“Our tomatoes are not raw, they are cooked,” Cuculino says. His recipe uses poached plum tomatoes, roasted peppers, and roasted eggplant, along with garlic and fresh herbs.

Fried mozzarella ($8.95) is absolutely different, not cut into sticks. Instead a quarter pound wedge is coated with freshly made bread crumbs, deep fried then served atop a rosa sauce.

Of course, the mozzarella is made in-house.

“We get the fresh curd and make our own,” Cuculino says.

A daily selection of soups are available. One of the favorites and biggest sellers is the seafood bisque that uses fresh sea scallops, shrimp, crab meat, and chopped clams, making a delicate soup finished with heavy cream and fresh herbs.

“We use a lot of fresh localgrown products and meats from a local butcher, not a wholesale supplier, so we can pick and choose,” Cuculino says. “We try to use as much local as we can.”

Salads include a Caesar ($7.95) that can include grilled jumbo shrimp or grilled chicken for an additional charge; a chef’s salad ($9.45) with homemade croutons; and a garden salad ($7.95).

“We do it a little more Italian-style, where the salads are tossed and seasoned, “ Cuculino says .

Some dishes are called house specialties for a reason.

“Our penne ala vodka is definitely different than what you’re going to get in the area,” Cuculino says. “We do our penne vodka with toasted garlic to bring out a different flavor.”

Their penne ala vodka ($17.95) also uses the more expensive prosciutto, not bacon or pancetta, to create a more flavorful and aromatic dish.

Lasagna ($18.95), a perennial favorite, is another big seller.

“Our lasagna is three meats and five cheeses in a 20-to-22 ounce cut that we give the customer,” Cuculino says. “Our tomato sauce is made fresh, taking three hours to cook.”

Cuculino notes that the restaurant also gets raves about their prime rib and meatballs from both customers and local food critics. The prime rib is crusted with fresh herbs like parsley and thyme and roasted to form a flavorful crust.

“Our portions are huge; customers never go away from the table hungry and are always taking food home,” Cuculino says. “People work hard for their money and after the tragedies that we have had in the last two years from hurricanes and floods, people are being tighter with their pocketbooks, so when they find an establishment where they get good food at a good price...”

Cuculino says that 90 percent of his customers never have room for desserts, which is unfortunate because his tiramisu, cannoli and bread pudding are all homemade.

Cuculino doesn’t believe in “specials.” His thinking is that is when a chef buys too much of something and has to get rid of it fast it becomes a special. He instead runs dishes as “features,” made in small amounts that stop when the kitchen runs out.

“Last week we had a parmesan-encrusted perch and a pan-seared salmon in vin blanc sauce,” says Cuculino. “We run seasonal.”

Cuculino is already working on the menu for Thanksgiving and for Ocean City’s New Year’s Eve celebration called First Night It’s never too early to think about making reservations.

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