At Aldo’s in Greenport: His Passion for the Perfect Dish and a Proper Cup of Coffee
Posted On 12/14/2020
Greenport – By Donna Giancontieri
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone on the North Fork of Long Island who didn’t recognize him just by first name. Aldo. You see, he is a bit of a celebrity here, approached at restaurants when dining with his family or shopping in local stores. Customers take photos of him at his Greenport cafe, Aldo’s Coffee Company.
It’s his unique look, surely, in part. This Einstein of coffee with his shock of white untamed hair and glasses. It’s his personality, too. (more on that later) And, it’s his longevity here on the North Fork, where he settled and began cooking and baking 40 years ago.
Also, it’s the famed David vs Goliath tale, told often in these parts, of the ill-fated Starbucks opening directly across Front Street from Aldo’s, then closing in 2011 as lines continued to grow at Aldo’s. But, Aldo sees no comparison. What he does each day is about substance and purity, he says. Proper. No syrups, no flavors.
It’s never about the business-end of the cafe for Aldo. It’s the people. He truly likes people. His greatest joy? Feeding them. He seems to have an inner sense about food, about cooking. He can tell precisely when a piece of fruit is ripe, when bread is perfectly cooked.
Aldo tells stories with great pride of taking hours, sometimes days, to prepare the perfect dish. But he doesn’t give away all his secrets. When asked the trick to the celebrated chicken he once sold at his specialty shop? “Roast 35 minutes with a glass of wine then you go to heaven,” he says with a laugh. But, cooking these days is a joyful hobby. At the cafe, he focuses on the coffee and the baked goods.
Aldo’s offerings are limited, indeed, but everything is made with extreme care. Baked goods include his famous scones, biscotti and croissants. Less is more here because nothing is created haphazardly even in the midst of hectic twelve hour days. “I don’t take shortcuts,” Aldo explained. “These take time. The key is attention to the detail.”
Stop in to the coffee shop regularly and see familiar faces, customers who visit daily: some chat with Aldo and grab a cup to go, others settle into a seat overlooking the park and marina. He knows them by name, knows their special orders—this one likes a special type of cup, another a latte made an unusual way. Look closely and you may recognize some actual celebrities—the actor, the rock musician and the New York TV personality. They are all fans, too.
Back to the coffee. All the beans are single-origin organic beans. No drip coffee here. Order your cup and the beans are ground, the milk steamed. Your order may come along with a story, a joke or a question about your life, maybe your food preferences. Take your time, he is. No worries about the waiting customers stretching through the cafe. They will have their turn and he will pay as much attention to them, as to you.
There is tea or fresh squeezed orange juice available if one prefers. And decadent hot chocolate— each cup made by hand, the dark chocolate softened and stirred then warmed with steam and milk.
Aldo Maiorana’s Old-World style stems from his European roots. Sicilian born and raised in France, he moved to the United States in 1978, speaking no English. Now, he is fluent in four languages (five if you distinguish between Sicilian and Italian as he does.) Listen as he greets someone in Italian, comments to another customer in French, asks a question in English all without hesitation within a span of twenty seconds and while carefully steaming milk for a cappuccino.
A self-taught baker and cook (he insists he is not a chef, although many would argue otherwise), he learned to perfect his craft after arriving in America to find only manufactured sliced “accordion breads” and coffee in cans. He missed the quality of food he enjoyed in France. So, he taught himself to recreate it. Before long he was cooking, catering and in high demand.
He began in a commercial kitchen in his former East Marion home complete with a Vulcan stove. Eventually, he rented a small space in Greenport Village and later moved to his current location where he installed a coffee roaster and two-deck bread oven. His homemade sausage, fresh keilbasa and roasted chicken at Aldo’s Specialty Food Shop were a big hit. During the summers he ran all day, he said, adding that there were many times he would stay awake for 40 hours straight.
“It’s not just making,” he explains. “I am proud to create something with passion. Whatever you get on your plate, you get Aldo in it.”
Aldo drinks espresso. Lots of espresso. His days begin at dawn and wrap up in the evening, much of it spent on his feet. In addition to the busy cafe, he ships bags of coffee to customers nationwide and supplies a number of businesses with coffee and scones.
Of his life and his success, he says it was the personal and professional obstacles that propelled him. Didn’t speak English? Taught himself. Missed quality European bread and coffee? Taught himself to make them. In France, when he opened a restaurant and needed a chef, he taught himself to cook. When the 1980 oil embargo put a damper on his catering business, he opened the Greenport specialty food shop. “A lot of my life wasn’t by choice,” he said. “I was confronted with an obstacle and I crossed the obstacle.”
Aldo’s Coffee Company is located at 105 Front Street, Greenport, New York