TikTok’s favorite Staten Island influencers

He is the kitchen cugine.

Meet Danny Mondello, the Rossville, Staten Island native behind the hugely popular TikTok account.meals_by_cug.”

Cug is short for cugine, which means “cousin” in Italian, but is also used colloquially to describe an Italian-American.

“When I created this page, it was a persona. Cug isn’t Danny,” Mondello, 24, told the Post.

Clearly an outskirts, Mondello’s hyperbolic alter ego has charmed much of the internet. He has 1.6 million TikTok followers and nearly half a million more Instagram, everyone tunes in to his food reviews, which include Italian-American slang, gulps of Diet Coke, clever one-liners and salacious sister jokes, delivered with his deep voice that sounds like it’s been cooking in Sunday sauce for eight hours. (His accent is very real, by the way.)

Mondello visits local pubs, reviews foods you can eat with your hands like pizza and sandwiches, and caps each video with his grandpa-esque catchphrase, “Take care, brush your hair.” He ranks the food up his “Madone” scale.

Mondello is about to eat the Anthony and Sons godfather sandwich
Danny Mondello is about to eat Anthony & Son’s Godfather sandwich.
Brian Zak/NY Post

And with his unassuming personality, he stands out from the crowd of self-proclaimed food influencers that have become ubiquitous. Flip through TikTok or just walk down the street in New York City and you’ll be visually assaulted by guys yelling at the camera about mortadella on a bun like Sam Kinison on a bender.

In other words, his energy is more Ray Romano, less Guy Fieri.

“I’m definitely a little bit different. I’m a down to earth, laid back guy and I don’t show myself. I wear plain Jane clothes, no jewelry. My looks and my accent are different. My accent doesn’t match my looks,” he said of his appeal, adding that he “uses old-school charm in a new way. Also, I don’t yell at the camera. I think people like that. I’m not a nutcase.”

Mondello wasn’t chasing internet fame. In 2017, while he was pursuing an accounting degree from SUNY New Paltz, he moved off campus with two roommates, and his mother proposed. “My mom was like, ‘You want to eat out, you’re going to pay for it. But if you go to the grocery store and cook, I’ll pay.” What am I? An idiot?’ ”

Clearly on the outskirts, the hyperbolic alter ego of the Staten Island native has charmed much of the internet.
Clearly on the outskirts, the hyperbolic alter ego of the Staten Island native has charmed much of the internet.
Brian Zak/NY Post

He became the chef of the house, and to entertain his friends Mondello would record his food preparation, showing only the food, not his face. After graduation, he got a job in accounting, but after five days he quit.

“There was no action. Nobody spoke,” he said.

He became a line chef at a restaurant in New Paltz and continued to create content for a few hundred followers as a hobby. But in July last year, on a visit Rossi and Sons Rossi Rosticceria in PoughkeepsieStepping in front of the lens examining a roast beef sandwich, he remarked in the TikTok video, “By the time you’re 26, you’ll probably get heart disease, but it’s worth it.” The post has been viewed 440,000 times.

“I don’t know why I did it, but I talked like a gavone and people liked it. So I ran with it,” he said. His online following grew, and in September he ventured into the festival of San Gennaro, where he was repeatedly stopped by excited festival-goers who recognized him. That trip to Mulberry Street led to an epiphany: “I said, ‘I’ve got something here.’ I went home and spent my two weeks at my job.”

In November, Nicolas Heller, also known as the creative behind the popular New York Nico account, began regularly featuring Mondello, which helped increase his visibility on Instagram.

“Before that, I was a little potato on Instagram,” Mondello joked.

Now he is regularly approached by fans. He is followed online by celebrities like Drake, comedian Andrew Schulz and singer Charlie Puth, to name a few. Two weeks ago, he met comedian Sebastian Maniscalco at an event on Long Island. “He called me. Said, “Cug, how are you?” “

Mondello has 1.6 million followers for his TikTok account @meals_by_cug.
Mondello has 1.6 million followers for his TikTok account @meals_by_cug.
Brian Zak/NY Post

And single Mondello said girls regularly get into his DMs and sometimes crack sister jokes. Still, the self-proclaimed “gentleman” said, “I don’t know if I would date a girl who slipped in my DMs.”

In January, he moved back to Staten Island and earns money through sponsorships, merchandise and making videos on the Cameo site. In a month he will be introducing a food product that is a collaboration with another influencer. But he tries to stay as fresh as the mozzarella royal crown Bakery, his favorite sandwich spot in Staten Island.

“I can’t do this forever. In 20 years I won’t be eating sandwiches in front of a camera. I need to find something else to do,” he said, adding that he takes a sophisticated approach to diversification while pausing to smell the braciola.

“It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to record everything.”

Here, Cug shouts out the purveyors of his favorite New York City food:


Mondello said the cannoli at Villabate Alba are delicious
Mondello said the cannoli at Villabate Alba are delicious.

Mondello is preferred for pastries Villabate Alba, an “old school” Bensonhurst Bakery. Their cannolis are fresh, he said, adding, “I think their ricotta is sick. I don’t know what the hell they do with it. I’m speechless. The presentation is also very nice.”

7001 18th Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-331-8430


Mondello prefers the white cake at Denino's because it contains onions
Mondello prefers the white cake at Denino’s because it contains onions.
Courtesy of Deninos

When it comes to cake, Cug relies on his gut instincts and childhood memories. “It’s a nostalgia thing for me. I like the white cake on Deninoshe said of the Staten Island staple. “They throw onions at it, and I like onions, so I’m sticking with it.”

524 Port Richmond Avenue, Staten Island; 718-442-9401


In his home county, he makes his own sandwich at Royal Crown Bakery. But in Brooklyn it applies Anthony and son in Williamsburg. “Their sandwiches are well built and creative. . . And it’s always lively there.” His choice? The godfather with prosciutto, capocollo, sopressata, salami, pepperoni, bologna, fresh mozzarella, rocket and balsamic vinaigrette.

433 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-383-7395


“I like a sesame bagel and they put seeds on top and bottom. It’s my neighborhood eatery,” he said Pio Hot BagelS

655 Rossville Avenue, Staten Island; 718-605-6100


Patrizia's Moneybag Pasta is Mondello's favorite dish.
Fioretti alla boscaiola, also known as “the purse” pasta, from Patrizia’s is Mondello’s favorite dish.

“I love the Purse Noodles at patricia. I have no idea what they put in the sauce, but it’s phenomenal,” he said of the stuffed pasta in a creamy mushroom and prosciutto sauce known as fioretti alla boscaiola.

4255 Amboy Road, Staten Island; 718-317-6600 TikTok’s favorite Staten Island influencers


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