East End Eats: Sag Pizza, Give a Piece a Chance
103 Main Street, Sag Harbor
Lunch and dinner daily
Remember when Espresso closed and Harbor Market took its place on Division Street in Sag Harbor? The outcry was vociferous. Neighbors tried to stop it, citing the ventilation system mostly. Parents of Pierson students protested. Where will our kids get their affordable lunches?
Long story short, Harbor Market serves the neighborhood and the students and teachers well, with healthy, affordable food. The vents are neither noisy nor smelly. Oh, and Espresso reopened a short while later in the heart of the village. Freakout resolved.
A similar outcry occurred when the Venesina family sold Conca D’Oro (Golden Basin) to Laurent Tourondel and Michael Cinque, business partners in LT Burger across the street. “There goes the neighborhood.” “Sag Harbor is changing.” “Now there’s no place where kids can get pizza by the slice!” The last patron on closing day reportedly froze the final pizza put out at Conca D’Oro. For Pete’s sake, shouldn’t Frank Venesina and his family get a chance to relax after over 40 years at Conca D’Oro? If you really miss their food, their relatives still own and run La Parmagiana in Southampton, Edgewater in Hampton Bays, and Baby Moon in Westhampton Beach. So there’s that. And if you just want some old-school Italian food, hearty portions, and garlic knots, don’t forget the charming Il Capuccino, blocks away on Madison Street.
I loved Conca D’Oro too, but as the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said “plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose,” roughly translated to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” You can get pizza by the slice at Sag Pizza. Garlic knots! They deliver! The food is excellent! And, the prices at Sag Pizza are very close to what Conca D’Oro’s prices were when I reviewed it five years ago.
To recap: We now have Tutto Il Giorno, Dopo La Spiaggia, and Il Capuccino, serving Southern and Northern Italian food within blocks of each other. We also now have three places that serve wood-oven pizzas: Lulu’s, Harbor Market, and Sag Pizza. Abbondanza! Mangia! Lulu’s pizza is good and more expensive than the others, between $21 and $24. Harbor Market’s pizzas are excellent, priced at $14.95 to $17.95. Sag Pizza pizzas are $15 to $19, slices are $3.75 to $4.50. In 2013, Conca D’Oro’s pizzas were $14 to $24, albeit for larger pies. Crikey, what an intro.
My friend Steven said he just had to come along on our review because he had had a dreadful experience at Sag Pizza when it had just opened. Food took too long, they had to leave before being served, etc. “It is for that exact reason, your predisposition to be prejudiced against them, that I shouldn’t include you,” I said.
“No, that’s why you should bring me, to change my mind.” Touché. I did. He did.
The space looks bigger than before, ceiling higher, walls blown out of the back, and white, white wood and tile everywhere, similar to LT Burger. Takeout, slices, and more are available at the front. There is a small bar on the left and the back wall is filled with firewood, big cans of San Marzano tomatoes, and bags of flour.
We began our meal with the raw zucchini salad, meatballs, and calamari. The raw zucchini salad was delicious, a combination of shredded yellow squash and zucchini, sliced, toasted almonds, and pecorino cheese in a light, very lemony dressing. The meatballs — three big ones — are made with veal and mortadella (hubba, hubba!). The tomato sauce they were served in is superb. They were topped with two chunky slices of toasted rustic bread slathered with pesto. The calamari fritti was another winner. Plenty of tender tentacles and rings that were crispy crunchy and not oily. Matchstick-sized pieces of zucchini were interspersed with the calamari, and it was served with one of the best aioli I’ve ever had. It was hot and vinegary, made with Calabrian chiles.
For entrees we ordered rigatoni with Bolognese sauce, mushroom pizza, pepperoni pizza (teenager!), and clam pizza. Steven, becoming a Sag Pizza convert, loved his rigatoni. The pasta was cooked al dente, the sauce rich and meaty. All three of the pizzas were great. The mushroom was covered with paper-thin slices of a variety of mushrooms, slivers of fresh garlic, truffle paste, Taleggio cheese (but not so much that the odor could be offensive to nearby diners), and sage. The pepperoni pizza got high marks from young Harry Reiner. The clam was our favorite. It had plenty of chopped clams, guanciale (similar to bacon), a thin layer of garlic scallion butter, and a scattering of Manila clams in their shells on top.
Everyone has different preferences about pizza crusts. Some like them thick and chewy, some like them thin and crisp. I am in the thin and crisp category. This pizza dough was a good compromise, somewhat thin, very flavorful, and marked with black, blistered spots from the hot, hot, hot wood-burning oven. It was reminiscent of one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, from BAR in New Haven.
The waiter on the night of our visit was a delight. If Jake Gyllenhaal and Justin Long had a baby, it would look like James, our waiter. He was thrilled with this observation because he is currently studying at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. That being said, the place does get very crowded by 6:30, so runners were delivering food out of order, plates were not cleared to make room for more food, and utensils had to be requested before dessert.
Prices are reasonable. Starters and salads are $14 to $21, pastas and pizzas are $15 to $27, takeout pizza slices (from 18-inch pies) are $3.75 to $4.50, and two “scoops” of soft serve ice cream are $8.
Sadly the original menu says there is a variety of gelato and sorbets offered for dessert and the flavor choices are (were) tantalizing. We never found out why they are no longer available, but the only desserts now being offered are variations of stuff on soft serve ice cream. We tried two: affogato and a chocolate hazelnut crumb-topped chocolate ice cream. Affogato is vanilla ice cream topped with hot espresso. It was good. The chocolate hazelnut crumb topping on the chocolate ice cream was made even better by an amazingly good hot chocolate sauce poured over it at the table.
By the time you read this, the hordes of summer visitors will have departed. You will have a chance to see for yourself that indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There may be a plethora of pizza now in Sag Harbor, but there’s nothing wrong with more, good, affordable food.