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Oct 23, 2018 10:22 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Cold Off Season Looms

Little Red closed for the season in September.
Oct 23, 2018 10:47 AM

Looking back on the dining scene in the Hamptons in the summer of 2018, there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot that stands out as notable, other than that there appears to be the makings of a lot of change next year. Several seasoned standbys appear to be on the chopping block or are already minced following this season, some for well-publicized reasons, some not so much.

A bunch of places have already shuttered following the summer season and put their buildings on the market. Beloved throwback burger joint Bay Burger in Sag Harbor has closed for good—a tragedy for those who liked paying less than $10 for a good burger, or thought their lobster rolls were the best in the region (like me).

On the heels of the loss of La Superica, Bay Burger’s departure leaves only the Corner Bar and Il Capuccino as the remaining blue-collar-friendly places in Sag Harbor. With the fancy condos in Watchcase not exactly selling like hotcakes, and bunch of other high-priced places going up, that might not bode particularly well for the former “un-Hampton.”

Thankfully, Sag Pizza’s remake of Conca d’Oro seems to have gone over pretty well. Okay, maybe the loss of the only pizza-by-the-slice place in the village adds to the above-mentioned fancifying of Sag Harbor—but at least it’s still pizza.

The conversion from Old World Italian family “ristorante” to bright and airy New World pizza eatery took a lot longer than the owners had hoped, I’m sure, but in the end it came out looking ship-shape. Reviews of the pizza have been mixed, from great to “Eh, it’s okay,” but I thought it was pretty good. Brunetti or Roberta’s it is not, but some room for improvement is always good.

Starr Boggs has told the Westhampton community that he is ready to hang up his tongs and clogs after more than 40 years on the hot line. Nearing 70 and still an in-the-kitchen chef, retirement is calling. The big old Victorian house the restaurant has called home for the last 15 years or so is up for sale.

Starr hasn’t said whether he’ll reopen if no buyer steps up, but I think he’s wiping off the specials boards as we speak.

If Starr Boggs has served its last basil-crusted swordfish (the best), it will be a gaping hole in the Westhampton Beach dining scene. For whatever reason, Westhampton Beach has never really caught on as a dining destination, particularly when it comes to fine dining. I mean, this is a village where the most famous dining locations are a soda fountain, a takeout pizza place in the back of an ice cream shop—even if it is the best pizza on Long Island—and a burger joint that went out of business a decade ago.

The Old Stove Pub in Sagaponack has turned off the iconic neon red arrow out front once again and put a big “for sale” sign on the lawn where the “Moussaka” signs once stood. With Coula Johnides not around anymore to get the lights on at least every 18 months so that the building’s grandfathered zoning allowances don’t lapse, if a new owner is not found by next summer, that could be the end of another of this region’s old-school places. I know I will be putting in a bid on the sign.

Those are the businesses that are acknowledging that their run is over, or might be over. There are a couple that are fighting to remain in business, even though talk is that they are on the market.

At the top of the whisper grapevine is the sudden closing of two of Southampton’s best restaurants, Red Bar and Little Red. Nobody can quite figure out exactly what has happened at either, since both seemed to enjoy robust business more or less year-round and were go-to’s in their respective genres in Southampton. Perhaps Little Red took a slight hit from the opening of the Jobs Lane Gastropub, but not enough to have hobbled it, from what staff members have said.

There is talk around town of a simmering legal fight between the owner, Kirk Basnight, and his former business partner David Lowenberg, having to do with the splitting of the partnership and how much Mr. Lowenberg was owed for his share.

Honestly, I really hope that it can get straightened out sensibly and these two places get back on the road in the spring, because Southampton is already suffering from a dearth of quality restaurants relative to the size of the population it serves. Plaza Café and Tutto il Giorno can’t carry the fine dining flag all on their own and have anyone expect to be able to get a reservation on a Saturday less than two weeks in advance.

Also, those two restaurants employed about 20 local career restaurant staffers with good-paying jobs and, from what I can tell, pretty well-liked bosses. One can look at the tumult they are thrown into in two ways: it can be a sad circumstance that, hopefully, will get straightened out before the unemployment (we used to call it “fun-and-enjoyment”) allowances run out and they have to go looking elsewhere; or it is a godsend for diners, because there will be a whole bunch of seasoned and skilled bartenders, waiters and floor managers spread around to other businesses that can benefit from their knowledge. I’d prefer to just see Red Bar and Little Red back on track and with the same old faces by the end of the winter.

A long, cold winter is ahead of us. The economy is booming, and that usually is not such a great thing for the local off-season economy, since folks are quicker to book those vacations to the islands or slopes. Only the strong will survive.

I’ll have the salmon.

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