Sayville

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It’s 6 a.m., and a long line already extends from a narrow, oddly shaped storefront on Main Street in Sayville. Dozens of locals brave the early light, bleary-eyed but excited about the prospect of bringing home limited-quantity, freshly baked hard rolls and doughnuts from one of the village’s oldest continually operating family-owned businesses, Fritzsche’s Bakery.

Since 1929, this has been what Sunday morning in Sayville looks like, and powdered sugar and scratch-made black raspberry jelly is what it smells like. And yet…. “We’re nothing special,” shrugs second-generation baker and owner Kurt Fritzsche, innocence in his wide blue eyes as he wipes flour as white as his hair on his apron. “We just make good stuff, and do everything right—the old-fashioned way.”

This matter-of-factness and humility is perhaps the greatest illustration of what makes these small Long Island communities so special. The upswing of buying local is not new to what was once a pastoral island, and the South Shore’s idyllic villages have long embraced the wealth of edible resources hidden in the small farms that pepper the region. Here, tradition is valued, and doing things “the old-fashioned way” simply is how one can “do everything right.” It’s why Sayvillians are fiercely loyal to their neighborhood small businesses, and why these establishments are equally committed to doing what’s “right” by their local customers, from finding the best ingredients for their meals to offering the finest products for their home tables.

LOCAL LOVE

The determination to support their village businesses is what keeps this town so rooted, and sourcing locally is a common mantra in Sayville, one that is recited without a second’s thought or hesitation. In fact, when even asked the question, they’re often bemused, and precede their answers with an almost indignant, “of course.”

It is, in fact, a matter of course for the little town California State University at Fresno labeled “the friendliest town in America”—another point of pride for the hamlet, an obscure fact that every small business-owner seems to take to heart. Here, away from the big-box stores and chain restaurants, you find a real community: a busy anthill sustaining its tiny existence by supporting each hardworking member, from the farm all the way to the table.

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“We get a lot of our produce from the farm stand on Lakeland Avenue,” James Caporuscio, general manager of La Tavola remarks, which leads to seasonally rotating menus that include fresh pumpkin ravioli in the fall for dinner and inventive frittatas for brunch. “That’s as local as local gets!” he exclaims.

Washing down the veal meatballs still prepared to Grandma DeNicola’s family recipe with a sip of East End wine, he adds, “It was important to us to source locally from the very beginning, to keep the business within the community. That’s what everyone here in Sayville really tries to do, and that’s the beauty of this town.”

After all, if these entrepreneurs didn’t do their part to bolster one another up, Main Street as we know and love it wouldn’t exist. And to many of the faces behind the storefronts and hostess stands, preserving this kinship is paramount.

Jules Buitron, owner of the nearly two-decade favorite Café Joelle, echoes that sentiment. “We’ve been supported by locals. So in turn, we also support locals.”

“Most of the products and almost all of the vegetables are from Long Island,” he explains. “We feature wine from Long Island. We patronize Long Island butchers. Our distributor is a Long Island company, and our pasta is from Lindenhurst.” These ingredients are what define their seasonal, themed menus from Oktoberfest to Mardi Gras and add additional interest to their robust and often hearty brunch and lunch specials as well. Sticking to what’s nearby is one reason their regular offerings are so eclectic, with clever spins on classic European fare.

Buitron and chef-owner Steve Sands take it a step further. “Our desserts are small batch and literally homemade. We have a cheesecake lady and an actual ice cream man, and they make these special products from their own recipes just for us. And I enjoy sharing this good food with the people that come over here, who [have become] like family; they hug and they kiss you when you see them,” he says with a smile.

Michael Turner, one of the owners of acclaimed newcomer Bistro 25, also shares those feelings, inviting the community to gather, eat, laugh and listen to local music on Fridays and Saturdays. “It’s more important to me to make a couple of dollars less and, instead, have someone give me a hug and a kiss and say, ‘That was the best meal I’ve ever had.’”

Michael Turner, one of the owners of acclaimed newcomer Bistro 25, also shares those feelings, inviting the community to gather, eat, laugh and listen to local music on Fridays and Saturdays. “It’s more important to me to make a couple of dollars less and, instead, have someone give me a hug and a kiss and say, ‘That was the best meal I’ve ever had.’”

With elegant specials lovingly crafted around seasonal and local availability, all priced under $20 by design, the straightforward Turner and his chef-partner Brian Shuren, are clearly not simply paying lip service. These parameters can be a difficult task for any accomplished chef with a taste for high-end flavors, but Shuren consistently delivers with aplomb. Local fish usually finds its way to the specials menu, and the tender braised short ribs are incredibly popular. Perfect balance is achieved in their crab cakes and the mushroom risotto, and entrée components rotate with the season, making these coming harvest months an excellent time to try this shockingly affordable New American/comfort food brasserie.

After all, “My goal isn’t to drive a fancier car or make a lot of money,” Turner says, contemplative over tented fingers. “It was to create a local place where people could enjoy really great food at a reasonable price and expand their palates. We put a lot of heart into our wine list, also to try to expand their minds and get them to try something different, to bring new things to our home community,” the Oakdale-raised Turner notes, a nod to Shuren’s Bayport upbringing as well.

“TELL THE WORLD, I’M COMING HOME”

Coming “home” to introduce “new” while remaining true to Sayville’s village essence is another common theme found among the small-business owners here.

After many years of successful pie-slinging in Florida, Dante Cortina opened Marc Anthony with a nontraditional approach, asking, “Why be repetitive? Let’s do something different.” With pizza varieties like loaded mashed potato, four-meat stuffed with a cheese and bacon crust, plus paninis on housemade focaccia, it certainly is. At the edge of daring is the deliciously layered deep-dish Sorrento slice, piled high with pesto, fresh mozzarella, roasted pepper, onions and tomatoes and topped with a balsamic reduction. Branching into dessert, the new Nutella pizza, topped with strawberries and raspberries, could hit that sweet spot.

Fellow Bayport native, Suzy McDonald, owner of Down the Rabbit Hole Wine Boutique (a curious alleyway-turned-storefront with even curiouser selections), thought to bring a taste of the unexpected back to our sandbar as well. Her artisan collection, meticulously and passionately curated, accompanied her return to her South Shore roots. After traveling the world on the competitive figure skating circuit, her new dream was to create “a cozy spot where people could learn about wine” so that her community could enjoy it as much as she does.

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Similarly, Erin Nicosia of American Cheese brought her elevated taste and new exposure home, too. While studying for her master’s degree at Monterey Institute in California, she fell in love with the Village Cheese Shop in Carmel and “fantasized about moving back to Long Island and opening a little cheese shop.” Now, this “little cheese shop” isn’t so little, with new, larger premises—complete with dining space in which to indulge in her delightful, regionally sourced, handmade cheese (and meat) “picnic baskets”—conveniently located by the town’s train station.

She, like McDonald, encourages visitors to taste and try everything. “After working in restaurants and bartending for 16 years, I discovered I had a passion for beautiful wine, craft local beer and artisanal cheeses,” Nicosia reminisces. “I wanted to come home and bring that here, to help people experience something different, because I think it’s great to feature what’s made right near where you are—to find the specialness around you.”

A NATURAL APPROACH

This is exactly the philosophy that inspired Frank Palermo and Chris Meyer of CLAWS. A 26-year-old dream come true for Palermo, his little red seafood shop is the epitome of local patronage and community pride. After spending 13 years fishmongering for a supermarket chain, he decided it was high time to follow his passion and give Long Islanders the taste of Long Island they were entitled to—the true flavor of our rich waters.

“We believe strongly in supporting our local baymen,” Palermo says, with the same passion Turner, Buitron and Caporuscio show when talking about their farmers. “We all need to help each other out, because that’s what being a part of a community is all about.

“What we wanted was to give customers exactly what they wanted—untreated, fresh from the sea, ocean-to-table seafood,” he shares, an endearing earnestness in his voice. “Just being in the supermarket end, you learn how much the seafood is treated, from chemical baths to additives and preservatives. For example, customers would buy a two-inch scallop that was treated with a sodium compound, just to have it shrink down to half its size in the pan. That’s not what I believe in, which is why we only sell dry scallops, shucked right out of the shell. You can actually eat them raw; they have a sweet taste, unclouded by chemicals.”

Palermo and Meyer’s lobster roll is another perfect example of their dedication to unadulterated flavor. It’s an unforgettable must-try, with generous chunks of sweet, incredibly fresh lobster just gently kissed with dressing, snugly nestled then piled high in a lightly garlic-buttered hero roll. Complete with Old Bay fries and crisp coleslaw, $15 makes this an incredible value—further solidifying their stance on making quality, clean food accessible to the town they love.

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This purist perspective is actually not unprecedented in this pint-size hamlet. The Sayville General Store, owned by Jacquee Gustafson, stocks an amazing selection of artisanal regional products, from marmalades and jams from New England to Sundaes Best sauces from Saratoga Springs and the entire Sarabeth’s line, representing the Bronx. Brooklyn Brine on the shelves also saves you the trip west. Non-edible but interesting and hyperlocal is the Barnaby Black foraged men’s skin care line, made with all-natural ingredients gathered from as close as West Sayville.

In addition, Lynne Dougherty has been bringing all-natural goods into her community since 1976, the year she opened Cornucopia Natural Foods. After struggling with allergies and illness, she began living more holistically and realized that it was a challenge to find the foods she needed to live a better life.

“I decided to open a store here because I lived here and thought other residents could benefit from this. It became my mission to bring a healthy lifestyle to the community and bring the people the types of food that they needed that weren’t mainstream or readily available then,” she notes. “I wanted to help people.”

A special point of pride is her prepared-food section, with gourmet paleo, gluten-free and vegan options, featuring organic produce and even free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken from as nearby as Kings Park. Creative bites can include anything from candy-sweet roasted root vegetables, exotic sesame-scented Forbidden Rice, a tropically inspired broccoli salad with pineapple and coconut, and the light but incredibly satisfying quinoa salad with seasonal, diced organic vegetables, chased with a smoothie or scratch-made soup.

As Dougherty sits back in her chair, she opens her arms wide as if to embrace the space. “I love my deli because this is where my community happens. People will sit and have lunch, and the next thing you know, all the tables are pushed together and everyone’s talking and sharing ideas”—all of which ties back into the community’s spirit and innate kinship, the very core of what makes sleepy Sayville so very special.

Because this is a true community in action, it’s a place where the cheese specialist will drop into the seafood market for a shot of fresh tuna on a break from building her shop; where a chocolatier will rent an alley to a budding sommelier; where chefs haggle with farmers, then plan their menus around the day’s haul. It takes teamwork, commitment, and a delicate chain of beautiful relationships to maintain the picturesque facade of quaint village life, and it’s a challenge that these small-business owners accept with the same gusto diners consume the delicious food they offer.

After all, this is the heart and soul of America: Main Street, Sayville, USA.

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