Tarry Lodge: Slumming in the Suburbs?

Coleman Andrews’ blog for Gourmet struck a predictable pose this week. In noting the trend of Manhattan restaurant luminaries venturing north to Westchester and Fairfield, he sneered at the “ethnic” (offensive quotation marks courtesy of Andrews) restaurants of Port Chester, and dissed the relative sophistication of diners in Westchester. The Gourmet piece claims that the Tarry Lodge menu translates guinea hen to chicken, because—according to a very poorly trained waitress — “this is Port Chester.” Har.

So are the Bastianich crew really slumming here in Westchester?

It’s a stereotypical snort about Big City vs. Suburban Rubes, but that interpretation strikes us as lazy. Here’s the thing. While Del Posto and Babbo are certainly aimed at the stars, Joe Bastianich made his first restaurant-world move in 1993 with a budget prix fix wine list at Becco—a value-first theatre district joint he opened with his mother Lidia Bastianich. Becco featured—among other less-than-haut offerings—all you can eat pasta. (He was 25.) His Bastianich label wines are about good quality at a reasonable price, and the man himself grew up in Queens – in the dirty, steamy, unglamorous world of his mother’s restaurant kitchens. This is not a pretentious person.

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There’s a romance to Tarry Lodge, which we feel the Andrews piece misses. Sure, Bastianich has real estate investments in Port Chester and he’d like to see it become a hotbed town. And sure, opening another outlet for the Bastianich/Batali brand is a great way to reward the loyalty of protégés (like Tarry Lodge partners Chef Andy Nusser and former Casa Mono/Bar Jamon GM Nancy Seltzer). But researching a story on Bastianich, we came across the Times announcement for Bastianich’s 1995 marriage. (To his lovely wife, Deanna, BTW – a Pound Ridge native.) The announcement describes the couple’s vibrant, extended family life and notes the young Bastianich’s desire to open a pizzeria-slash-microbrewery, way back in 1995. Could it be that Pizzeria Otto didn’t satisfy his family-and-pizza jones?

Anyone who’s ever lasted through the end credits of Lidia Bastianich’s current PBS show knows that these Bastianichs stick together. On the shows, Joe is the wine consultant, and his sister Tanya is the resident art historian (she was promoted from dish washer, after earning her Ph.D.) Tanya’s husband is the legal wing, and we’re sure if the dog wandered onto the set, he’d get a PBS check, too. This is just how these folks work. To hammer that ethos home, we saw two (of the three) young Bastianich kids and one Batali kid serving hors d’oeuvres at a recent Tarry Lodge event. And instead of staring into the glow of their personal technical device de choix, these little kids were actually working fairly hard. Selling the food. Smiling sweetly. Supporting the Batali/Bastianich brand — just like the event’s gift bags featuring Batali/Copco pizza cutters and Bastianich’s La Mozza wine and olive oil.

So we think Coleman Andrews missed the point (and–BTW—Andrews is from that cosmopolitan center-of-the-universe, Richmond, VA.) Yes, the Batali/Bastianich crew are coming to the ‘burbs—but in a lot of ways, they’re from the ‘burbs. Nusser lives in Hastings, Bastianich’s wife grew up in Pound Ridge, and the Bastianichs live in Greenwich. Tarry is a local, family joint in the way that no Manhattan spot can be for this group anymore. It’s time to give up the suburban stereotypes, and just pass the guinea hen.

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