Hype Hides Good Value
Behind the buildup at trendy Tarry Lodge is a well-priced, democratic Italian with a stellar wine list.
Tarry Lodge’s owners are an all-star team. Iron Chef Mario Batali’s hammy TV persona and exhaustive culinary knowledge make him a nationally recognized brand. Joseph Bastianich, Batali’s reserved partner, has laser-like entrepreneurial, management, and marketing skills that make him the man behind the curtain. (Bastianich is a wine merchant, winemaker, and author in his own right; he penned Vino Italiano, the must-have text on Italian wine.) Then there’s romantic hero Chef Andy Nusser, whose struggle to open New York City’s Casa Mono lent the dramatic curve to Bill Buford’s bestselling Heat.
With such fame at the helm, it only begs the question: is Tarry Lodge the best restaurant in Westchester, ever?
It’s not...but, then, it’s not trying to be. Tarry Lodge is a family-friendly spot offering reasonably priced, wide-appeal cuisine. In fact, Tarry Lodge’s name hails from a Port Chester landmark, a love it/hate it red-sauce Italian joint that spent eons in this Mill Street spot. Currently festooned with Carrera marble (and lit by globe-shaded sconces), the Bastianich/Batali iteration of Tarry Lodge retains a whiff of corner Italian.
Despite anti-elitist affectations, the fine palates behind Tarry Lodge aren’t hiding. We found the archaic grain farro (rare in Westchester) served once with bursting charred corn kernels and lush burrata, and a second time, with bright pomegranate seeds and mellow mint. Sweet-salt-tart is a recurring theme in Tarry Lodge’s antipasti, asserted in literally mouthwatering beets agrodolce, and again with fennel with blood oranges, in which the bulb’s watery bitterness was tamed by light, sweet pickling. Only one off note sounded on a mobbed Sunday afternoon, when three of our six starters appeared garnished with pomegranate seeds, stifling the anticipated variety in our carefully chosen array.
Nevertheless, with prices starting at $5, Tarry Lodge’s antipasti and salads invite lavishness. Don’t skip the briny, mouth-filling cloud of baccala Montecato, or an $18 carne mista, featuring the salumi of Batali’s father, Armandino. Salads include a thoughtful butternut squash sformato, in which Nusser teases savory breadth from the sugary vegetable, and a stellar crudo in scabece: elegant raw fluke over shaved fennel and celery.
Pizzas are the big story at Tarry Lodge. Baked over oak and cherry wood, the crusts are briny, yeasty, tender, and delicately smoky. A pie of guanciale, black truffles, and sunnyside egg deserves its growing fame. (The egg is centered on the disc; you’ll fight your dining partners for the yolk.) Speck, Taleggio, and radicchio is another winner, but there are no losers here.
Yet, while elegant spaghetti alla carbonara is rightly about egg-glossed pasta and pork, a chestnut-flour tagliatelli left us irritated. Its fragile, breaking noodles and overwhelming saltiness masked a subtle pairing with parsnips and pancetta. Better were a bowl of silken gnocchi with sticky oxtail, or chili-spiked squid-ink fettuccini freely studded with perfectly cooked lobster chunks.
Mains are the least dependable items in the lineup, highlighted by divinely simple whole grilled branzino matched with a (painfully) small bowl of tomato jam, in which onions, tomato, fennel and chili unite in harmonic, sweetly acid deliciousness. Sadly, though fork-tender, a dull, pot-roast-y brasato al Barolo savored neither of wine nor beef, while an order of grilled pork loin arrived as disappointingly dry cupped disks. A winking ode to Italian-American eggplant parmigianna redeemed, though, with the tarry notes of the lightly dredged nightshade cut by a light, fresh tomato sauce and milky slabs of mozzarella. We missed only a slice of bread to dip into its olive oil-splashed sauce.
Standout desserts included an evanescent dish of black mission figs, sexily underdressed in tangy vincotto cream. And unradical, but cozy, was a warm panettone pudding with Ciao Bella gelato, which also bases the Tarry Lodge Sundae. The last is actually a group-friendly sampler, in which a refreshingly tart sour-cherry sauce flatters sweet ices.
A mostly Italian wine list is a large part of Tarry Lodge’s charm; it offers amazing regional breadth and cognoscenti picks in each region. Even with finger-on-the-pulse sophistication in the 250-long bottle list, Tarry Lodge’s wine program is about good value. We snapped up the hand-bottled, foot-stomped (and lyrically beautiful) Emidio Pepe Trabbiano d’Abruzzo 2001, well priced at $115; while fatter wallets can go for Aldo Conterno’s Riserva Granbussia 2000, offered at a restrained $550. Yet with no lonely thrown-bone on the list, budget oenophiles are welcome. Tarry Lodge has scores of great bottles under $50, including Bastianich’s own $29 Joe’s Rosso. This cheap and cheerful red is perfect for feasts with the family. Tarry Lodge also offers fifteen wines by quartino, including four made at Bastianich’s vineyards.
Even with gaffes, our meals at Tarry Lodge left us grateful. It’s a fun place, offering good value and a warm embrace to multi-generational groups. Its exciting, well-priced antipasti and stellar $14 pizzas ensure that we’ll return as often as we can secure a table. And just think—as hard as squeezing in is now, it can only get worse. This summer, Tarry Lodge opens its rooftop deck.
(From left to right) Whole grilled branzino with tomato jam; Tarry Lodge, the old-school red sauce joint, is now Tarry Lodge, the contemporary corner Italian; Sweet-salt-tart is a repeated flavor theme in the antipasti, e.g., fennel with blood oranges.
18 Mill St, Port Chester
Hours: Lunch Mon to Fri 12-2:30, Sat and Sun 11-3:30 pm; dinner Mon 5-9 pm, Tues to Fri 5-11 pm, Sat 4-11 pm, Sun 4-9 pm.
Appetizers: $5-$8; pizza: $10-$16; entrées: $14-$25; desserts: $8.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good