THE BELL & ANCHOR
Sag Harbor, (631) 725-3400
We have a winner in the annual East End restaurant race. For those who have never heard of it, the race is the rush for new restaurants to open by Memorial Day Weekend when the short (mainly June-July-August) season on Long Island’s East End begins. The Bell & Anchor in Sag Harbor did it.
There was no sign outside when I visited in the early going, and the dining room had the feeling of the restaurant that preceded it. But if Bell & Anchor hadn’t quite settled in and claimed the space as its own, the place was packed on a weeknight. That’s because most of the food is quite good and its co-owners, David Lowenberg and Executive Chef Sam McCleland have a following as a result of their positive performances at The Beacon, Red Bar, Little Red and Fresno.
That full house is especially noteworthy because outside, Bell & Anchor has the look of nothing more than a nondescript roadhouse. Within, a mood of casual sophistication prevails as a result of a creative menu, a sharp, congenial waitstaff, a bouquet of white orchids and a waterfront view. Candles and white tablecloths help as well, but when the place is full, get ready to raise your voice (perhaps even scream) to be heard by your tablemates. The hard-surfaced dining room, with its windows, tin ceiling and solid walls is not separated from an active, equally noisy bar that also can (and does) generate a thunderous roar.
Kick off the culinary festivities with the soft, mellow, fall-from-the-bone guava baby back ribs, baby spinach and pine nuts (half $16, full $31), the lobster Cobb salad ($18/$34) with big chunks of lobster meat, corn, bacon, avocado, tomato, egg and blue cheese, or the sprightly baby arugula salad ($14) studded with good goat cheese and covered with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. The PB&O, or pork belly, local oysters and Kimchi is interesting and innovative, but didn’t provide the depth of flavor anticipated.
Entrées batted four for four. One oldie but goody to target is the fish and chips ($26) with fresh whitefish coated by a lighter than air beer batter with slaw and chips. Cioppino ($35), the American bouillabaisse, is often dominated by mussels (the least expensive shellfish with just a hint of shrimp or lobster), but not so at Bell & Anchor. Plump medium sized shrimp, flaky hake and tender calamari are the main players here, all of them in a rich, velvety chilies and tomato broth. Local tilefish ($31), delicate and delicious, blends well with its Moroccan spiced quinoa, braised leeks and ginger oil platemates. “Old school” lobster Mafaldine with corn, basil and saffron cream ($16/$31) is an earthy mix of shellfish and long strands of pasta—a bit awkward to eat but well worth it.
A well-chosen but pricey by-the-bottle wine list (starting around $45) will cause many a diner to turn the menu over and select one or two of the less expensive wines by the glass.
Sweet finales abound among the array of excellent desserts. The dreamy brownie sundae ($12) with a scoop of coffee ice cream lives up to its name. The warm, fragrant, white chocolate cherry bread pudding ($9) is another winner, as is a superior root beer float featuring a whole bottle of soda and especially luxuriant vanilla ice cream.
Bell & Anchor is not a temple of calm, but it boasts a creative, interesting menu and a likable informality that will no doubt deservedly result in many a packed house throughout the summer season.
photos by stephen lang