East End Eats: The Tavern, An Insider’s Favorite

The 1770 House is a beautifully restored inn with pretty rooms, a charming garden in back, a little cottage, and basically two restaurants
The basement tavern of the 1770 House in East Hampton is an intimate inner sanctum to some and a creepy windowless basement to others. Either way, it is appropriate for the season and has a great menu supported by the full upstairs dining choices. Morgan McGivern

1770 House Tavern
143 Main Street
East Hampton
Dinner nightly

    It’s Columbus Day weekend and the Hamptons International Film Festival is on the South Fork so I know all of you ladies and gentlemen and black-clad cinephiles want to know where to eat. With movies being shown in six locations from Southampton to Montauk your dining options are plentiful. However, if you check the festival’s Web site looking for places to eat, you may be steered in an out-of-date direction. Some of the recommendations are Rugosa, oops, closed, and now the excellent Highway Diner, Spring Close, closed, Copa, gone, Almond, moved, Turtle Crossing, defunct. The only restaurants in Sag Harbor mentioned are the Corner Bar and Il Cappuccino. Really?

    This is not a dining guide for this upcoming weekend. (If you want to know where to eat, within any price range, in any of the villages showing movies this weekend, ask a local. In East Hampton, Rowdy Hall, Sam’s, Cittanuova, and Nick and Toni’s are favorites.) This is a review of one of my favorite fall and winter spots, the Tavern downstairs at the 1770 House.

    The 1770 House is a beautifully restored inn with pretty rooms, a charming garden in back, a little cottage, and basically two restaurants. The upstairs one is comfortable but more formal. Take the tiny, winding stairs down to the tavern and you have two seating options. Turn right and you are in the small bar area with a few tables, a fireplace, and the ubiquitous flat-screen TV. Turn left and you are in another small cozy dining room, rather like an underground pub. People who dine here have strong opinions. Some don’t like the dimly lit atmosphere and the feeling of being underground in close quarters. I adore it. The gray-green wooden banquettes wrap around the small room and have plush paisley cushions. Lighting is provided by dim sconces and votive candles. The Tavern has its own, less formal menu, but you can also order anything from the grander upstairs menu.

    The meal begins with some nice warm sourdough rolls with olive oil for dipping. You used to get a choice of warm cheesy brioche and black olive twists as well, which were deliciously rich and threatened to spoil your appetite. Perhaps they are saving pennies now.

    We began our meal with oysters on the half shell, beet salad, foie gras, and corn and potato chowder. The oysters (Hog’s Neck Bay, North Fork), received raves from everyone but the best part was the super tangy frozen cucumber mignonette, crunchy like a granita. The beet salad was also excellent. The wedges of Balsam Farm beets were tossed with julienned endive, toasted hazelnuts and dabs of salty blue cheese. The dressing was citrusy and light and may have had a drop or two of additional nut oil. The slight bitterness of the endive contrasted nicely with the sweet beets.

    The foie gras (always on the menu at 1770 and always good) was seared and served with local peach compote and a warm brioche emulsion. I don’t know what a warm brioche emulsion is but my teenage gourmand guest, Lara, who ordered it wished she had gotten some toasts alongside. The local corn and potato chowder was very good, thick and rich and corny.

    For entrees we ordered the Tavern burger, the Tavern meatloaf, salmon, and roasted chicken. The burger at 1770 is justifiably famous. It is big, served on a brioche bun, juicy from the right degree of fat content, and served with crispy fries. A tray of condiments arrives before you have to ask for them. The Tavern meatloaf is another signature dish you can always find on the menu. The presentation is new; the meatloaf is served as one large oval slice on a bed of mashed potatoes, with roast garlic gravy all around, and a mild, roasted garlic clove adorning the top. Barely sauteed spinach tries to find room on the generous platter. This is a good deal for $22!

    The salmon was also a generous portion, served with a tart tomatillo salsa, kabocha squash, duck confit, and smoked apple. It was cooked medium and was perfectly seasoned. The roasted chicken was also excellent. There is nothing better than a half chicken that has been boned for you, has a crunchy crust, and remains moist inside. And it tastes “chickeny” as Julia Child used to say. The spiced sweet potato puree and sesame baby bok choy served alongside were also delicious.

    The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Our waitress, Tina, knew her wines and was perfectly charming. There are always several people on hand, refilling your water glasses and making sure each guest is served at exactly the same time, smooth and unobtrusive. Prices at 1770 are $12 to $24 for appetizers, $20 to $42 for entrees, with sides for $9, desserts $10 to $12.

    We were too stuffed for dessert but this was a belated birthday occasion so we got a slice of ricotta cheesecake and a little tres leches cake with candles in them for the table. The ricotta cheesecake was fluffy and fresh, served with a crunchy hazelnut crust, sitting on a crosshatch pattern of blueberry compote and caramel sauce with a mound of fresh blueberries on the side. The tres leches cake was moist, sweet, and rich, served with a scoop of refreshing coconut sorbet.

    The Tavern menu at the 1770 House seems shorter, more streamlined than it used to be, but this is okay since, as mentioned before, you can order from the upstairs menu, as well. The executive chef, Kevin Penner, put the 1770 House on the map when it re-opened over 10 years ago. It is now in the professional and capable hands of another former Della Femina chef, Michael Rozzi. The restaurant is on the expensive side but it must be noted, there are always good values on the menu and the prix fixe menus through the winter are the best out here.

    Whether you want a grand filet mignon with Bordelaise emulsion or a simple wild mushroom pizza, 1770 House will have a variety of choices for you, offered in a cozy, professional, and welcoming atmosphere.