East End Eats: Steer a Course for the Cuddy

What is the Cuddy?
The Cuddy has taken over the space of the old Phao, next to Sen in Sag Harbor. Morgan MvGivern

The Cuddy
29 Main Street
Sag Harbor
Lunch and dinner daily
Brunch on weekends

   I was disappointed to hear that Phao in Sag Harbor was to be transformed into the Cuddy. What is the Cuddy? An American gastro-pub? Do we really need another American restaurant out here? Well, I have to grudgingly admit that in the case of the Cuddy, we do.
    This cozy location on Main Street has changed personalities more than Sybil. It has been Thai, Indian, Thai again, now American-ish. I say “ish” because it is more than that. There are ceviches, panang curry, kimchi, romesco sauces, homemade pastas, and best of all, a decidedly Southern bent with such items as biscuits, chicken ’n’ waffles, black-eyed peas, quail, and fried green tomatoes.
    The transformation of the interior is subtle. A lot of barn board has been applied throughout, a map of London dominates the bar, gray leather banquettes line the back and side walls. The tables are set with Mason jars filled with little oil-burning votive candles set into what looks like, I don’t know, road salt? Maybe broken windshield bits or some kind of glass you’d find at the bottom of a nice aquarium. There are red and white dishtowels for napkins. It is quite stylish and cozy at the same time.
    I went with a group of friends recently and the place was packed. It was a delightfully diverse mixture of young and old, families and couples, out-of-towners and locals. We began our meal with the heirloom tomato salad, soft shelled crab, cured black sea bass, and bacon-wrapped quail. All were excellent.
    The heirloom tomato salad had a pretty variety of multicolored cherry and grape tomatoes and an excellent super-fresh buffalo mozzarella. The basil almond pesto dressing was awesome, we all agreed. The soft-shell crab appetizer was one good-sized crab, fried in beer/fritter type batter and served with pretty butter lettuce leaves and an apple, jicama, kimchi salad. The crab is meant to be wrapped in the leaves as in Korean or Vietnamese cuisine. It’s always fun to play with your food!
    The bacon-wrapped quail was so good. The itty bitty quail had been de-boned, except for its darling little ballerina legs. The bacon was crispy outside the bird, and the quail remained deliciously moist. The black-eyed peas served underneath were also excellent, lightly sweetened with a honey shallot vinaigrette. A bundle of kale alongside made the dish a smidgen healthier. The cured black sea bass was light and citrusy, a beautiful presentation. The thin slivers of sea bass were joined by paper-thin slices of fennel, radishes, cucumbers, jalapenos, and sprigs of dill. A few grapefruit segments added more color and tang.
    For entrees we had the fried chicken with waffles, the Cuddy burger two ways, the tagliatelle with Little Neck clams, and pan-seared sea scallops. Fried chicken with waffles is a current trend almost as prevalent as bacon in, on, and with everything. This was a great version and they have major cojones to serve only dark meat. The crust was crunchy, not greasy, and the meat was tender as confit, perhaps brined, as it was well salted throughout. The half-moon waffle was crisp with flecks of scallions. A generous dab of homemade green tomato chutney topped the waffle and a drizzle of truffled honey adorned the whole dish. This was a great grown-up version of a Deep South classic.
    The Cuddy burger automatically comes with good cheddar cheese, tomato jam, caramelized onions, and truffle fries. Both burgers were tasty and cooked as ordered. They are served on brioche buns, which add another hint of richness and sweetness. The truffle fries, served in cute little copper pots, were hand-cut potatoes, cooked to perfection, and had just enough truffle essence to make them interesting. Tim, because he is a growing boy, added the optional sunny-side up egg and house-cured bacon to his burger, kind of a meal inside another meal.
    The tagliatelle we could tell right away was made with homemade pasta. It had either chopped up Little Neck clams or manila clams slipped out of their shells. The sauce was subtle, not too garlicky, with fresh herbs and more of the tasty little heirloom cherry tomatoes. I don’t know what kind of imagination comes up with sea scallops over grits in a panang curry sauce with frisee, tomato jam, and house-cured bacon but this crazy hodge-podge of a dish worked beautifully. The scallops were seared to a crisp caramelization on the outside, still silky verging on rare within. The grits were of a high quality, coarsely ground white corn variety, a creamy foil to the slightly spicy, very coconut-y curry sauce.
    As I mentioned before, the Cuddy was very busy on the night of our visit and it has only been open a month or two. In spite of this, the service was excellent, smooth, and professional. Our waitress, Shannon, was knowledgeable and charming. Jeff Resnick, the owner, was on the premises, as he almost always is, greeting guests and making sure things are ship-shape. Ha-ha, that’s nautical humor.
    For desserts we tried the orange olive oil cake, pain perdu, and strawberry coconut bread pudding. All three were very good. The orange olive oil cake was what appeared to be a topsy-turvy cupcake with a swirl of sour cream frosting. It was moist and citrus-y, served with a sprinkling of pistachios and a bit of orange jus on the plate. The pain perdu (which is basically French toast) was nicely presented with banana slices that had been bruleed with a sugary crust and served with house-made vanilla ice cream. The strawberry coconut bread pudding was a nice little round mound of moist cake, full of coconut milk and sprinkled with granola, an interesting touch that gave it some texture. The scoop of strawberry lime sorbet cut the richness of the bread pudding.
    Prices at the Cuddy are moderate. Appetizers are $11 to $18, entrees are $17 to $42, sides are $4 to $7, and desserts are $8. The wine list is short and smart, the cocktails clever without being too weird. As this is a gastro-pub, it is worth noting the beer menu. This, too, is short and smart. There are so many microbreweries these days it must have been very trying for the folks at the Cuddy to narrow down the selection. There are five draft beers (yay, Dogfish Head I.P.A.!) and seven fine bottled varieties.
    What is a “cuddy” I was curious to know? It is a small cabin on a boat, for shelter from the elements or for storage. While I was quite crabby to see Phao go, I have to admit that the Cuddy is a welcome addition to Sag Harbor’s restaurant scene.