The Cuddy in Sag Harbor is subtitled “An American Gastropub.” As the “pub” in gastropub suggests, the food here borrows elements of a casual bar menu—they do a fine burger, for example—but gastropubs like The Cuddy elevate such standard fare far beyond the everyday.
The Cuddy calls its menu “comfort cuisine,” and as the “comfort” in comfort cuisine implies, the prevailing aesthetic here is “homeyness”—and homemade. This comes across in the layout of the space, which incorporates an open kitchen, as well as in the excellent and straightforward cooking. Co-owner Jesse Matsuoka explains that it’s “like the home-cooked food that takes too long to do at home,” and so you let the people at The Cuddy do it for you.
Take fresh pasta, for example. You certainly could make it at home, and many have done so…once. But The Cuddy makes a point of having a fresh homemade pasta on the menu at all times. Then how about an Old Fashioned? A comforting, homey cocktail if ever there was one, and yet who has a muddler at home, or knows how to use it?
So, let The Cuddy make your Old Fashioneds for you. The Cuddy’s bartender Derek, a seven-year veteran behind the bar of Matsuoka restaurants, makes a fine Old Fashioned. He even uses dark red maraschino cherries, made in-house, to garnish the cocktail, providing a lot more cherry flavor than the usual neon-red sugar bombs. Talk about comforting: this drink is the warm bath of the cocktail world.
That’s how I started my meal at The Cuddy on a recent visit, while a fellow diner tried the Gentleman’s Favor, a specialty cocktail rather like an Old Fashioned but with a spicier finish. Another in our party was delighted to sample from The Cuddy’s single-malt scotch menu, which includes some less-common offerings. Then it was on to the food.
Eager to try that homemade pasta, I opted for a half-portion of the tagliatelle as an appetizer. Tossed with a creamy sauce and house-cured bacon, along with a sheared egg in a kind of carbonara style, the pasta was magical, with that tender yet firm texture that only fresh pasta can achieve. By all means let The Cuddy make your homemade pasta for you! Meanwhile, a dish of garlicky mussels were praised for their flavor and tenderness, and the crispy lamb ribs were a surprise treat, a barbecue treatment usually reserved for more neutral pork working very nicely with the flavorful lamb. For a particularly homey touch, we also tried the fried green tomatoes, a dish of thick breaded wedges that were quite mild and delicious.
No American gastropub would be complete without a burger, and the burger at The Cuddy is imposing: a substantial hunk of their own blend of freshly-ground beef, it can be further augmented with a slice of that house-cured bacon and a fried egg—an option we wholeheartedly endorsed. The result is a kind of a mess to eat, but very tasty. It comes with a goodly portion of fabulous fries.
Other entrées we tried included the southern-style chicken and waffles, with its delicate waffles and crispy-moist fried chicken, the sublimely comforting braised brisket, as well as scallops, sweet and perfectly seared, served with creamy grits. A standout was the sea bass, which was allowed to be itself, tender and flavorful, with a pea puree and fresh corn.
Much of the comfort cuisine at The Cuddy uses local or in-house ingredients. It would seem, in fact, that one of Jesse Matsuoka’s goals at The Cuddy is to awaken peoples’ palates to the difference between the homemade and artisanal vs. the commercial. This is an important mission: after all, what’s the point of promoting locally produced ingredients and foods if diners can’t tell the difference? The food at The Cuddy is obviously not exotic, but they use locally harvested and artisanal or in-house ingredients to make everyday food extraordinary, and they succeed beautifully.
Who’s ever had homemade butterscotch, for example? A panna cotta dessert, which proved a favorite at our table, came drizzled with homemade butterscotch, prompting a shocked reappraisal of a topping previously known only for its sweet, generic blandness. Comfort food never had it so good.
The Cuddy, An American Gastropub, 29 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 631-725-0101, thecuddy.com