Plaza Café: Local Catch And Cachet

Hannah Selinger
Independent/Hannah Selinger

Despite the fact that the Hamptons are perched on the water, it often feels like there is a notable lack of seafood-centric fine dining restaurants. We have the market cornered when it comes to New American and Rustic Italian. Carbohydrates? You’re covered. But search too long for an upscale eatery dedicated to the elevation of fish — both local and otherwise — and you might find your options dwindling.

Except that’s not entirely true. The Plaza Café, which is tucked away in a nook off of Southampton’s Hill Street, has been serving up seafood for almost 22 years. The dining room alone speaks to the provenance of localism, where local artists’ work hangs, portraying local vistas and local foods. Chef Doug Gulija, who opened the restaurant in 1997 with his wife, Andi, began his restaurant career washing dishes at Southampton’s now-defunct Old Mill restaurant. He was 13 at the time, but his passion for food grew, leading him to Johnson and Wales in Providence, the esteemed culinary academy.

Following graduation, Chef Gulija tried his hand at corporate cooking, working for the Marriott hotel group in New York City. Eventually, however, as so many do, he decided to come back home. He worked the Hamptons circuit, cooking at Water Mill’s Mirko’s and East Hampton’s The Laundry — both of which were top tier, in their heydays. Eventually, he decided to open his own space.

And although you may not think instantly of The Plaza Café when you consider your Hamptons dining options, it’s worth noting that the restaurant has enjoyed critical success. A year after the establishment opened, Doug Gulija and his wife were awarded an “Excellent” review from The New York Times, as well as three stars from Newsday. These days, the restaurant chugs along, and while the Hamptons has changed irrevocably around it, The Plaza Café stays largely the same: an established, reliable restaurant dedicated to fresh seafood and seasonal produce.

The menu changes regularly, but diners can expect to find local calamari; a Peruvian ceviche served with local scallops, leche de tigre, and purple potatoes; greens from local farms (Satur, for instance); grilled local swordfish atop sweet sausage; and a pasture-fed strip steak. Montauk striped bass? Check. Oysters on the half shell (local, naturally)? Of course. There is, too, the epic and gut-busting lobster and shrimp shepherd’s pie, a winter meal, for sure: Lobster and shrimp converge with lobster mushrooms, peas, and corn, beneath a potato and chive crust. That delicacy, at $49, does not come cheap, but, then again, it won’t leave you hungry, either. For those in the mood for a less “spendy” experience, the restaurant offers half portions, perfect for those looking to sample more options or to save a little spare change for tomorrow’s dinner out.

Desserts are complementary. A crème brûlée, served with fig jam and madeleines, may not make headlines, but it will make you take another bite. But those looking to go big or go home might gravitate toward the Grandma’s mousse cake, which is exactly what it sounds like, and which should be too large to finish, but, spoiler alert, it’s not.

If you’re wondering why you don’t hear about The Plaza Café more often, well, it might be the location — or the under-the-radar ambience. This is not a restaurant dedicated to rubbing elbows with the stars, or to appeasing the fickle summer population. This isn’t about trend or flights of fancy. This restaurant, it should be clear, is here to stay. Ultimately, the café is open year-round, a trusted, delicious place that will likely still be serving up fresh seafood 22 years from now. Still, why wait?

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