It is, without a doubt, the weirdest restaurant on the East End. Even if you have never been to Westhampton’s Casa Basso, you probably know about it. You have probably driven by the iconic — and maybe a little decrepit-looking — castle, with its statues of horses and fencing musketeers. What is that place? You probably asked yourself that. I know I did, a million times, well before I actually turned into the parking lot. Half abandoned amusement park, half rococo art installation, Casa Basso is the place compelling a double take.
Actually, it’s an Italian restaurant, and one that has been family-owned and operated since 1928. The site was once the Theophilus Brouwer House, a designated Westhampton Hamlet Heritage Resource, since it includes both the ruins and the kiln of Brouwer’s pottery studio.
The castle was originally built by Brouwer, a sculptor, woodcarver, architect, painter, and potter. The statues that mark the Casa Basso property are actually the work of Brouwer: two 12-foot-tall musketeers, a rearing horse, a wrestler, a lion, a fairy, and a snake, to name a few. Every few years, the property repaints the statues, which fade in the elements.
In 1928, M.L. Basso and his family opened the Italian restaurant, which they operated until 1958, when it was purchased by Valerio “Rene” Mondini. In 1986, the restaurant went on the market again, this time to Mondini’s apprentice, Bejto Bracovic, who assumed roles both in the kitchen and out, operating the restaurant as owner and executive chef.
The restaurant’s interior is less surprising than its exterior, boasting spacious dining spaces sans the castle theme. What diners will find is a reasonable Italian restaurant, offering reliably delicious food. There is grilled calamari, clams casino, escargot, Italian antipasto, and stracciatella to begin, with appetizers capping out at $17. Pastas deal in red sauce Americana: manicotti, spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp scampi, fettuccini Alfredo, and linguine with clam sauce all make obligatory appearances, as well as a spaghetti frutti di mare (at $34, the restaurant’s most expensive pasta dish).
There are six veal entrees — parmigiana, of course, but osso bucco, too, as well as marsala, Milanese, and piccata. For the true land lovers, there is a filet mignon (a shockingly inexpensive offering, given what it is, at $36), a rack of lamb, and a New York strip. There are chicken and duck entrees, as well, and main courses come with a house salad and a choice of pasta, vegetable, or potato.
The wine list is surprisingly comprehensive, offering selections from Italy, naturally, but also from France, Long Island, California, Australia, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, and Argentina. The Italian white section alone contains a breadth given the obvious kitsch. Irrespective of the three Pinot Grigio offerings (no comment), the wine list also pours Gavi, three Italian Chardonnays, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Frascati, Soave, and Grillo. There are charmers — and true showpieces — in the red department. Volnay Premier Cru from Maufoux? Mouton Rothschild? Count me in.
Every day except Mondays — when the restaurant is closed — Casa Basso offers a prix fixe menu, three courses for $27. The promotion is offered all night on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and from 5 to 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays. Diners can choose between four appetizers (baked clams, tomato and mozzarella salad, zucchini fritti, and mussels Chablis); four entrees, all of which are served with sides (scallops with risotto, chicken Francaise, pasta primavera, and eggplant parmigiana); and three desserts (Napoleon, ice cream, and rum cake). It’s an impressive deal, even for a restaurant set in less knightly digs. Lucky for you, this one’s in a castle.