Not only is Villa Italian Specialties, the market tucked away on East Hampton’s Railroad Avenue, known for its superlative mozzarella, homemade sausages, prepared foods, sandwiches, and other exceptional Italian foods. It is also known, as of this July, as a phoenix rising from the ashes. When, early in the month, an oven caught fire, igniting the attic early on a Sunday afternoon, the restaurant’s owner and employees cleaned after the blaze was contained. Contractors repaired the damaged roof, and the restaurant reopened within two days.
That’s quite a turnaround for a conflagration, but it probably seems like no big shake for a restaurant that has been operating during high season in the Hamptons for over 20 years now. The fire, which caused $25,000 in damages, forced the hand of owner Rashid Sulehri. Patrons now benefit from the side effect of the fire: A gleaming new oven.
Actually, Sulehri has been in the news more than once lately. In Westhampton Beach, he is in the midst of taking over the Beach Bakery and Grand Café, the only kosher bakery on the East End. The bakery was founded three decades ago, and Sulehri, who is Muslim, plans to continue to honor the long tradition of its kosher roots.
Of course, kosher is emphatically not what you may think of when you think of an Italian specialty foods store (and for good reason). The sausages are made, in large part, with pork — and that’s ok. The creamy, made-fresh-daily mozzarella is renowned in the town. Balsam Farms carries it, and even includes it as part of its CSA.
The take-out restaurant offers everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner to large-format catering options. There are burritos stuffed with all manner of eggs, vegetables, and meats; breakfast focaccia (made in house); a wide category dedicated to salad; heroes featuring that incredible mozzarella. In fact, there are seven sandwiches featuring the house-made mozzarella, with variations that include artichokes, prosciutto di Parma, avocado, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto, roasted red peppers, and various combinations of the above.
There are pizzettas, too, tiny pizzas made in that brand-new oven that feature everything from olives to mushrooms to grilled chicken — and there’s even a salad pizzetta option. But things really get interesting when it comes to the Italian dinners section, where the bonanza of items includes everything in the kitchen sink. Meat lasagna, cannelloni, stuffed shells, baked ziti, manicotti, linguini with clam sauce, spaghetti with meatballs, eggplant parm, eggplant rollatini, veal marsala, chicken cacciatore. The gang’s all here.
Full-pan catering trays can feed up to 22 people, and run from about $70 for the most basic pasta dishes (penne a la vodka, for instance) to $109 for more involved platters (shrimp imperial, which includes pancetta-wrapped, Gruyere cheese-stuffed jumbo shrimp, topped with a wild mushroom Madeira sauce).
Have you ever heard of a cannoli platter? Did you know that was a thing? Pity the gluten-free and Keto-embracing among us, because a platter of cannoli sounds like a very good platter, indeed. And while you can place orders for your food for Villa Italian online, that’s really only half the story.
I find that a great deal of the joy is found in standing before the meat case, peering into the wheels of sausage. I never really know what it is I’m looking for, or if I’m looking for anything at all. Met with the choices on the other side of the glass, I may even leave empty handed. Still, there is so much to gain from a trip inside that room, where the craft of the food betrays itself. It’s worth the trip to see the phoenix reinventing itself, again and again.