This is a story about breakfast. Sort of.
If you ask an East Ender where to go for breakfast, and Estia’s Little Kitchen isn’t one of the top five answers, you’ve asked the wrong person. Situated on a somewhat unassuming slice of the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, Estia’s is nondescript. It could, in reality, be someone’s home, a brown-shingled, one-story house with a brick chimney and green portico. Inside, it’s a brunch counter with bright yellow countertops, and bistro-style plates that boast “Estia’s” on the rim. The walls are painted a subdued honey, the tables blond wood. You came here to visit an old friend, didn’t you?
That old friend is chef Colin Ambrose, whose dedication to local food stretches back further than the recent obsession. His breakfast menu embraces cross-culturalism, a soupçon of Mexican, French, and Italian cuisines, all holding hands. There are massive burritos, open-faced tacos, and house specialties, like the chilaquiles verde, but there’s also a crab cake served with poached eggs, avocado, and an English muffin.
Thursdays through Sundays, the restaurant known for its breakfasts (and lunches) serves dinners, too, and dinners feel more specific. This is Mexican food, executed with precision. This time, the crab appears in the form of a tostada, accompanied by guacamole. While breakfast (and lunch) at Estia’s feels like a constant affair, interrupted only by the mid-week break, dinner feels more occasional, and, therefore, more special. Both meals have their regulars, of course, habitués drawn to representative, fresh cuisine in a convivial space that could be your living room. What’s not to like?
Ambrose, who hails from Tennessee, bought his first restaurant in 1991. That restaurant, Estia, was in Amagansett, and it became known throughout the Hamptons for its thoughtful cuisine, which he provided year-round, both to locals and visitors. The word “estia” means hospitality in Greek, and the business was meant to welcome people in, to offer them delicious, locally sourced food.
A year after opening his business, Ambrose joined Amagansett’s Quail Hill Farm, where the first Community Supported Agriculture program on Long Island was then launching. Eventually, he opened Estia’s Little Kitchen, his second location, where he installed a large garden filled with vegetables and herbs that he could use in his own cooking, as well as beehives for local honey.
The Amagansett restaurant, which closed in 2007, is now Indian Wells Tavern. The dissolution of one restaurant gave birth to a broader context for the next, which is now a powerhouse attracting countless hungry Hamptons souls. This past winter, on Tuesdays — a day that the restaurant remains closed, even in season — Estia’s Little Kitchen hosted a pop-up for The SHED, a co-working space for women. Which is to say: Estia’s Little Kitchen has become, over the course of time, more than the sum of its parts — and more than breakfast.
The recognition for Ambrose and his work has been widespread. Recently, he was awarded the Snail of Approval by Slow Food East End. He has expanded his own personal reach, too. These days, in addition to manning the kitchen in Sag Harbor, Ambrose is also leading the American Rivers Tour, where travelers can sign up to accompany him on trips through America’s heartland, on a tour that’s inspired both by his love for food and the outdoors — specifically, fishing.
Still, he’s always around when you need him in Sag Harbor, sometimes pouring coffee into wide-lipped mugs, even, reminding happy regulars that the East End does have some consistency here, where everything is always in flux. I’ll take deep roots and a plate of chilaquiles over the newest, flashiest thing any day of the week. www.estias.com.