The last 50 years have marked a specific and sustained change on this part of Long Island, so it can feel surprising to learn that a restaurant has stood the test of time. If that marvel feels pat, so be it. It is always an accomplishment for restaurants — notorious for their economic fragility — to last longer than a few years. Forty? That’s a miracle.
I cannot attest to whether or not divine intervention in the form of miracle has aided the Tagliasacchi family, which has owned Sag Harbor’s Il Capuccino for over four staggering decades. The restaurant opened in 1974 and weathered the storms of uncertainty that accompanied the market crashes of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. It’s still here.
The real shift toward longevity for Il Capuccino began in 1981, when chef James “Jimbo” Renner joined Jack Tagliasacchi in the kitchen. Renner had cut his teeth at Sag Harbor’s Baron Cove Inn, but he never looked back after moving over to Il Cap. He has been a constant fixture in the kitchen for 38 years.
In the early 1990s, Jack Tagliasacchi expanded the restaurant, purchasing an adjacent building that allowed the footprint — and menu — to breathe a little. The current iteration of the restaurant’s offerings includes a long list of appetizers, salads, seafood, meats, sides, and desserts — but none outshine the dozen or so pasta options. It’s all a nod to Northern Italy — Parma, to be specific — where Tagliasacchi grew up. Upon leaving Italy, he traveled to France, Switzerland, and Argentina. It was in Argentina where, in the mid-1950s, he opened his first restaurant. Later, he headed to Miami and, finally, to the East End. In 1970, he purchased the now-coveted real estate where the restaurant stands. He had been on Long Island for less than a decade at the time.
The business, nearly a half-century in, remains a family affair, with Amber Tagliasacchi-Miller, Jack’s eldest daughter, at the helm. She has worked with her father for nearly 20 years now, not quite half the restaurant’s lifespan. Which is to say that the space and what it offers is both a reflection of his old school sensibility and her new school one.
Décor, you will find, is certainly old school. There are Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, white tablecloths on the tables. This is a space that recalls an earlier era of dining formality, at least in that one sense. But at the lively bar, which Tagliasacchi-Miller often works herself, the scene is more youthful joie de vivre than entrenched Italian tradition. There is room for both in this space, where loyalists return for the food and the atmosphere.
There are plenty of delicious options when it comes to Il Capuccino’s menu. I’m fond, for one, of the veal scallopini a marsala, and also of the petto di pollo al funghi — chicken breasts dipped in egg and flour and served with a mushroom and sherry sauce. Pastas are always respectable. The linguine with clam sauce features plump local bivalves. The carbonara is everyone’s antidote to a cold winter evening.
But the best thing that Il Capuccino offers actually isn’t on the menu at all. It is a plateful of pillowy, garlic-doused rolls, which arrive at the table on the house. Are they bathed in butter first? They probably are. Is it worth the extra hour at the gym? It definitely is. One bite and you’ll realize that this, right here, is the reason that people return, decade after decade.