BACK OF THE HOUSE: A Mano

mano

Have you heard about the pizza joint in Mattituck?

If you sit down with chef Tom Schaudel, be prepared for a story. There’s the one about a musician in New Orleans, named Pinetop Perkins, who said the memorable line, “If Mama’s got the blues, the whole house’s got the blues.”

Or the one about Shorty, a cook he worked with at his first restaurant job in 1968 (where he lied his way into a dishwashing job, by the way), who was a drinker with a “penchant for carrying unlicensed firearms.” Shorty broke Schaudel’s rib during a fight. Schaudel fought back by hiding behind a doorway waiting for Shorty to return. It was then that a large metal pan, known in the trade as a “hotel pan” (which Schaudel says were much more substantial in those days), met with Shorty’s nose. The restaurant owner had to mediate that one.

Oh, and did you know that Schaudel’s been married twice to the same woman (and they’re still friends)? And that Shorty, who asked Schaudel to be his best man, didn’t show up for his own wedding? And the time Shorty shot some holes in a ceiling and asked Schaudel to get him Perry Mason on the phone?

Sitting at the bar listening to these stories was Schaudel’s partner in A Mano restaurant in Mattituck, Adam Lovett. Lovett, who has known Schaudel since he was an 18-year-old busboy, was, believe it or not, hearing some of these stories for the first time. It’s a bottomless well, and, frankly, a good way to spend an afternoon.

But there is work to do. These two men, who have owned and operated and sold and moved on from more restaurants than most people eat in in their lives, were looking forward to a pretty good crowd that night, even though it’s the off-season and most diners have hunkered down for the winter.

But Schaudel had thought of this. The former owner of Passion Fish, which lived on in two incarnations, and the current owner of Coolfish in Syosset and consulting chef of Gabrielle’s in Rockville Center, had an idea of what A Mano would be. Lovett thought it was going to be a Japanese steakhouse, or maybe sushi. But one day Schaudel showed up and said, “No, we’re doing pizza.”

“And I knew better than to argue with a chef,” says Lovett. The Italian osteria and wine bar opened on June 5, 2008. “It was the concept with the widest appeal,” says Schaudel. “The high-end is covered out here. And we wanted to be a place where people could just drop in and split a pizza and a salad. There’s no obligation to do the soup-to-nuts thing. It’s not like a religious experience or you’re going to Mass or getting out and feeling like your leaving behind a mortgage.”

How many metaphors were in that last sentence?

“His record is eight,” says Lovett.

The restaurant focuses half on the North Fork and half on Italy, with its wine list representing only those two regions. “I think it’s a good balance,” says Schaudel. “The theme is good; the two types of cuisine support each other and, politically, everyone is in it together. You would never go to a restaurant in Napa and not have California wine.”

Besides being able to take advantage of fresh North Fork produce and fish, Schaudel likes Italian food and has traveled extensively in that country. “I wanted this to be authentic Italy, not Little Italy,” he says.

The menu changes, and there is a fixed-price menu during the week, but staples include a warm Satur Farms cauliflower salad with raisins, pine nuts and prosciutto. Italy and North Fork combined. Linguine and clams also includes pancetta, and Tom’s carbonara is tossed with smoked duck. Mussels have vermouth and the cheese plate can be a combination of Gorgonzola and Catapano Farm’s goat cheese.

The other thing Lovett and Schaudel love about the North Fork is the help. “I was told that you can’t find good help on the East End,” says Lovett, “but, by some miracle, this is the best staff I’ve ever worked with.”

“What’s funny about here is,” says Schaudel “the local kids work. Up-Island the Spanish guys are banging on the door. It must be the farmer ethic. It’s like the Midwest. Good hardworking kids. I haven’t seen an American dishwasher in 30 years.”

The building where they all work has been a restaurant for at least five decades, and the more work the two do on the space, the more artifacts they find. When the roof was redone, they found square nails from the 1920s. There’s a mirror in the dining room that has sported etched decorations, including the restaurant’s names. Each successive restaurant, instead of replacing the mirror, just pasted the new one on top. The whole thing is now starting to protrude from the wall.

In front of this sit a growing number of regulars, who are showing up for the mid-week specials: half-price pasta on Sundays; free pizza at the bar on Mondays; glasses of wine for the ladies on Tuesday; half-price bottles of wine on Wednesday; and, the biggest draw, half-price pizza on Thursdays. The restaurant is open for lunch on the weekend, and for now seven days. They’ll close one day a week after the holidays.

In the meantime, the duo, with the chef at Cool Fish and Gabrielle’s, Michael Ross, have started a catering company, Ross Schaudel, that operates Island-wide, and Schaudel is pushing in book, Playing With Fire: Whining and Dining on the Gold Coast, which details some of the outrageous behavior he’s witnessed over the years.

Sit back and enjoy a few of his stories.

Eileen M. Duffy holds a diploma in wine and spirit from the International Wine Center and writes from her home in Southold.

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