Pizza, fresh focaccia sandwiches and frozen raviolis beckon hordes to Hampton Bays.
A life-size slice of pizza greets customers on the sidewalk in front of Scotto’s Italian Pork Store at 25 West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. Café tables and chairs are scattered outside as well as inside the small shop. Not surprisingly, the first thing that welcomes you as you enter is a hint of garlic and the aroma of freshly baked pizza dough. Many argue the slices are the best on the East End, but pizza is just the beginning.
Scotto’s (not to be confused with any other Scotto’s on Long Island, and there are a few) is a one-stop shop for Italian specialties. Like most retail establishments on the East End, the summer and Christmastime are the busiest seasons, but don’t tell that to their lunchtime customers, who are patiently waiting on line on the early Fall day we visited.
“Everything is homemade here,” said Simone Scotto standing behind the prepared-food counter. “Staples like cervelat, a sausage made with cheese and parsley, and sopressata, a dry, sweet or hot salami, up to the mozzarella and macaroni salad.”
Scotto’s decor is old school, with baskets hanging from the ceiling and prosciutto hanging behind the pizzas put out for lunch. The cases are chock-full of pinwheel sausages, shell steak, rib-eye and skirt steak all resting in a “secret Italian marinade,” perfectly pounded and breaded chicken cutlets, plain and rolled and stuffed with ham and cheese and a dab of butter on top ready to slide into the oven.
Simone and his sister, Rachele, grew up in Hampton Bays and opened the store 15 years ago, with plenty of experience. Their father, Tony, owned three shops: John’s Pizza in Hampton Bays, Piccola Capri in Westhampton and Sergio’s in Riverhead.
“That’s all I ever wanted to do was to go to work with my Dad,” said Simone, who looks younger than his 40 years. Tony has been retired since 1990. He still makes almost daily trips to his children’s shop, albeit behind the scenes.
While Simone is showing off Scotto’s portable pizza kitchen out back, Tony pulls up in his Cadillac. He gets out holding a large bouquet of freshly picked basil from his own garden. The scent hangs heavy in the still, hot air.
“When did you come here from Naples?” Simone asked his father.
In broken English, Tony said he made his way to Hampton Bays 43 years ago via Brooklyn. It wasn’t easy coming to America by ship in 1954, he wants us to know, before heading to the back door.
The portable pizza oven is quite impressive. It is five years old but looks brand new with red and green letters on a white background and shiny, silver trim. “A lot of ideas pop into my head at night. When the economy went down, I tried to bring the business to the customer.” The box sits on a flatbed truck and can be transported to anyone’s home for any type of party.
Simone was planning a huge block party in October, the third San Gennaro Feast of the Hamptons. “The event was put together for the community, as something to enjoy during the off-season. Twenty thousand people came through on Saturday and Sunday. It was crazy, completely nuts. I was expecting maybe 5,000 people. Everyone ran out of food. It was great.”
All proceeds were due to go to Maureen’s Haven, a shelter to “protect and empower” the East End homeless. The feast will include a classic car show, a parade and lots of vendors, with the entire community getting involved. “We’ll be there with the pizza truck,” he said of the traditional Italian street fair.
Simone looks at his watch and runs off, from the back to the basement to the kitchen. He moves so fast, it’s hard to keep up. Sister Rachele does a pretty good job of it. Their paths cross quickly as they trade afternoon shifts. As they pass each other behind the counter, they speak to each other in Italian.
“One of us is always here. If I’m not, he is,” Rachele said.
Tall and broad, she’s a tough nut to crack. She refuses to say what Scotto’s uses as their steak marinade, and it’s doubtful that anyone would challenge her.
Rachele rolls her big brown eyes dramatically when asked if the winters get slow. “Let’s just say, we have lots of lunch and dinner specials during winter; buy one get one half-off.”
Dishes such as veal Parmesan, manicotti, cheese tortellini and eggplant rollatini, all made with fresh ricotta, are nestled into the cases while pizza bakes in the oven.
Opposite the freshly prepared foods, more than 20 varieties of frozen raviolis, including “walnut and Gorgonzola” and “jalapeño and cheddar,” among the more traditional, line a wall of freezers.
When asked where the frozen raviolis are made, Rachele will only divulge, “Our cousin has a factory up the island. I can’t tell you the name. It’s a family business,” before running out to pick her children up from school. Simone won’t go any further on the raviolis. “My father’s cousin,” he said. No matter. The panini and focaccia bread are made in-house. The Italian bread comes from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City.
Samples of calzones are offered on the counter by the register, another calculated ploy to make you eat and buy. On this particular day, it seems the stuffed meat pie is the best seller.
Scotto’s customer base is old school, too, at least after Labor Day, and if the owners won’t talk to a nosey foodie, their customers have plenty to say. Thomas
Gabriele, a retired Suffolk County Corrections Officer, wears jeans and a navy blue T-shirt with a blinged-out cross on a bold chain.
“I’m not much of a meat eater,” Gabriele said, “I live in Bridgehampton and usually go to Panero’s for my sun-dried tomato and mozzarella sandwich,” he said, about to step up to place his sandwich order of the same.
“When I’m in Hampton Bays, I always stop here. My wife wants me to bring home some sun-dried tomatoes.”
“Roasted peppers and balsamic vinegar on that?” the woman at the counter questions. After a beat, he repeated, “Roasted peppers, sure, why not?”
“There’s not a bad thing in the place. Everything is beautiful,” said J. J. Cordano, another gray-haired Italian said, glancing around the shop, “Look at that lasagna! It’s so unusual. It’s a tower, standing straight up five inches.”
“You know they’re related to Roseanna Scotto, the television anchor who owns Fresco by Scotto,” Cordano said, “but you’d have to ask them how.”
Still, the popular ravioli remain mysterious, even if there’s no doubt that customers buy them by the armload. Questioned again about them, Simone reiterated that his father’s cousin makes them but said he is not related to any other Scottos. “They’re all in Italy.” •
Kelly Ann Smith lives in Springs between Gardiner’s Bay and Accabonac Harbor and has been writing about Bonac culture for 17 years.