Sag Pizza opened Friday, August 3, to what is perhaps the most incredible frenzy of anticipation little Sag Harbor Village has seen regarding an eatery. The hype is infused with a myriad of emotions that have something to do with pizza, but a lot to do with changing times and what it means to be a Sag Harbor local with a year-round need for affordable dining.
Conca d’Oro’s pizza was universally acknowledged as the best Neapolitan-style pizza within 20 miles, and the loss of the place, in October of 2017, was about the loss of a neighborhood hang-out—the kind that really doesn’t exist in the Hamptons anymore—where familiar faces, affordable, consistent grub, and a truly down-to-earth atmosphere met you come rain or shine, July or January. Hungry after school? Head to Conca. Friends coming off the train Friday night, having not eaten dinner? Take them to Conca. Didn’t have time in the workday to plan dinner? Call Conca for take-out. The tearful mob who turned out on Halloween to grab a last slice (handed out—for free—by the Gambino family who is as much a part of this community as their restaurant was) and gazed lovingly at the drop-ceiling and dark paneled walls, was an indication that the next incarnation of this beloved place would have big shoes to fill.
The day before the opening of the new pizzeria, while on Ocean Road beach for an after-work swim, my son and I overheard a family next to us. “Look,” said the dad to his kids as they toweled-off, “it’s not gonna be our kind of pizza, okay? It’s gonna be that flat-bread, fresh basil, thirty-dollar-a-pie pizza.” The kids moaned, the other adults laughed a little, shaking their heads with a cynical shrug—that’s the way of the world, kids. It didn’t take more than a second before my son turned to me and said, “They’re talking about the new Conca d’Oro.”
The “new Conca d’Oro,” as my son put it, is not called Conca d’Oro, though the original intention of the new owner was to keep the name (and the pizza recipe). It’s now called Sag Pizza, and I’ll pull that band-aid off quickly by admitting that neither I, nor anyone I know, approves of the name. Harbor Pizza? Conca Pizza? Sorry, Sag is a done deal. My family affectionately refers to it as Saggy’s for short. Not like a saggy pizza, mind you—because that’s unfortunately what it connotes, right?— just Saggy’s, like a cute nickname for an old-timey coffee shop we’ll all grow to love saying. As for the old sign that, as of writing this, is still above the door: it sadly has to go, due to liquor license laws. The good news is that it will be replaced with one exactly like it, with just a name change.
The entire décor and renovation of Sag Pizza is a success. The interior is gorgeous: clean, casual, and inviting. The sign and the bright new awning pays homage to the establishment’s history—as does the exposed original ceiling beams and original wood panels now painted white. The back corridor to the bathrooms, and the location of the kitchen, is still recognizable, but the renovation of the bathrooms and kitchen will be most welcome to all who knew the old ones. The outdoor tables are a plus in good weather, and are a very authentic nod to family-frequented pizzerias in Italy.
The staff at Sag Pizza are friendly and conscientious; they were run ragged the first day, but still kept track of everyone’s orders and offered complimentary side-dishes when they thought we had waited too long for anything. Kid-friendly, too: one waitperson handed my daughter a cute Sag Pizza beach ball to blow up and play with.
Now for answers to some of the bigger questions we’ve all been waiting for. Yes, pizza by the slice is and will continue to be available at Sag Pizza. Kids will be able to wander in after school and grab a soda and slice; anyone will be able to order pies for take-out or eating in. There will be different sizes and prices for take-out pizza, which will be necessary considering the style of pizza offered. The current price per slice is $3.75 to $4.50, depending on the toppings (plain cheese, pepperoni, sausage/mushroom/pepper are currently the only options for slices). And yes, there are garlic knots, authentic Stromboli, and Sicilian-style pizza.
The pizza is not the Gambino family recipe—if you still crave that, you’ll have to drive to Westhampton to Baby Moon, owned by the nieces of Lina Gambino Venesina, Conca d’Oro’s founding matron. Sag Pizza’s pizza is a northern-Italian, thin crust pizza. The crust is deliciously crunchy-chewy with big bubbles along the edge, mainly due to the wood oven it’s cooked in. The sauce is mild, rich and slightly sweet (and though I prefer a more salty-garlic sauce, no doubt others will love it this way). The cheese is excellent, with the right amount used.
Compared to a typical Sicilian-American style pizzeria, the menu at Sag Pizza is relatively slim—no heros, no giant gorgonzola salads or baked manicotti or lasagna. What it does have is a lot of deliciously fresh ingredients that owner Laurent Tourondel (who is French) told me he hopes to keep seasonal when possible.
My family and I started our dinner, on Saggy’s inaugural night, with Calamari Fritti, which was a medium-small portion of thin zucchini frittes and fried calamari served with a chili aioli. It was delicious. We followed this with Raw Zucchini (a spaghetti-cut zucchini salad with lemon, shaved pecorino and shaved almonds) and Meatball Pomodoro. The zucchini was simple and fresh, and the meatballs were excellent—handmade with a surprising mix of veal and mortadella, with a rich tomato reduction and served with toasted Tuscan bread smeared with a mild pesto. Also good was the Burrata with blistered tomatoes and pesto: a bright, creamy, slightly citrusy mix of flavors.
Dinner was pizza and the Mezzi Rigatoni with sausage, escarole, crushed pignoli nuts, and a lightly creamy pecorino sauce. The pasta itself was excellent—not the usual boxed stuff—and though the sauce was a little bland, the sausage was spectacular. For our pizza, we chose the San Marzano, the standard margherita fare most people will be ordering by the slice or pie for take-out. It was lovely, easy to hold in your hand as you eat (no forks and knives necessary), and slightly delicate. You can also order Crust Dippers such as pesto, truffle aioli, ranch, or gorgonzola, for $3, which really rounds out the pie experience nicely.
Price is surely the wrench in this overall good picture, especially when you consider the price of the pies: $14 to $18 for a pie about half the size of the average large New York pizzeria pie ($14 to $23 depending on toppings). In other words: one teenager, not two, per pie at Sag Pizza. Some things, like wine, are excellent and no more expensive than your average bar or Bay Burger these days: $10 for Channing Daughters on tap, for instance; $6 for Peroni or Montauk Wave beer. A kid’s meal, comprised of an entrée plus gelato, is $15, and two large scoops of gelato with pizzelle for grownups is $8 (about the same price, and way more delicious than every ice cream and yogurt place from the top of main street to the Windmill).
But the days of getting a cup of hearty minestrone soup with garlic bread for $8, or a huge platter of pasta and meatballs (with a free side salad and enough leftover for lunch the next day) for $16 are over. My husband, daughter and I ordered quite a lot of food and we all had drinks and desert, but in a side-by-side comparison our old pizzeria dinner (even an over-ordered version) would have come to no more than $80. Our tab at Sag Pizza? $140.
There is no question that Sag Pizza will enjoy success, just as it’s companion burger joint, LT, does. But like LT Burger (the pricier version of Bay Burger, on the Turnpike), it offers elevated fair at an elevated price-point. The question of whether we all ought to be eating healthier, better-sourced food is not an easily negotiable one—of course we should. But the question of whether one can force a segment of the local population (the “Ninety-nine Percent” of us, as it were) to magically expand our pocketbooks in order to do this is altogether another. It is a conversation that all villages in the Hamptons have had over the last two decades, and one that our formerly sleepy, “un-Hamptons” little village has been grappling with in a big way lately. It’s a conversation—like the ones about sustainable agriculture, edible schoolyards, and environmental impact—we need to keep having. My hope for Sag Pizza is that it embraces the community as a whole (with weekly off-season specials? with a few alternative offerings on the menu?), as our whole community now looks to embrace it.