From Walter's Hot Dogs in Mamaroneck, we zoomed up the road to Port Chester's Tarry Lodge. (But not before Ed had tuned the XM satellite radio to the '60s station and regaled us with tales of his concert-going past, complete with sing-alongs. He does a mean "Light My Fire"—and the car muffles highway noise so well, we got a full Ed audio blast loud and clear. You haven't heard The Doors until you've heard Ed Levine as backup vocals.)
But where were we? Ah, yes, Tarry Lodge. Opened in the fall of 2008 by chef Andy Nusser (opening chef at Babbo) and GM Nancy Selzer (Bar Jamón, Casa Mono, Babbo)—with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich—it's a less urban incarnation of that team's now-familiar aesthetic.
If you're familiar with Otto in New York's West Village, you'll walk in and feel right at home. (Despite the lack of a train display or cheese counter.) Everything from the antipasti selection to the small-print back-of-the-menu wine list to the font of the menu lets you know whose restaurant you're in.
But Tarry Lodge has an energy all its own, as was clear at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday—when the place was packed to the brim. Older Italian men in suits at the bar, ladies in hats sharing Prosecco and pizza, a lively table of well-dressed office folk digging into plates of pasta. We hadn't expected lunchtime to bring out the crowds, but according to our waiter, it was pretty much par for the course.
With such an extensive, appealing menu, it's difficult to narrow one's options. But how could we not try a plate with a name like Fusilli alla Crazy Bastard ($15)? A veritable casserole of pasta that could easily feed two, the dish swirls goat cheese, beet greens, cherry tomatoes, and walnuts—plus garlic and red pepper—into a haphazard pile from which each bite is a new surprise: more sweet tomato here, more tangy goat cheese there. As delicious as it is unpredictable.
A salumi salad ($11) tasted precisely like what it was—a mound of cured meats, of the high quality Batali's restaurants are known for, elegantly sliced and tossed in a light dressing that doesn't get in their way.
And with Otto's perfectly rendered antipasti in mind, we ordered Smoked Trout with White Beans and Chorizo ($8), another straightforward, well-composed dish.
Each element of the Margherita ($10) pizza was bright and fresh-tasting, on a crust that really surprised us. Though we'd initially seen its low rise and grown somewhat skeptical, we found it pliant and well-salted, with a real outside char from the wood-burning oven, good interior hole structure, and a great balance of chew and crunch. Even fifteen minutes later, it didn't stiffen or dry.
But go a little bolder than the margherita; it was the topping combinations that really made these pies. Our favorite pizza of the list was the sausage with stracchino and shiitakes ($13), whose sausage, mushrooms, milky stracchino, and sharp Parmesan came together in each bright, salty, earthy, sweet bite. It's the kind of pizza you find yourself thinking about later in the day, so novel is the sensation of these ingredients together. Again, this could easily feed two moderately hungry lunchers.
Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Truffle Honey ($14) is a bit less sweet, more savory than the menu might have you expect, thanks to the red onions. The kitchen stays mercifully light on that truffle honey.
The first time a Guanciale, Black Truffles and Sunny Side Egg ($17) pizza took a ride through the dining room, it left a cloud of lingering earthiness in its wake, leaving a trail like a little girl who's gotten into her mother's perfume. There's no skimping on the truffles. But with the sweet, seeping guanciale, Parmesan, and rich yellow egg, they don't dominate or overwhelm the pizza. It's a fine dish, not just a fine ingredient. "A pile of black truffles for $17?" Nusser beamed. "That's the definition of affordable luxury." The guy's not exactly unbiased, but we're inclined to agree.
Equal parts accessible and refined, Tarry Lodge is every bit as polished and sophisticated as Batali's other restaurants, while reaping the benefits—more space, lower prices—of its less urban digs. Lucky you are, Port Chester. Lucky you are.
All right, do the math. Three eaters (one on a Serious Diet). Seven dishes—five of them, closer to two portions than one. And that's before the dessert.
Some of you have asked in the past: what happens to all that extra food?
Leftovers, my friends. Lots and lots of leftovers. And while they can be difficult to juggle on the New York subway, our trusty LaCrosse solved that problem for us. I just belted them into the spacious backseat, right next to me—safety first, particularly where pizza is concerned—and stretched my legs out, bathing in the scent of black truffles all the way up to Boston.