You may not see Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich regularly in the Elm City. After all, they own and operate more than 30 eateries, markets and ventures across the globe. But the powerhouse restaurateurs have infused their styles and culinary prowess into New Haven's Tarry Lodge, their third location of the enoteca/pizzeria and the second to open in Connecticut.
When the original Tarry Lodge opened in Port Chester, N.Y. in late 2008, it was a departure from the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group's big-city projects, like the Michelin-starred Babbo and Del Posto in Manhattan and Los Angeles' Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza. Batali and Bastianich partnered with two rising stars from Babbo — executive chef Andy Nusser and service director Nancy Selzer — to create the suburban concept, bringing a "greatest hits" selection of the restaurants' celebrated Italian cuisine to Westchester County.
Following the success of the inaugural location and its menu of antipasti, wood-fired pizzas and pastas, B&B Hospitality Group decided to head up the Connecticut coastline to open a second Tarry Lodge in Westport, in the summer of 2011. Two and a half years later, word spread that the group was considering a New Haven outpost, working with Yale University Properties to open its third Tarry Lodge on Park Street.
"Mario really wanted to put a location in a college town. The demographics seemed to fit," said New Haven's general manager Steve Bayusik. "…Obviously here, we're a ways from the mothership in Port Chester. But the natural [geographical] progression, up from Westport, the next destination would be New Haven."
Tarry Lodge opened on Halloween and has captured a mix of students, university staff and food lovers in its first two months, Bayusik said.
"The reaction's been great. People are loving us. A lot of people come because they know us from either our Port Chester location or Westport, but they also come because they know [of] Mario or Joe."
The menu is divided into sections Bayusik calls "food groups." Antipasti and salads ($9 to $14) feature burrata with roasted beets, octopus with shishito peppers and squid ink, porchetta with pickled fennel, kale with goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette and "Nancy's chopped salumi salad" with mortadella, salami, provolone, artichokes and olives in a red wine vinaigrette.
Pasta ($15 to $18) is a star at Tarry Lodge, with pumpkin ravioli, black fettuccine with rock shrimp and chorizo, bucatini cacio e pepe and cavatelli with hot sausage and rapini. The tagliatelle Bolognese is Babbo's classic recipe, and the fusilli alla "crazy bastard," with corkscrew-shaped pasta, oven-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, beet greens and walnuts, gets its comical name from a New Yorker cartoon, a joke between Batali and Bastianich.
A wood-fired oven cooks pizzas ($9 to $19) in 900-to-1000 degree heat, with such gourmet combinations as goat cheese with pistachios and truffle honey; clams with garlic, chili and oregano; funghi mista with taleggio and thyme; meatballs with jalapenos and fontina and brussels sprouts with cauliflower and pancetta. A purist margherita pie with uncooked tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil is a big seller, said Bayusik, along with a much more lavish guanciale-topped pie with shaved black truffles and runny egg. "I joke and say you should eat one every week."
Tarry Lodge knew it was entering one of America's most storied pizza towns, Bayusik said, but says its product is different enough to stand out. "We're here to play nice with all the other pizza places. We're not out to start a pizza war," he said.
In a nod to the city's academic population, Bayusik said Batali suggested New Haven add unique "studente" and "professore" sections of the menu — with lower-priced casual items like zuppa di zucca, steamed clams, a porchetta calzone and two submarine sandwiches ($10 to $15) meant to capture a student crowd. Eggplant alla parmigiana, whole branzino, hanger steak and free-range half chicken ($18-$27) are among the "secondi," or entrees.
"We want to be [welcoming] to everyone, something for all price points," Bayusik said.
The restaurant also offers a three-course daily lunch special, with choice of salad, pasta or pizza, and soft serve ice cream for just $20. For another $5, diners get a taste of wine or glass of housemade soda. There's another deal for theatergoers, who can present their tickets for a free glass of wine or antipasto plate the night of the performance.
The wine list is all Italian, listed by region, and cocktails ($12 to $14) are aperitif-style, following Italians' custom of enjoying lighter, cleaner drinks before dinner. Bayusik's creations include a bellini with pear liqueur, an apple-cinnamon grappa and cider cocktail with ginger syrup and a gin-based libation with Carpano Bianco, Cointreau and lemon.
New Haven's reputation as a culinary-forward destination has helped attract first-rate brands in recent years – Danny Meyer's Shake Shack opened its second Connecticut restaurant on Chapel Street in 2012 (coincidentally also following the Westport-to-New Haven expansion path.) Tarry Lodge fits in well with the impressive restaurant landscape, Bayusik said.
"New Haven is a very cosmopolitan city. It's a very smart city. People want what's trendy, what's happening. They know good food and they know good cocktails…New Haven is very hip and I think that's why we are at home with other New York-based companies."
>>Tarry Lodge, 278 Park St., New Haven, is open seven days a week, Monday and Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Information: 203-672-0765 and newhaven.tarrylodge.com.