Painted the color of drawn butter, the textured ceiling at Wölffer Kitchen is evocative of the pleasing swirl chardonnay makes when poured into a glass.
This is no accident, said Roman Roth, who consults on the Sag Harbor restaurant’s wine list and is partner and winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in nearby Sagaponack. With the addition of its cork walls, this is an establishment where subtle intention reigns.
“All wine has texture and life,” Roth said. “It’s not cookie-cutter stuff.”
Neither, it appears, is anything about Wölffer Kitchen.
The brainchild of siblings Marc and Joey Wölffer, who also own Wölffer Estate Vineyard, the Main Street restaurant marries seasonal new American cuisine with food-friendly wine.
The 60-seat space, which opened in July and is the first winery-owned restaurant in the Hamptons, is light and unstuffy, with a bar fashioned from reclaimed mushroom wood. A large wall mural featuring brightly painted depictions of animals and flowers creates a sense of whimsy.
Any remnants of the building’s previous occupant, the now-shuttered gastropub The Cuddy, are gone. With the help of Sagaponack architect Nick Martin, the space was completely gutted and renovated in just six months, said Wölffer Kitchen manager Max Rohn. In addition, bi-fold accordion front doors were built to enable sidewalk seating.
“The whole idea was to lighten it up and open the space,” said Rohn, who is married to Joey Wölffer. “Part of Joey’s style is about not being afraid to mix patterns.”
While chef Deena Chafetz oversaw Wölffer Kitchen’s initial launch, southern California native Brian Cheewing — who was initially hired in July as the establishment’s chef de cuisine — assumed the role of executive chef in October.
“We hit it off pretty well from the beginning and I’ve been here ever since,” said Cheewing, 36, who most recently was owner and executive chef of The Coast Grill in Southampton, which he sold in March.
A Southampton resident, Cheewing was employed as a line chef by the elite Jean-Georges in Manhattan following his 1997 graduation from New York Restaurant School. In 2001, he was hired as sous chef at George Martin in Rockville Centre.
Cheewing moved to Long Island’s East End in 2003, when he was offered the position of executive chef at George Martin’s Southampton location. That restaurant closed the following year, but Cheewing decided to remain in the Hamptons, where he “bounced around” at different restaurants, including Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton. He was also executive chef at James on Main in Southampton and the now-closed Grappa Wine Bar in Sag Harbor. The latter received a “Very good” rating from The New York Times shortly after its 2008 opening.
At Wölffer Kitchen, Cheewing creates seasonal menus with a focus on fresh local food. Staples include steamed mussels served with Wölffer rosé and housemade veal chorizo, plus risotto and roasted marble potatoes.
This winter, guests can expect starters like an $18 nosh board filled with cured meats, cheeses and seasonal vegetables, and beef carpaccio with smoked almonds and chimichurri ($15). Entrées include crispy chicken breast with braised French lentils, baby carrots and dill ($26) and a selection of hand-extruded pastas, including butternut squash ravioli with kale, walnuts and homemade lemoncello brown butter ($23).
“We don’t buy anything dry,” Cheewing said of the restaurant’s pasta, which is all made in-house. “The texture is better. It’s fresh.”
Any East End restaurant would be remiss without a cultivated wine list and Wölffer Kitchen didn’t need to look far to find their expert: Roth said he was asked early on in the venture to assist.
“Being a partner at Wölffer, you’re involved in everything,” said the 49-year-old, who lives in Sag Harbor. “The first idea was just to have Wölffer wines, but then we felt Wölffer is larger than that — that they should embrace certainly the whole Long Island region, and also other areas of the world.”
To that end, Wölffer Kitchen offers an impressive array of wines from around the globe, including Australian syrah, Argentinian rosé and Italian prosecco. The Hamptons and North Fork are well-represented, with selections from Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue and, of course, Wölffer Estate Vineyard. In fact, Roth said, about 60 percent of the wines offered are made on Long Island.
“It has to be about personality and food-friendliness,” he said of devising the list. “Even the wines that come from other wineries or countries are wonderful, balanced wines — not heavy, cough syrup reds.”
In addition to an extensive assortment of what Roth referred to as “wines with character,” Wölffer Kitchen offers its own non-alcoholic verjus made from unripe grapes. There are cocktails, too, like a raspberry mint cucumber sangria and spiced ginger plum cider, and craft beers.
But the majority of customers, Roth said, prefer to drink Wölffer wine — something he didn’t necessarily expect would happen.
“We thought there would be more balance, maybe 50/50,” he said. “But people who go there definitely want to enjoy Wölffer wine. And lots of people realize now that Long Island makes wonderful white wines and rosés.”
In late November, Wölffer Kitchen began offering brunch featuring items like Long Island hash made with duck from Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, classic eggs Benedict and paninis.
“There aren’t many places in the Hamptons that offer brunch,” Cheewing said. “We would like to be available all day, every day.”
Along those same lines, the restaurant also plans to begin offering dinners paired with wines from around the world this winter.
“Not too many restaurants are doing wine dinners,” Roth said. “It’s something we have to get serious about.”
Expanding its repertoire shouldn’t be difficult. Despite the inherent risk that accompanies the launch of nearly any restaurant, Roth said reception to Wölffer Kitchen has been “wonderful” in its first six months.
“It shows the confidence of where we think Wölffer is going and Long Island in general,” he said. “And people have noticed that.”
This story was originally published in the winter 2016 edition of the Long Island Wine Press