It’s finally happening! Chef Melissa O’Donnell’s Sag Harbor Kitchen, the much anticipated take-over of the restaurant space in Sag Harbor’s American Legion Hall Post 338, opened (for real!) Wednesday, June 28 and is taking reservations.
But if you were one of the Dockside regulars wringing your hands since that popular spot closed in November 2022, and worrying over what would come next, don’t. O’Donnell’s undying love of the neighborhood restaurant is part and parcel to how this summer is going to go down at 26 Bay Street.
“All of my restaurants were neighborhood restaurants,” says O’Donnell, whose Mediterranean-tinged, fish-forward dishes and ever-convivial pull-up-a-bar-stool atmosphere won her multiple Michelin Bib Gourmand awards at her prior Manhattan restaurants, which include Thelma on Clinton, Stella, Salt, Salt Bar and Lil’ Gem.
And you’ll get that in Sag Harbor Kitchen space, too, from the sea-centric, comfortable vibe indoors and out (and the pretty house-harvesting garden right next to the patio seating out front to the convivial atmosphere.
First and foremost, O’Donnell is stoked about having an open-kitchen atmosphere. “For me, I want to look out and see people eating and having a good time. When I see that, then my job’s done,” she says. “Plus, [the open kitchen] medium makes it more interactive and allows [diners] to get into it and have fun.”
Sag Harbor Kitchen is also an interesting partnership between O’Donnell and Kittch, the live-streaming culinary platform created by media pros Brian T. Bedol, Elana Karp and Douglas DeLuca, that’s kind of like an open kitchen itself. The idea was born of the pandemic when chefs and other workers from the culinary community were near entirely sidelined—Kittch gave toques the ability to sell cooking lessons and merch, bringing chefs and consumers from all over the world together in the digital space to learn and connect.
It’s O’Donnell’s first time working with the streaming platform and she’s eager to bring that local and global community spirit into her new space. “It’s exciting to me because it creates the ability to connect to a lot more chefs.” O’Donnell will be able to stream her own cooking as well as have other chefs take over her kitchen, which she co-helms with her sous chef Selah Kendall, formerly of Barbuto, for a night.
“Brian [Bedol] and I were instantly on the same page. It’s going to be exciting to live stream video. My thinking is we’re bringing people in and having them come together around food – I’m not into ego so it doesn’t have to be my food — it just has to make people happy.”
But for the Manhattan born-and-raised chef who has spent many years coming out east to visit friends, her food will absolutely be at the heart of Sag Harbor Kitchen. Seasonally focused with a Mediterranean bent, expect seafood-forward dishes (“because of where we are and because I love cooking seafood!”) that speak of the local waters — a quatrain of raw bar options; grilled octopus with fave beans; her signature fish strew with capers, tomatoes oregano and garlic bed, and other dishes influenced by O’Donnell’s own Lebanese, Italian and Irish cultural background inspiring her work.
But she also wants to stay playful and open to flavor, changing up ingredients and offering things like a shawarma-spiced veggie kebab with sesame-spiked tahini; her deliciously unique muhammara, a red pepper walnut dip with pomegranate molasses; bluefish — both smoked and roasted — and other local catch-of-the-day as it comes; lots of fresh, share-able salads from a classic wedge to a Bulgarian feta-boosted Med-melange of mixed greens, asparagus, chick peas, Calavestra olives, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, and an ever-present organic roast chicken but one for which she’ll change up the flavor and preparation as inspiration hits.
“There will be one communal table but also it’ll be the type of place where you can come with a big group and have full blow-out, or just sit at the bar and have a burger and a glass of wine. I want people to have the feeling that you can tailor [Sag Harbor Kitchen] to your needs. It’s not hyper-trendy or high end, but not ultra-casual either. It will be a place to come in and be part of the community.”
Sag Harbor Kitchen plans to be open year-round, closing only for the months of January and February, serving dinner daily; lunch soon. Reservations can be made via Resy.