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JP’s Food Adventures: “Sauce” is the Real Deal

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Sauce, 78 Rivington Street. Photos by Cynthia Lamb.

It’s hard to argue with Frank Prisinzano’s successful restaurant concept: serve good, fresh, simple Italian food at reasonable prices, while keeping a serious wine list on hand for your less price-sensitive customers. This keeps traffic flowing to his East Village restaurants Frank, Lil’ Frankie’s and Supper. Now he’s opened Sauce here on the LES, with a focus on red sauce pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches and meats, all priced way below the stratospheric levels of posh Italian joints in this town.

That’s enough to put Sauce near the top of anyone’s list of new neighborhood restaurants to check out, both for sit-down dining and take-out sandwiches. But Sauce offers something for the home cook as well: an in-house butcher featuring locally raised meat, including grass-fed beef. Perfect for a guy like me, who cooks at home far more often than he goes out to eat. I had to check them out. A butcher in the former Living Room space? Last time I was there I was playing with a 10-piece jug band; now I was heading out to get some sausages. Gotta love it.

Most of America has seen the displacement of the old-school butcher shop by the all-purpose supermarket. Americans pretty much stopped buying their meat freshly cut and wrapped in brown paper, in favor of portioned amounts in Styrofoam trays. Here on the LES we’ve done better: those who cast a wary eye over supermarket meat counters can choose among the Chinese and kosher butchers on Grand Street or Heritage Meats and Luis Meats in the Essex Street Market. And now we have the butcher counter at Sauce, boasting store-made Italian sausages ($12/lb).

I arrived focused on the sausages, with no plans to stay for a bite. A quick look at the lunch menu put an end to that. The sandwiches were six bucks (!), the sauce homemade, the beef grass-fed. Their “Ragu-boy” is a riff on the classic meatball parm sandwich, with many variations possible. We ordered two, and they arrived quickly with small salads. The verdict?

The sandwiches were excellent, and a steal for $6. They reminded me of why I love Italian-American food in the first place. All the flavors rang true, which got me thinking, why has it been so long since I’d had a good meatball parm? Why did this sandwich remind me more of my childhood than my adulthood?

The answer was obvious: the in-house butcher, the homemade sauce, the quality bread and cheese – they’re not cutting any corners here. If this same sandwich were made from processed supermarket or foodservice ingredients it would have been terrible. Cutting corners destroys Italian food, and thankfully they don’t do that at Sauce. As a result of their attention to detail, it was probably the best meatball parm sandwich I’ve had in my life. Even the round, brioche-like roll the sandwich was built on worked perfectly, though it required a fork and knife to eat.

After the meal I met with the butcher and got my sausages. Fat and perfumed with fennel, four made just over a pound. So I got what I came for and then some, leaving me with the conclusion that Sauce is a triple threat: a high-end butcher offering Italian specialties, an affordable Italian-American restaurant that isn’t cutting corners and a cute place with a serious-looking wine list. Looks like Mr. Prisinzano hit a home run on the Lower East Side. Good for him. Good for us.

Sauce is located at 78 Rivington St.

JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well,  consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.

 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. David,

    It’s worth checking out, for sure. I wasn’t surprised Sauce was good, but the fact it turned out to be such a value for lunch did catch me off guard.

    And you’re right about the Living Room, which is funny, because I asked one of the servers if it was the old Living Room space, and he said it was. Oh well. It was still funny in the moment to think I was going to buy sausage in a joint where I played a gig. I guess Heritage is the only place where that’s actually happened to me, since I’ve played a couple sets of jazz there back when it was Jeffrey’s. I’m sure it’ll happen again sometime. Pork and music: two of my favorite things!

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