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Amid pandemic, Long Island restaurants find new way to survive by opening markets

Billy White of Bay Shore shops at Tiny

Billy White of Bay Shore shops at Tiny Market inside Tullulah's. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

A Grandma pizza, pasta e fagioli and …. paper towels, a bottle of Chianti and some flour? Online restaurant ordering got slightly weird last spring, when empty supermarket shelves compelled some restaurants to peddle adds-on from eggs to toilet paper and hand sanitizer to stuck-at-home regulars.

While those surreal days have mostly faded, some operators discovered that selling groceries was not just a way to serve their communities and keep staff employed, but also opened up a critical extra channel of cash. The result: A handful of those markets have become permanent, with a few more in the pipeline.

"COVID had dropped us to our knees. You had to pivot," recalled Lisa Cusamano, a partner of Pentimento, of the dark time last spring when the Stony Brook restaurant closed briefly and some staff were laid off. Pentimento had celebrated its 25th birthday with a party only a few months before the pandemic struck, and chef-owner Dennis Young had been retired to Florida for awhile. But after COVID swept in, Young returned to Long Island as he, Cusamano and remaining staff fired up a takeout operation and robust outdoor dining, then reopened the dining room with limited seating in late June — adding plants instead of plexiglass, and keeping the bar closed.

Early on, said Cusamano, they noticed demand for grab-and-go meals and high-quality food that could be cooked at home, as well as takeout fatigue. "People were struggling to get different items, and we saw the need — and we also had the product," Cusamano said. "We said, 'the community needs this and they feel safe here. So, why not try it?'"

So they took the chairs and tables out of their main dining room, repurposed wooden wine crates into shelving and transformed the space into an Italian-esque market stocked with cheeses, chops, pasta, olive oil, bottles of wine and house favorites such as pesto, dips, house-cured salumi and Caesar salad kits. Later, they added dishes that could be reheated or cooked at home, such as falafel, lasagna and the kitchen’s famous "chicken under a brick," sold as a marinated split chicken breast that could be seared or thrown on the grill.

"It was a challenge, but we had fun with it, and tried to find cool products," said Cusamano. The stock grew and grew — to fresh vegetables, spice blends, and unique must-haves such as cheddar-bacon bread twists, Italian IPA, yellow-tomato ketchup, delicate house potato chips and Butter of Parma. The kitchen also boxed up a few firsts, such as turkey pot pie and meat loaf. "The customers are basically dictating what they need and want, and we keep evolving," he said.

As Pentimento’s market grows, others continue to get into the game. Two restaurants, 317 Main Street in Farmingdale and The Oar in Patchogue, are set to debut their own markets in coming weeks. Without further adieu, here are places you can buy, or soon buy, groceries alongside your lunch or dinner order.

Pentimento Restaurant + Market (93 Main St., Stony Brook): With the DNA of a chef’s pantry and the looks of an Italian deli, Pentimento’s new market is a charmer. Chief among the treasures made or butchered by chef-owner Dennis Young: Spreads, pesto, burrata, fresh pasta, house-cured pancetta, focaccia, chops that are brined or marinated in house, and grab-and-go dishes such as lasagna. The market also offers private shopping to those who are anxious to be around othersseriously socially distan, and limits the market to three customers at a time. More info: 631-689-7755, pentimentorestaurant.net

Konoba (486 Gerard St., Huntington): Croatian wine is a mostly undiscovered gem and was nary to impossible to find until 2020, when owner Daniel Pedisich began to sell bottles of it from his Huntington restaurant. Ditto for the Croatian cabbage rolls (sarma), borek pies and Croatian tea cookies, chocolate, jams or plum-butter spread (prodavaka). Grab these from shelves inside the restaurant or add them on to an order of cooked dishes, from burgers topped with whipped feta or brudet, Croatian seafood stew. More info: 631-824-7712, konobahuntington.com

Lost & Found (951 Beech St., Long Beach): If you’re not yet ready to pull up a stool to a high-top for chef Alexis Trolf’s dry-aged rib-eye with bleu-cheese butter, you can now grab said steak from the butcher counter that debuted here summer. Hulking veal chops, duck breasts, house-ground burgers and porterhouse steaks cut to order await, too, as do canned anchovies, tomatoes and unique condiments. Cash only. More info: 516-442-2606

317 Main Street (317 Main St., Farmingdale): Missing chef Eric LeVine’s soup dumplings or sweet-potato gnocchi? Come early February, get pre-prepared versions to make at home from a market set to debut at the back of the massive space. "You’ll be able to feed two people for the same price," you might pay at a table, said LeVine. "We’re constantly innovating, and this is the next progression." The market’s shelves will be stocked with an eclectic, global array that mirror’s 317’s ethos: Pastas, sauces, mac-and-cheese, chops, fish and even dim sum will be sold, as will gelato. More info: 516-512-5317, 317mainstreet.com

Tullulah's Tiny Market (12 Fourth Ave., Bay Shore): This summer, chef-owner Steven Scalesse and his wife, Nicole, converted a private dining space inside the restaurant into a sweet little light-flooded market whose shelves are loaded with beverages you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere — rare pet-nats and natural wines, Italian liqueurs, and cordials made by bartender Bert Weigand. Also sold here are jars of local horseradish, cold-pressed juices, salumi and cheeses, plus house pickles, pumpkin-seed pesto and items made by the kitchen. More info: 631-969-9800. tullulahs.com

The Oar Steak & Seafood Grille (265 West Ave., Patchogue): If it has gills, chances are The Oar has served it on a plate — but like everyone else, this 34-year-old Patchogue fixture has had to adapt. In early February, they’ll open a virtual market selling seafood and shellfish — filets, clams, oysters, lobsters — for pickup alongside a dinner of, say, lobster wontons and chicken Richard. "Because of the pandemic, we’re always trying to think outside of the box, and we have a lot of customers who don’t feel comfortable coming into the restaurant but still want our dishes and sauces," said co-owner Lindsey Chalifoux, who runs the restaurant with her dad, Richard Blakeslee. The online market will also offer sauces, such as fra diavolo or bleu cheese, to slather across stews, pastas and wedge salads. Fish will be sold by the piece, rather than the pound, and prices will be on par with area fish markets, Chalifoux said. More info: 631-654-8266, theoar.com

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