In August 2017, La Parmigiana, the steadfast Italian Southampton eatery that opened in 1974, went on the market for just under $7 million. In the year that has passed, however, La Parm, as it is known to locals, has remain unsold, its 5500-square-foot building continuing to play host to some of the East End’s most reliable food. Which is to say: This restaurant has an expiration date, but no one knows when that is. Most recently, local reports stated that the owners had, in fact, opted to take it off of the market — for now, at least. As with so many established East End haunts, La Parmigiana may soon become a relic. Say it ain’t so.
Celestino Gambino opened his eatery 44 years ago, having just emigrated from Villa Maria, a small town near Palermo, Italy. Celestino had family in the area. His brother, Peter, owned Westhampton Beach’s Baby Moon, a restaurant that remains, to this day, a family affair. Gambino worked for his brother as an apprentice before branching out on his own.
Lacking any means necessary to employ outside help, Gambino recruited family members to help in his burgeoning business: aunts, uncles, children, and anyone else whom he felt could lend reliable, affordable labor. The business remained Celestino Gambino’s pride and joy until in 2010, when, at 73, he died of cancer. The restaurant was left, in equal shares, to his surviving family members. Well, some of them, anyway. Gambino’s sister, Lina Venesina, owned and operated Sag Harbor’s Conca d’Oro, until 2017, when, after over 40 years in business, she and her husband sold it to restaurateurs Michael Cinque and Laurent Tourondel, who changed the space to reflect modern tastes. The former Conca d’Oro space now operates as the ceaselessly busy Sag Pizza.
Post-2010, La Parmigiana has been owned by Celestino Gambino’s son, daughter-in-law, siblings, and grandchildren — 11 people in total. Recipes remain the same as they were 44 years ago. The restaurant is, perhaps, best known for its pizza. Dough is made in house and sauce is, reportedly, a family recipe, handed down from Celestino’s wife, Josephine (who continues to make — and serve — her own caponata, a condiment made from eggplant, peppers, and olives).
In an effort to expand its customer base, La Parmigiana began selling its sauce and frozen pizzas to Bridgehampton’s King Kullen. These items, along with dough, are also available for sale at the restaurant itself, should patrons wish to make their own version in the privacy of their own kitchens.
One thing La Parm proudly touts? The menu is almost entirely made from scratch. Specialties include the clam sauce, pizza (of course), and frutti di mare, as well as Josephine’s epic caponata. Mozzarella, served with prosciutto and basil for a refreshing salad, or, alternately, with tomatoes and mesclun in the restaurant’s take on caprese, is made in house. Pasta options crowd an entire menu page — there are nearly 30 options in all, not including the sides of pasta that arrive with the restaurant’s entrées.
The wine list is a mostly by-the-glass affair, with 20 selections of red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines available. There’s a fundamental emphasis on Italy, of course, though other wine regions — Washington, California, Argentina, Spain, and New Zealand, for instance — are also represented.
It remains to be seen how long La Parm will stay open. Conca d’Oro’s sweet spot was snapped up quickly, but other Hamptons restaurants, like Silver’s, have stayed on the market longer than expected. Still, prime real estate east of the Shinnecock is still commanding high prices, and patrons should expect that the time may be nigh for La Parm. In the meantime, soak up all of the pizza, pasta, and Italian delicacies while you still can. Nothing is certain, not even the most reliable of pies.