Forty-five years. That’s how long legendary Southampton Italian spot Paul’s Italian Restaurant has been in business.
The space opened, prior to that auspicious 1970s date, years earlier, operating as a sandwich spot known as the Dutch Door. The restaurant came from humble beginnings. When it opened, in March of 1973, the restaurant served a handful of items, including a few pasta dishes, though it also provided loosely catered meals — coffee, rolls, bagels, and egg sandwiches — to the construction crew in the neighboring lot, which would become the Passavia family’s Southampton Inn.
In 1974, the restaurant expanded its footprint and began making pizza, a tradition that continues today. Although the space was originally small, more suited for a takeout restaurant than a sit-down joint, in 1979, the owners were able to expand into an adjacent space. Thirty-nine years after this expansion, the restaurant is now known for its pizza, yes, but also for its plated Italian meals, served in a small, cozy dining space to the left of the main pizzeria.
Aside from Tuesdays, when the restaurant staff takes a much-needed weekly day off, Paul’s is open every day from 9 AM to 11 PM (well, 10 PM in the off-season).
First things first. There are very few restaurants in the Hamptons that offer a compelling slice of pizza, the kind one might find on a random street corner in a random neighborhood of New York City. Which is why you may already know about Paul’s, because its pizza is compelling and delicious, and all of the things one might expect from a decent slice: crisp in the right places, chewy in others, marked by a sweet and savory sauce and cheese so drippy and hot it threatens to tear the skin from the roof of your mouth (or, truth be told, does, because you’re relentlessly impatient, as many of us pizza aficionados are).
On any given afternoon, a pizza lover is likely to encounter a handful of locals, grabbing lunch either to stay or to go. The acceptance of an establishment by the locals residing in a summer-heavy town speaks to its validity. If the men and women who make Southampton operate in the dead of winter rely on Paul’s to fuel them through the off-season, why shouldn’t you?
In keeping with tradition, Paul’s continues to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the hungry East End. To start the day, one can choose from fried eggs on a roll (with various breakfast meats, naturally), potatoes, pancakes, wraps, omelets, and more. Soups, served at lunch, are homemade and surprisingly good. French onion soup is a delicious, affordable option, no matter the season ($3.25 for a cup). Pasta entrées are serviceable and fill a niche. Hot heroes are outrageously large — one meatball parm will easily last two days — and appropriately delicious, given their decadence (hot cheese being a central ingredient among them). Still, it’s the pizza most return for. A large pie goes for under $20 — cheap by any Hamptons standard — and can easily feed a family of four.
Ultimately, what Paul’s offers up, in addition to good food, is old school charm. It’s wine glasses with “Paul’s” etched onto them. It’s entrées flecked with minced parsley. It’s a dark, low-ceilinged dining room, where diners are penalized for sharing ($5 per plate, so just order your own, will you?). It is, in the end, the place that people keep coming back to, again and again, because it lives up to its own expectations. With a little luck, and continued community patronage, Paul’s will survive the next 45 years, too.