Whatever your initial impressions, The Saint Austere wants you to know that you're probably wrong. Rejecting the traditional labels of restaurant, wine bar, lounge, or (gasp!) gastropub, this Williamsburg spot prefers to call itself an "enabler," a conduit for a memorable evening filled with great food, wine and beer at a reasonable cost.
Okay, that moniker might be a little ridiculous. but The Saint Austere, run by brother-and-sister team Fabrizio and Jackie Pirolo, lives up to its self-imposed challenge with a menu created by brother Michael Pirolo (currently chef de cuisine at Scarpetta in Miami) and executed by chef Sol Han.
The cuisine draws from worldly influences (Spanish, Cuban, Mediterranean), but its soul is Italian—rich, homey and beautiful in its simplicity. No dish epitomizes this more than the Creamy Polenta ($10), hand-churned and slow-cooked for five hours until it transforms into liquid velvet, then topped with a mixture of spicy sausage and cipollini onion.
Tripe Stew ($10) with tomato, gigante beans, and crusty bread is another simple but bold dish, confident in its ability to transform the oddest of cow parts into delicious comfort food.
A dish of otherwise boring Broccoli Rabe ($7) springs to life with anchovies, soft-boiled eggs and parmigiano—a grown-up combination that balances beautifully between bitterness and saltiness.
Ricotta Crostino ($5), smothered with thick sheep's milk ricotta, is topped with butternut squash and a hint of cinnamon to complement its sweetness.
Other standout dishes include Pork Belly Croquetas ($6) with chicken liver dipping sauce and Piementon del Padron ($7), a small green pepper similar to the shishito that has been charred and served with fried black olives.
The menu is fairly priced as is (nothing costs more than $17 and most are $10 or less), but The Saint Austere recently started a $30 prix fixe deal that includes three courses plus cheese (or $50 with wine pairing). With two choices for each course that rotates daily, a pair of hungry diners could sample almost half the menu. It's a good amount of food for a more-than-reasonable price, made all the better by its incredible quality.