Sauce is the sort of eclectic, neighborhood-centric restaurant that I hope we always have on Lower East Side. While it is obviously a for-profit business, I appreciate that owner and Chef Frank Prisinzano seeks to meet community needs rather than simply cashing in on the latest fad. When he opened Frank back in 1998, he was addressing what he saw as a gap in affordable dining. His pizzeria Lil' Frankie's anticipated the Neapolitan pizza craze by several years when it opened in 2002, but perhaps more importantly, Prisinzano also opened East Village Radio in the same space to promote local and music and culture.
Sauce is described as a nose-to-tail red sauce trattoria, which I think is pretty apt. Prisinzano wanted a source of sustainable, responsibly-raised meats for his restaurants and paid the concept more than mere lip service. Rather than simply buying the most popular cuts from a butcher, he takes in whole animals and uses every part.
As a consequence, the menu is heavily geared towards carnivorous eating and very much encourages communal dining. This is not to say that vegetarians and small parties won't find comfort and joy here. But the food, atmosphere, and indeed ethos behind the restaurant are evocative of Sunday dinner in an Italian-American household. Indeed, many of the recipes where handed down from Prisinzano family.
Before you order, a generous plate of bread is served alongside peppers, carrots, and olive oil.
The kale salad with lemon mayo ($9.95) is a crisp, creamy affair with a tangy punch from the mustard and pecorino. It is one of the most popular menu items, and deservedly so.
Roasted red peppers ($9.95) are stuffed with either mushrooms or, as a special, pork sausage. The pepper, cooked until tender, has a pleasing sweetness, which balances the earthiness of the sage.
In the double garlic bread ($2.95), whole roasted cloves of garlic come under a crisped Parmesan canopy. The Tuscan bread beneath soaks up the pungent flavors like a sponge.
Tender pillows of ear-sized housemade cencione ($10.95) come doused in vibrant, sweet-tart tomato sauce. Adding grass-fed meatballs ($5) adds a heartiness to the dish, and makes it even more evocative of a Sunday dinner on Mott Street circa 1953.
The Plank—soft polenta on wood with grass-fed bolognese—is designed to serve two for a price of $9.95 per person. A foundation of creamy polenta is covered with bolognese, parmesan cheese, and a lashings of olive oil.
Another classic in the Italian-American canon is offered using either chicken ($16.95) or pork ($18.95). The parm is served alongside thick ropes of spaghetti with a passato tomato sauce spiked with garlic and basil.
There are desserts at Sauce, such as tiramisu, gelato, seasonal tortes, and the like, but I have never successfully saved room for them. The portions for for the savory dishes are large enough to satisfy.