You would never know from speaking to Joe Realmuto that he mans the helm at four of the Hampton’s hottest restaurants. Gracious and soft spoken, Joe tells me about growing up in an Italian neighborhood in Queens, where not only family, but life and community, revolved around food. The rule was, home at 5 o’clock every night for dinner, a tradition he continues to this day with his family.
I ask how he’s able to maintain family dinner with four restaurants and two teenagers at home. Joe is quick to give credit to his wife, Cindy, who he says is a wonderful cook. His schedule allows him the time to be home Sunday and Monday to cook himself. He loves making his father’s Sunday sauce as the weather changes (it is going to cool down right?), and counts this as one of his favorite dishes to make and eat. He’s also taken to experimenting with some new gadgets, a green egg smoker, and a cowboy cook set he got as a gift. The excitement in his voice is palpable as he describes kicking it old school over a campfire.
Joe juggles lunch service between Townline BBQ, Rowdy Hall and La Fondita, but spends most evenings at perennial fave, Nick and Toni’s, where regulars look out for him. I ask Joe about any special dishes he might make for friends or special guests, that aren’t on the menu. Humble to the end, he tells me he treats everyone the same (Ina Garten included), but is willing to accept some special requests like bone in chicken or watermelon salad (which was taken off the menu this summer) if you call in advance.
After studying at the Culinary Institute of America, Realmuto came to the Hamptons 25 years ago for the summer. He went to work in the city in the fall, but came back to Nick and Toni’s the following summer and never left. Joe says he fell in love with all the East End had to offer, the fresh fish, the harvests, family farms and the community. As Executive Chef of all the properties, he changes the menus often to use the best ingredients of the season and minimize their footprint.
When developing Townline, La Fondita and Rowdy, Joe says he and his team brainstormed three topics: what’s the most fun, what does the town need, and where would locals want to go. They came up with BBQ, Mexican, and upscale pub fare. For Townline, Joe traveled 1,800 miles with one of his chefs on a BBQ tour of Texas, learning the art of smoking from the best Pitmasters out there. They went to mole class to learn one of the most loved traditional Mexican dishes for La Fondita, and when Joe wrote the menu, he says he had his chef come in and ‘de-Gringo-ize’ it. He’s currently working on a new restaurant he hopes to open next spring, next to La Fondita which will be more modern plated Mexican than taqueria.
9th Annual Oktoberfest at Rowdy Hall with Beer Specials, German Fare and German Music
German Fare Fester Preis and Beer Specials Throughout Oktoberfest until October 1st. 10 Main St, East Hampton.
Sunday Brunch available every weekend at Nick and Toni’s, 136 N Main St, East Hampton.
I don’t know about you, but I would fight for a seat at family dinner every night, if Joe (or Cindy) were cooking for me. For now, I think the closest we’re going to get is a reservation.