Review: Sagra Trattoria and Bar

NOW CLOSED.

Oh, how I have come to love Sagra.

This hidden gem, only two blocks from my apartment building, is quietly rejuvenating the historic property that used to house Mars.  And how!

On weekdays, the happy hour is hard to beat: where else can you get a pizza and two beers for less than ten dollars?  And Sagra doesn’t just serve up any old pizza; this stuff is the real deal, Neapolitan style.  Crispy, cracker-thin crust.  Blackened bubbles of dough around the edges.  Fresh mozzarella rounds, earthy fontina, creamy ricotta.  Aromatic truffle oil.  Rich, homemade salsiccia.  They even have a spinach pizza with an egg cracked on top (the Pizza Sagra, pictured above) – my favorite!  Seriously – this pizza is good.

And if it’s good for dinner, it’s absolutely unbeatable for happy hour, which is every Monday through Friday, 4:00-7:00pm, and features two dollars off all specialty drinks, beer, and wine – and half price off all pizzas.  As great as the food is, I have to admit, I really go here for the cocktails.  When my best friend held her birthday dinner at Sagra back in February, we discovered the Limeata Royale, aka Key Lime Martini, which is basically a key lime pie in a glass, with alcohol.  Heavenly.  I think everyone on the back patio had one that night, and I appointed myself the Limeata Ambassador.

Sagra also hosts a Sunday brunch from 10:30am to 3:00pm, featuring one dollar mimosas and bellinis.  You might also want food.  The brunch menu includes a Polento Bowl with fontina polenta topped with two eggs over-easy, pancetta, spinach, and truffle oil; or, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist the Country Style Frittata, a big Italian omelette with sausage, spinach, roasted peppers, and a portabella confit.  I haven’t been for brunch (yet), but I’ve heard great things about it from friends who have.

Or you might want come for lunch or happy hour and nibble on one of Sagra’s addictive antipasti.  The formaggi plate features a selection of fresh, seasonal, chef-selected cheeses, accompanied by a delicious olive tapenade, truffle oil, fruit, and bread.  There are also two appetizer plates featuring cured meats, cheeses, mustard, and pickles.  The simple Caprese salad is also a winner, featuring Sagra’s homemade mozzarella, fresh sliced tomatoes, bright basil leaves, red onion, and olive oil.  Other mouth-watering appetizers include Arancini di Riso, crispy saffron risotto balls stuffed with house mozzarella and marinara sauce; fried oysters with radish and watercress, served with agro dolce, a traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce; and the usual suspects including fried calamari, soup, and salads.

But back to the pizza.  Sagra’s menu lists eight pizzas: Margherita (standard cheese and basil); Calabrese (spicy salami, capers, olives); Quattro Formaggi (four cheese: mozzarella, goat cheese, parmesan, gorgonzola); Prosciutto Arugula (fontina, herbs, prosciutto, arugula); Aglio and Salsiccia (garlic, roasted pepper, homemade sausage; pictured below); Bianca (fontina, herbed ricotta, grana padano, sage, pine nuts); Funghi (mushrooms, caramelized onions, taleggio); and, my favorite, Pizza Sagra (spinach, egg, pecorino romano, truffle oil).  All of Sagra’s pizzas are handmade and baked in-house, in a wood oven at 800°.  This results in an authentic, Napoli-style pizza with thin crust, blistered edges, and a soft and flavorful center.  They will also create a pizza to order.  And not only do they grow their own tomatoes and herbs in their South Austin greenhouse, but Sagra has been trading homegrown produce for gift cards all summer.  So take your surplus tomatoes down there!

And that’s not all they do – we’ve just been dawdling outside on the European-style patio (recently doubled in size and a great place for people watching under Nastro Azzurro umbrellas, I might add).  Sagra is both an ideal spot for a casual happy hour and an elegant restaurant.  Inside, you will find an understated dining room with comfortable tables and corner booths spread between two cozy rooms.  There’s also a small, dark, and romantic bar sandwiched between the main dining area and the back patio, where happy hour applies (those who prefer air conditioned happy hours, take note!).  I should also say here that the service is always excellent, and it’s no surprise.  Sagra seems to take care of their staff.  After this spring’s fire, the owners (in partnership with Dive Bar, a new establishment just down the road on Guadalupe) hosted a fundraiser for their bar staff and continued to pay chef Sarah McDonald and sous chef Parker White.  Reopening just seventeen days after the fire, Sagra started serving up their signature cocktails, pizzas, and entrées without missing a beat.  If anything, the place is even better.

My first trip back after the reopening was in late June for my birthday, and Sagra didn’t disappoint.  I hadn’t enjoyed the interior in months (did I mention that they have an outdoor seating area on the street, with bistro tables, umbrellas, and full table service?!), so I was determined to branch out and try something new.  The dinner menu is impressive.  (A gluten free and vegetarian menu are also available).  Currently, Sagra is serving five homemade pasta dishes, including Casarecci alla Arrabiata (homemade sausage, salami, and kalamata olives) and Rigatoni Bolognese (beef, veal, pork, pancetta, and quail eggs in a red wine sauce).  Tempting, no?

In addition to these delectable Italian favorites, the dinner menu also features five dishes “al forno” – from the oven.  At press time, the menu includes Involtini di Pollo (thinly pounded chicken breast dusted with flour and stuffed with prosciutto di parma and fontina) and Trota Piccata (semolina crusted rainbow trout, baby vegetables, potatoes and crab, served with caper and lemon butter).  On this occasion, I was tempted by the Wild Boar Osso Buco served with saffron risotto (drool), but, having never tried their homemade pastas, and being a confirmed carboholic, and seeing as how it was my birthday and all, I went for the Maccheroni al Forno, a baked spinach macaroni dish with diced chicken breast, spinach, fontina cheese, and truffle oil, topped with breadcrumbs.  This is not your mother’s macaroni casserole (at least not if your mother is also from East Texas).  It was warm and rich, yet delicate and complex.  When the large portion arrived on the table, I told Eric, “I am not going to be able to eat all of this!  You should try it!”

But of course I did eat all of it.

Which brings me to my next point: that I have yet to try most of Sagra’s desserts (which include panna cotta, profiteroles, a pear tart, chocolate cake, and sorbet, among other rotating items).  I’ve only had the tiramusi, which is served in a cute little coffee cup with crunchy biscotti.  My partner always gets a coffee, which is arrives at the table your own personal French press (always a winner).  After such a relaxing and indulgent meal, savoring a nice cup of coffee provides the perfect finish.

We are incredibly lucky to have so many amazing restaurants and hip bars and cafes within walking distance; but Sagra has really won our hearts.  Their sunny patio is ideal for unwinding after work over cocktails and snacks, and the stylish but comfortable dining room is perfect for a romantic or celebratory meal.  The happy hour prices make the weekday afternoon menu a steal, and the variety of seasonal entrées on the dinner menu not only has something for everyone, but will keep me coming back week after week.

Did I mention that they serve unlimited mussels for $12 on Tuesdays?  And don’t forget to order a quartino of Italian wine – the waiter will be happy to recommend a perfect pairing!

Sagra Trattoria and Bar
1610 San Antonio St
Austin, TX 78701

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