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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Summer Squash Casserole

This one’s quick and easy!

2 lb. summer squash of your choice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh chopped basil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp raw sugar*
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese* *
2 eggs
1/3 cup fine Italian breadcrumbs*

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Meanwhile, wash and roughly chop the squash. Using a food processor (or hand grater), chop in batches until all the squash is roughly grated.

2. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil for about two minutes, or until softened. Add the squash, salt, and pepper; stir for an additional 6-8 minutes.

3. Make a hole in the middle of the squash, in the center of your pan. Drop in the garlic and sauté for about one minute, until fragrant, then stir it back into the squash. Add the chopped basil, remove from heat, and stir thoroughly.

4. Fold in about 1 and 1/2 cups of the cheese, the sugar, and the sour cream. Pour the whole mixture into a pre-greased, 1.5-quart casserole dish. Add the eggs and stir thoroughly. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon so it’s nicely even, and top with breacrumbs.

5. Finally, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown. Broil for the last minute if desired, to achieve a crispier casserole.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Serves 4 as a main dish or up to 8 as a side.

Shown here with Eric’s homemade herb bread!

*Leave out for a low carb version.

**I used a mixture of cheddar and asadero here, because it was what I had on hand – parmesan would make it even better

Stella's Breakfast Tostadas

Not to be confused with Eric’s Amazing Breakfast Tostadas, which, in their simplicity, are indeed amazing, here is a recipe for the breakfast I’ve been throwing together lately.

We all know you can’t beat some fresh El Milagro tortillas. Especially fried. With just a little creativity, you, too, can enjoy a spicy, rich, fuel-packed breakfast to get your day off to the right kind of Tex-Mex start. Seriously, this recipe only takes about ten minutes, and is a thousand times more satiating than that boring bowl of granola and skim milk (just say no to skim milk!).*

Stella’s Breakfast Tostadas

2 corn tortillas
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 strips of bacon
2 eggs
1 tsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp of your favorite salsa
1/2 cup grated asadero cheese

1. Heat butter and oil in a skillet over medium high heat until melted and hot. Fry each tortilla until nicely browned, turning over a few times in the pan for even cooking. Set aside on paper towels to drain excess grease.

2. Next, cook your bacon in the same pan until crispy; set aside on paper towels to drain.

3. Remove some of the bacon grease from the pan if there is an excess (I save mine in a Mason jar in the fridge); you want a little bit to cook and season your eggs in. Crack your eggs into the pan and whisk. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder. When eggs begin to firm up, add the cream and continue whisking until they are done. They should be more firm then runny, but have a nice, fluffy consistency.

4. Plate your tortillas and top with eggs. Drizzle your salsa over the eggs. Top with grated cheese, and then add a piece of bacon to each tostada. Serve and enjoy!

Makes 2 tostadas.

 

*Have I mentioned that, after three consecutive annual exams during which I was told by my doctor that my cholesterol was “borderline high” (in my late twenties!), my recent blood test revealed a striking improvement: since giving up veganism in November 2009 and eating bacon and scrambled eggs with cream for breakfast four or five mornings out of the week, my cholesterol has gone down. In fact, my doctor said it was now “awesome.” Of course, everyone is different, and your mileage may vary, but I am increasingly convinced that saturated fat is not the boogeyman it has been made out to be for the past 60 years.

Mushroom and Pecan Pasta with Buttery Sage Sauce

1 lb orecchiette pasta
2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine
~ 3/4 lbs cremini mushrooms, sliced
~30 fresh sage leaves
1 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 cups freshly grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until almost done, not quite al dente.

2. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a large skillet; add garlic and stir gently for a one or two minutes, then add pecan. Stir frequently for about five minutes as pecans cook, then add white wine. Cook for a further two or three minutes or until pecans begin to lightly brown, then reduce heat to medium and add sage leaves. Continue to cook until sage leaves begin to shrivel, and reduce heat to simmer.

3. When the pasta is almost done, scoop out a cup of the cooking water then drain the pasta and pour it into your skillet with the rest of the ingredients. Increase heat to medium and add about half the water while stirring. Continue to cook and stir for about two or three minutes, adding more water if necessary.

4. Stir in the cheese, reserving some for garnish. Reduce heat to medium and stir until a nice, lightly creamy sauce forms. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a little more cheese sprinkled on top.

Serves 4.