Just over a year ago, Bar Sugo quietly changed hands. Change, even if it happens slightly under-the-radar, can be either good or bad, but in Bar Sugo’s case, change is reinvigorating. I’m reluctant to say something like, “Bar Sugo is back!” because the reality is, it never left, it’s just kind of different.
In this case, different is good, and this is an appropriate time for Bar Sugo’s reintroduction. Bar Sugo’s newness starts with its new owner, Adam Roytman. Some of you might know Adam as a former partner at Walrus + Carpenter and Rothbard Ale + Larder. At each, he was the opening day head chef, and chances are you saw him occasionally tending bar as well. Dubbing him a jack-of-all-trades restaurant guy is a proper description.
To make a long story short, Roytman parted ways with Walrus and Rothbard. During his time off he heard that Bar Sugo’s original owner, Pat Pascarella, wanted to sell the business to explore an opportunity out-of-state. “I was looking for something and I heard Bar Sugo was for sale,” he said. “I always loved what the restaurant did and where it’s located, so I reached out. Pat didn’t want to sell to just anyone; he wanted someone to come in that would do a good job. It sort of just fell into place.”
Now, with a full year-plus under his belt at his version of Bar Sugo, Roytman feels like he’s hitting his stride. “I wanted to give it my personality, so that took some time,” he said. “It has a slightly new look, a different vibe, and the food is not the same.”
One of the immediate differences in Roytman’s Bar Sugo begins at the bar. Wine is still a thing— because it makes sense at an Italian-focused restaurant—and the mostly locally-focused beer choices are much improved. Most evident at the bar is the emergence of carefully crafted cocktails. A classic take-the-edge off cocktail and appropriate choice here is a negroni. I’m certainly a fan. My other fandom is for the Step Aside Butch (Bulleit Bourbon, rosemary, lemon, red wine float), strength-wise, it’s well-balanced, the rosemary comes through, and there’s a robust pop from the red wine. If those assertive drinks aren’t for you, Sugo has added a handful of refreshing, fruity spritzers that are perfect for warm weather sipping. They’ve even further geeked up the cocktail program for customers by offering mixology classes, so be on the lookout for the next one.
With the food, Roytman is honoring Bar Sugo’s seasonal, local approach to ingredients, and he’s sticking with small plates, pizza, and handmade pasta. That doesn’t mean it’s the same menu that the Bar Sugo faithful of old is familiar with. You’ll see sweet peaches paired with salty speck and creamy burrata. Squash blossoms are stuffed with goat cheese before they’re battered and fried.
Then there’s what I dubbed “summer on a plate,” sliced heirloom tomatoes topped with crispy bacon bits, a dusting of parmesan, and a drizzle of sherry vinegar. Roytman’s message in these dishes is seasonal simplicity. Nothing is recklessly overloaded, allowing the ingredients to shine.
Causing an uproar amongst Bar Sugo purists may be the elimination of some old favorites. The prosciutto wrapped truffle fries? Gone. The six different meatballs and popular meatball tasting? That’s done too. It’s all part of Roytman’s plan going forward, making the menu his vision of what Bar Sugo should be. “I don’t think we need six meatballs,” he said. “There will be a meatball. It will be bigger, something old school, simmered in the sauce.”
Returning, and undoubtedly going nowhere, is the pizza dough recipe. I’ve never really known what style to classify Bar Sugo’s pizza as. It’s this mixture of light, chewy, and crunchy. It’s consistently excellent and always included on local “best of” lists. Roytman has kept many of the brick oven pizzas on the menu while adding a few of his own like the clam pie with bacon and garlic, the lardo (goat cheese, pistachios, arugula, balsamic), and the spicy bacon pie (Vidalia onions, avocado, sriracha).
Onto some of my Bar Sugo favorites…the pasta. It’s still homemade. It’s still one of the few restaurants I visit when I ache for expertly made pasta. Their cavatelli Bolognese remains a menu mainstay. The recipe has been tweaked just a bit (I couldn’t get any secrets), and there’s an option to add a perfectly cooked egg on top, but this hearty, meaty dish is one you’ll crave often after a single forkful. It has long been my favorite indulgence at Bar Sugo. Joining the Bolognese are other classics like carbonara (made the right way with YOLKS ONLY and chunks of guanciale) and the peppery, pecorino magic that is cacio e pepe. A more decedent choice is the garganelli with mushrooms, garlic, parm, and a fresh shaving of pungent black truffle. No matter which bowl of pasta you decide to dive into, I think you’ll be very happy.
Additionally, Roytman has rolled out a handful of dishes that aren’t pizza and pasta. Steak frites, pork Milanese, and a double bacon cheeseburger (a.k.a., my next cheat day) are some of the more substantial proteins on his new menu, something the restaurant lacked previously.
Now that Roytman has completed his transformation of Bar Sugo, it’s up to you to check it out. Version 2.0, a sequel, a remake. Whatever you want to call it is fine, but even six years after its opening, and with a new owner running the show, it’s still pretty damn fantastic.
102 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT 06850
(203) 956-7134; www.barsugo.com