45 Front Street
Alpina is a tiny wine bar/restaurant on Front Street in Greenport. And yea, though it may be tiny, it packs a big, flavorful punch, as big as the Alpine horn (labrophone) that hangs on the wall.
There is a long bar to the right upon entering, and rows of tables with colorful chairs on the left. The barnwood walls are dotted with ski posters, cowbells, and photos of snowy mountains. The floor is poured concrete made to look like slate, and the tables are red oak and slate. It is a cozy, dark environment with a mere 33 seats, and the prices are shockingly reasonable.
We began our meal with a variety of charcuterie and cheeses. The first was Brigantaccio, a sheep's milk pecorino from Italy. Then Tete de Moine ("monk's head"), a Swiss cow's milk cheese that is a bit stinky on the outside but sweet, nutty, fruity, and salty on the inside. This cheese is shaved into thin ribbony slices that melt in your mouth. The third cheese was a Moser Screamer, a Swiss triple cream cow's milk cheese that was buttery and rich. Of the charcuterie offerings, we first sampled speck, an Italian cured, lightly smoked ham. Then there was Bundnerfleisch, a Swiss air-dried and smoked beef top round. This was my favorite. It was a deep red color, tender and lean and very flavorful. Lastly, were little chunks of Finnochiona, an Italian salami with fennel seeds. A fruity chutney accompanied these rich, salty treats, along with some slices of hearty grilled bread. Alpina has a bakery on the South Fork.
We then moved on to a Caesar salad and raclette, or as the writer-comedian-actor Bob Odenkirk would say, "We ate like babies with money."
The Caesar was light and lemony with bits of white anchovy, toasted hazelnuts in lieu of croutons, and a sprinkling of Sbrinz, a hard, slightly salty Swiss cheese. The raclette service began with a warm plate of boiled fingerling potatoes, sliced cornichon pickles, and tiny onions. The big half-wheel of raclette comes to the table with one side of the cheese blistered from heat, and is then scraped onto the plate, joining the bland potatoes, pickle-y cucumbers, and pungent onions, a delightful and almost indescribable combination.
For entrees we ordered two pastas, the spicy gricia with guanciale (cured pig jowl), red onions, and pepper flakes and the pappardelle with duck ragu and herbed breadcrumbs. The pastas are made in house and both of these dishes were absolutely divine. Pasta alla gricia is similar to carbonara minus the eggs. This version was paccheri, lots of caramelized red onion, a judicious amount of the fatty meat cut into lardons, and just enough pepper flakes to give it zing. The pappardelle for the duck ragu dish was cut into jagged sheets and the ragu of shredded duck meat was rich, rustic, and delicious.
I should probably say at this point that, yes, we came home with lots of leftovers, which reheated beautifully the next day. And the next.
For desserts we tried the Alpine tort, bombolini, and two gelatos -- the lingonberry and limoncello flavors -- all made in-house. The Alpine tort was outstanding, a short crust pastry crust with a not-too-sweet walnut filling with some boozy schlag on the side, sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds. The bombolini were cinnamon-y doughnuts filled with sweet ricotta and melted chocolate ganache. The doughnut was light and not greasy at all. The lingonberry gelato was very good but lingonberries are a mild tart fruit, somewhat like cranberries, gooseberries, or currants, so I think the flavor of this gelato was bumped up with a whisper of raspberries. The limoncello gelato was my favorite and I will order it again when I return.
The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Our waiter, Anas, knew his stuff and helped us navigate the complex yet short menu. We chatted with the manager, Brendan, and learned that the owner, Christoph Mueller, a Swiss national, also owns the Anker next door and Green Hill BBQ across the street. If you've ever been to Kidd Squid Brewery in Sag Harbor for its raclette night, that's Christoph's son, Robin, serving up that rich pungent hot cheese over potatoes and cornichons.
The prices, as I said before, are shockingly reasonable, especially when compared to the Tuttos, Dopos, and St. Ambroeuses amongst us. Spuntini ("snacks") are $6 to $22, small plates are $17 to 22, pastas are $26 to $35, large plates are $33 to $48, sides are $12, cheese and charcuterie offerings are $7 to $12, and desserts are $11 to 15.
Alpina has been in Greenport for two years and it always caught my eye walking by. Now I know to come back again and again to sample cheeses and meats and pastas that are unfamiliar but oh so enticing. The price of the round trip ferries is more than made up for with the very reasonable prices and sophisticated fare at Alpina.