Secundo, Chef Sam Ostrow’s New Restaurant, Is a Near-Perfect Italian Joint

Located in South Berwick, the downtown space lets him flex and expand on everything he loves about his primo place.

Gulf shrimp on a bed of fettuccine nero and escarole garnished with chervil sprigs
Gulf shrimp on a bed of fettuccine nero and escarole garnished with chervil sprigs
By Brian Kevin
Photos by Heidi Kirn
From our July 2024 issue

When, in 2018, Sam Ostrow opened Kittery’s Festina Lente — after stints across the street at Black Birch, at Portsmouth’s Black Trumpet, and elsewhere — it was just about everything he wanted his first restaurant to be. It was nicely located, in the heart of the booming Foreside neighborhood. It was filling a niche, with little in the way of good rustic Italian between Portland and Boston. It was laid back, a fun little pasta shop with a blackboard for specials and music loud enough to make you feel comfortable bringing your kids.

Secundo chef Sam Ostrow
Chef Sam Ostrow

It was also, though, rather small, with an all-electric kitchen that fit just Ostrow and a sous chef. So although the 24-seat Festina Lente is still going strong, Ostrow jumped at the chance to open Secundo, in South Berwick, in a 58-seat downtown space that lets him flex and expand on everything he loves about his primo place.

When my wife and I walked in on a recent Saturday evening, it was obvious that Secundo’s vibe is, if anything, even more neighborhoody. The front room is all high tops, with a big L-shaped bar. Parliament and Chaka Khan were bumping as we nabbed one of the bench-seating tables under Edison bulbs in the side room. Above us was a row of gaudily framed art that looks like it came straight out of nonna’s sitting room.

The menu is broken up among shareable snacks, a half dozen pasta dishes (the pasta house-made, of course), and four non-pasta entrées, and it doesn’t skew to any particular region of Italy. Ostrow’s fondness for il bel paese was cultivated on an eye-opening visit in his 20s. “I just fell in love with the culture and the cuisine,” the now 47-year-old chef says. “The smells, the sounds, the sights — you just want to recreate those peak experiences for others.”

From left: house-made spaghetti and meatballs; prosecco meets Limoncello in the Ciao Cello cocktail; local greens laced with shaved root vegetables and pecorino.

A bigger kitchen at Secundo — with open flames, a walk-in cooler, and other luxuries — gives Ostrow more room to recreate. We started with a plate of delicately delicious beef carpaccio, sprinkled with briny capers and a tangy lemon-arugula pistou. Also, a plate of Ostrow’s so-very-fluffy focaccia, a favorite at Festina Lente, and a gorgeous, simple salad of local greens with shaved (and equally local) carrots, beets, and watermelon radishes. There’s a rotating selection of Italian cured meats and cheeses too, meaning plenty of good bar-food options, if you’re not in for a full dinner.

279 Main St., South Berwick. 207-704-0624.
Price Range
Pastas and other entrées $17–$32. Small plates $10–$16.
Walk-In Wonderland
Like its Kittery cousin, Secundo doesn’t take reservations, but parties larger than eight can give a call and see what’s possible.
Desserts
As a young chef, Ostrow says, he swore he’d never make a tiramisu — too predictable. He’s relented, thankfully. Secundo’s is rich, none too rummy, and generously dolloped with airy mascarpone. Or choose from three rotating flavors of house-made ice cream.

At Secundo, Ostrow’s doing more with proteins than at Festina Lente. The menu shifts frequently, as ingredients come in and out of season, but a chicken Milanese and a cioppino with mussels, shrimp, cod, and squid have both been hits, and Ostrow suspects they’ll stick around. We ordered vegetarian: for me, a spring cavatelli with ramps, turnips, and tender, then-in-season fiddleheads. The pasta was silky, the chive-pistachio pesto earthy and bright. My wife shared bites of a creamy wild-mushroom risotto, rich but not heavy, with generous forkfuls of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (“the steak of mushrooms,” Ostrow declares). Between the two outstanding dishes, we felt like we’d eaten a season.

We stole a few covetous glances at our neighbor’s heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. “It’s our burger,” Ostrow says, and if it seems like an uninspired order, nobody told the guy tucking into the colossal meatballs, made with Brandmoore Farm beef and Short Creek Farm pork (both New Hampshire neighbors), swimming in Ostrow’s simple, three-ingredient sauce. 

Another perk of the larger space? A more robust bar program than at Festina Lente. Bar manager Anna Jones crafts a list of cute, creative cocktails: the hit at our table was the pink rabbit, with gin, Cocchi rosa, rhubarb, and lemon, topped with a foamy fuzz of aquafaba. I finished dinner with a glass of very gulpable Montepulciano off a short, all-Italian wine list. An oenophile, Ostrow’s excited about what’s happening in Italian vino — a lot of natural offerings, a lot of young, new vintners — and with a full basement, he has plans to build a cellar and substantially expand the list. But he’s taking things one step at a time. “For now,” Ostrow says. “We’re starting small.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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