Brendan J. O'Reilly

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Stand-Up Comic Pete Lee To Appear At Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center On February 7

PHOTO: Pete Lee. Credit: ROSHAN MOAYED

Stand-up comedian Pete Lee describes his style as clean comedy with an edge, or “cleaner comedy that’s very true.”

Take, for instance, a joke he performed during his Tonight Show debut in 2017: “I never want to offend anyone, especially nowadays, Like, the other day this guy sneezed and I wanted to say, ‘Bless you,’ but instead I said, ‘Happy holidays.’”

He performed the same joke at the Comedy Cellar in New York City the night that Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon popped in to catch his set.

“Jimmy was there and he stood up and clapped and said, ‘I love this guy,’” Lee recalled.

Immediately after, Lee was invited on The Tonight Show and his set could not have gone any better—he was the first stand-up comic during Fallon’s time as host to receive a standing ovation. Lee said he couldn’t comprehend it in the moment.

“I thought that there was a sign above me that said ‘stand up,’” he said.

Now, he appears on The Tonight Show almost quarterly. He can also be seen regularly on Comedy Central, TruTV, the NFL Network and even the Nicktoons channel.

He can be seen locally on Thursday, February 7, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center when he becomes the first comic to appear in the venue’s new Toasted Thursdays series.

He explained his sensibilities when it comes to preparing a stand-up set.

“A lot of comics open up with really edgy material that is sort of off-putting to people,” he said. “And they forget that it is somewhat of a date activity. And if your date’s into really edgy stuff, that’s cool. But I think most, probably 80 percent, of the people aren’t into that. And so, I’m real cognizant of that and I like to do humor that’s very joyful. … I like to give wisdom to people and I like my comedy to have deep meaning, but you don’t have to be super vulgar within that to accomplish those ends.”

Speaking from Los Angeles, where the Wisconsin native moved last year after 12 years in New York, Lee discussed the triumphs and tribulations of his career, including when he called himself “the grim reaper of television.”

It was a successful appearance on Comedy Central’s stand-up showcase Premium Blend that motivated him to relocate to New York in 2005. But that same year, Premium Blend was canceled. He later had his own half-hour on Comedy Central Presents, a program that was canceled soon after. He competed in the sixth season of Last Comic Standing in 2008, and the show was off the air in 2009.

Then he was cast as a doctor in the long-running CBS soap opera As the World Turns.

“So I was having a complete Joey Tribbiani from Friends experience,” Lee said.

The show had been on television since 1956. The crew was looking forward to the 90th season, Lee said.

“When I walked in, they had a giant gold 89 in the lobby, and then underneath a terrycloth they had a giant gold 90,” he recalled. “I joked, well you can put that gold 90 in storage because you’re never going to get to it—because the show’s going to get canceled.”

He was on a total of seven episodes—and the show got canceled.

“I literally got blamed for it,” Lee said. “Since then I’ve been on shows that have gone three or four seasons, so clearly I’m not the grim reaper of television.”

He was selected to be on VH1’s Best Week Ever.

“I got to write jokes for the show, and then I got to perform those jokes, and then we also got to do sketches,” he said. “We were on the air for three seasons and that was really neat.”

He worked behind the scenes on Duck Dynasty, the A&E reality television series about the Robertson family, ostensibly as a producer.

“If you break it down, Duck Dynasty and those guys, they were basically doing a family comedy,” Mr. Lee said. “And you had almost all the character tropes you would have or characters types that you would have on most sitcoms. And I’m not the manliest guy in real life but I’ve performed in the Midwest enough and I have enough family members that I felt like I could write from that point of view.

“I took a job where I was technically a producer because none of the stuff is supposed to be written,” he continued. “It’s all supposed to be stuff that came off the cuff from those guys. But now that the show’s off the air, I can tell the secret: A lot of the lines from those people on those shows were stuff that they came up with, but then there were also producer-writers that were feeding them jokes in their ears. But it was crazy because there are sitcom actors in Hollywood that can’t deliver a joke that’s given to them as well as the Duck Dynasty guys did. It was incredible how funny they really were for literally being average people that just decided to do a TV show.”

He’s also a cast member of TruTV’s Greatest Ever, or at least he was.

“I think that our TruTV show got canceled without them telling us—which happens a lot in television,” he said. “When did you find out you were canceled? When the phone didn’t ring for a year.”

He also does Top 10s for the NFL Network. For Nicktoons, he riffs on football bloopers as if he were a SportsCenter personality for four-minute segments geared at children.

This past June, he moved to the West Coast. The timing worked out funny.

“As soon as I moved to Los Angeles, I got booked on a TV show out in New York,” he said.

It’s the topical comedy show This Week at the Comedy Cellar on Comedy Central.

The show is currently on hiatus, but when it’s filming, he commutes.

“I would get on a plane every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., try to sleep while flying across the country,” he said. “I’d wake up, I’d write jokes, then go for a run and sweat out my Ambien. And then I would basically go film a TV show for two days and then I would fly back to L.A. I guess New York is like working for the government. You try to get out, then it pulls you back in.”

He doesn’t regret the move.

“There are no seasons here,” he said. “It’s 70 degrees out right now almost and the sun is starting to come out.”

Meanwhile, he checks Instagram and he sees his friends posting photos of themselves freezing on subway platforms.

“You know what? I made a good choice.”

So what brings him to Westhampton Beach in February? It’s his connection to Gram Slaton, the new Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center executive director. He said Slaton is a really good friend who he knows from Slaton’s days running the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.

“He does great shows in the most remote places on earth, I believe,” Lee said.

Lee said he is using this upcoming show as an excuse to come back to New York for a few days. He has a few meetings planned, including one with Kelly Ripa to pitch a show. Then he looks forward to riding the Long Island Rail Road to Westhampton with a “tall boy” in hand.

“Flying back to New York is actually a real treat,” he said. “I’ll bring my puffer coat, and I’ll get my good New York scowl going on my face when it’s cold. And I’ll feel like a New Yorker again.”

Pete Lee will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Thursday, February 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

The article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Union Burger Bar Debuts In Southampton Village

Restaurateur Ian Duke and chef Scott Kampf of Southampton Social Club and Union Cantina are introducing a third restaurant to Southampton Village: Union Burger Bar.The burger-focused spot with an intimate dining room and bar shares 40 Bowden Square with the Mexican restaurant Union Cantina but has its own entrance. 

At Union Burger Bar on Thursday, January 17, the eve of its opening to the public, Mr. Duke spoke excitedly about the new venture.

“Scott and I started talking about doing a burger bar a little over a year ago, more because we both happen to love burgers more than anything else,” Mr. Duke said. “It wasn’t really necessarily about a need—more just wanting it and enjoying it. 

“With our little village losing a few restaurants over the last year, it sort of sparked my attention to thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have an awful lot of options on places to go where you can get a burger.’ There are restaurants that serve burgers—I’m not arguing that—but, I mean, a restaurant that’s focused on a burger.”

Union Cantina opened in 2016 after the building’s former longtime occupant, the Southampton Publick House, moved out. Union Burger Bar takes over the interior space that was formerly Union Cantina’s tequila bar. 

“We didn’t have the degree of interest in tequila that I would have expected,” Mr. Duke said. He also noted that he no longer needed the space for private events, because last spring the beer brewing tanks—vestiges of the Publick House—were removed from the dining room, freeing space for tables.

“I found that the degree of interest for most people for Mexican food is a once-a-week idea, and the idea behind this: People eat burgers two, three, four times a week,” Mr. Duke said. 

He is clearly proud of the beef they have chosen to serve: Niman Ranch hormone- and antibiotic-free black Angus from humanely raised cattle. “Our meat is absolutely undeniable,” he said. “It’s fantastic. Once you have a bite, you’ll keep eating, even if you’re full. You can’t not. It’s hilarious.”

The menu offers seven chef-recommended beef burgers with various toppings and sauces, but patrons can elect for a custom burger with their favorite ingredients.

“Our menu is designed for those who are looking to enjoy burgers that we have created, as well as burgers that you can create your own,” Mr. Duke explained.

The Coopers Beach Burger, for instance, is 8 ounces of beef with avocado, bean sprouts, pineapple marmalade, lettuce and tomato on a multi-grain bun. The Mac Attack! is made with mac and cheese and onion hay on a pretzel roll.

Besides beef, there’s also chicken breast, turkey and veggie options, and bun options include potato bread, English muffin, brioche and—for those counting carbs or allergic to gluten—lettuce wrap.

However patrons enjoy their burgers, Mr. Duke just wants them to have a good time. 

“What’s better than sitting down, having a burger, French fries, a killer shake, a beer, and, to be quite honest, bourbon?” he asked.

Union Burger Bar’s small-batch bourbon menu includes such rarities as Pappy Van Winkle from Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, which Mr. Duke called truly exceptional.

“Pappy Van Winkle is a famous bourbon that is not really available anywhere anymore,” he said. “They only make about a hundred bottles a year. And so, when people get it, they don’t put it on menus—they keep it and drink it themselves. And I want to try and expose people to it.”

The drinks menu also includes an extensive list of tequila in a nod to the space’s former use as a tequila bar—and because Mr. Duke is a fan. “It’d be remiss if I wasn’t going to include it,” he said.

The choice of shakes is also extensive, from $8 “Classic Shakes,” such as vanilla, peanut butter and caramel, to $15 “Boozy Shakes,” with Bailey’s, vodka or Chambord. The $14 “Real Deal Shakes: feature frosted rims and ingredients like Blue Bunny ice cream cones, Oreo ice cream bars, a giant lollipop and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Mr. Kampf designed his own signature milkshake, “The Kampfire,” a vanilla-and-marshmallow milkshake with a chocolate graham cracker rim, topped with whipped cream, a s’more, chocolate sauce and a cherry. 

Mr. Duke, who conceived of the “Not Sorry,” with Nutella and Reese’s, said that heads turn when the shakes come out of the kitchen. “They’re fantastic. It’s indulgence at another level.”

The room is set for 50 people, and he could open up the sliding wood wall to spill over into the main dining room that Union Cantina uses. But that’s not his intent, he said. He wants to maintain the intimacy of the space. In a place that holds 50, everyone knows or gets to know each other, he said, while in a larger venue, no one meets.

He noted that the Manhattan bar that his father, Jim Duke, ran from 1968 to 1995, Drake’s Drum on the Upper East Side, was only slightly larger than the space Union Burger Bar occupies. Small bars like that, that served burgers and pub food, “they were the precursors to what we all do now,” he said.

Mr. Duke has another burger joint, Lucky’s Famous Burgers in Manhattan, with locations on 23rd Street and 52nd Street, but Union Burger Bar and Lucky’s have no similarities between them, other than serving similar foods, he said.

Lucky’s is quick, made-to-order burgers. “The idea is to cook it fast and get you your food, in and out,” Mr. Duke said of Lucky’s. “That’s not at all what I want here. This intimate setting is designed to serve, to eat and enjoy great food that’s comfort food. But we’re not rushing you. 

“I do think we’re going to do a tremendous amount of take-out business because there is a void in the market for being able to get a good burger take-out, and that will also apply to delivery when we start that,” he added.

There will be happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. with $5 beer, $7 wine, $9 mixed drinks and half-priced appetizers, and a $10.95 daily lunch special with a burger and side.

On Wednesdays, Union Burger Bar has a throwback: $5 burger night. The deal revives the recession-busting “Bail-Out Burger” special offered a decade ago by Barrister’s, the Southampton Main Street restaurant that closed in 2013 after 34 years in business.

Mr. Duke recalled how that restaurant would fill with locals on Wednesdays. 

“I think it’s a great homage to something that everyone loved and, again, a great way to get out and have a little bit of fun,” he said.

Union Burger Bar opens for dinner daily at 5 p.m. Lunch will be added to the schedule starting Friday. For more information, visit unionburgerbar.com.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.

Former Luigi’s Main Street Pizza Reopens As Piesano’s In Eastport

Luigi Mondi, the namesake of Luigi’s Main Street Pizza, is back at the pizzeria in Eastport, but Luigi’s now has a new name: Piesano’s.

Luigi’s shuttered last year not long after Mr. Mondi sold the business in July. The new owners kept the business going for just two months, Mr. Mondi explained in a recent interview. Because he still owned the building, he decided to reopen the pizzeria himself. 

After offering catering for the holidays while ramping back up, Piesano’s officially opened on January 5.

Mr. Mondi said he changed the name for two reasons: He had already closed his corporation that was under the name Luigi’s, and his new 35-seat pizzeria and restaurant that he opened on Shelter Island in July is also named Piesano’s.

Having two locations now, his original plan to work less has been thrown for a loop.

Originally from Shirley, Mr. Mondi, 52, moved to Eastport 12 years ago. He retired in 2010 from the Long Island Rail Road, where he worked various jobs for 26 years, but he always had a side hustle, he said. Having had previous experience working in pizzerias, he bought his first pizza place in 1987, Village Pizza, a 16-seat restaurant on Main Street in Riverhead. 

It was from the original owner of Village Pizza that he got the pizza sauce recipe that he still uses today. He explained that to make good pizza, the sauce can’t simply be poured out onto the dough and cooked in the pizza oven—the sauce has to be cooked before it goes on the pie. Even between owning pizzerias, “I kept that recipe in my wallet under lock and key,” he said.

Mr. Mondi had other pizzerias under different names in Smithtown and Moriches and eventually opened Luigi’s in Eastport the same year he retired. “I wanted a little something to keep me busy, and it turned into a monster,” he said.

Wanting to dial back how much he was working, he looked for a location where business would be more seasonal than it is in Eastport. He said he looked into Westhampton, but the rent was $9,000 a month. He found a better deal on North Ferry Road on Shelter Island and opened Piesano’s, which he said also offered him the opportunity to run a sit-down restaurant rather than a purely takeout business.

During the offseason, the Shelter Island location will be open one or two days a week, allowing him to concentrate on Eastport for the next four to five months, he said. Then, in the summer, his daughter, Savannah Mondi, 21, will run things in Eastport.

Mr. Mondi said his daughter wanted nothing to do with working in the pizzeria when she moved to the area in 2014—which she confirmed. But she came around. “Now, I’m the backbone,” Ms. Mondi said.

The space has been refreshed a bit, including a chalk-paint wall with the menu written out in Ms. Mondi’s hand. As a nod to Mr. Mondi’s former career, an LIRR emblem is hung on a faux brick wall.

While making pies for the Friday evening rush, Mr. Mondi said Fridays and Saturdays are the most popular days for pizza, and he wants to build the business back up to what it was—serving 200 pies on a Friday night. Because Piesano’s has no seating and serves no alcohol, he knows that success depends on the food, he said: “I need to have a good product.”

He noted that Luigi’s business was only 50 percent pizza, and the other half was dinners, such as his popular chicken Francaise. 

“It’s good to be back,” Mr. Mondi said, adding that it’s almost a blessing that his original plan did not work out. He said he’s now on a five- or six-year plan. 

So, Piesano’s is more than just a temporary pop-up.

Piesano’s is located at 491 Montauk Highway, Eastport. The new phone number is 631-325-1184.

This article first appeared in The Southampton Press.