Sauce is an incredible thing.
Known as salsa in Italian, it’s a deceptively simple concoction imbued with the power to transform everything from a simple dish of spaghetti or a few layers of eggplant into an eye-rollingly wonderful meal. When prepared properly (read: with a short ingredient list), sauce honors the essence of the just-picked tomatoes that power it.
Add to the pot a few flecks of basil and a glimmer of extra virgin olive oil, and sauce is ready to blanket meatballs, soak its way into breads, and elevate pastas in a way that no box brand mainstay ever could.
Monte’s is such a sauce. Made in the Hudson Valley, Monte’s Sauce traces its origins to 1906, when the Monte family emigrated to Brooklyn from Sant’Angelo di Lombardi and Avellino, Italy. Once settled in the borough, the family opened Angelo’s Tavern, a small Neapolitan eatery in which Monte matriarch Filomena prepared cauldrons of sauce for use as a base in everything from pastas to parmesans. Eventually, the restaurant rebranded itself as Monte’s Venetian Room, the famed Brooklynite locale known for its laundry list of visiting celebrities, which included everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra to Al Pacino and Jimmy Durante.
Five years ago, the family relocated from Montauk, where it had moved from Brooklyn in 1956 to run Gurney’s Inn, and started anew in the Hudson Valley. After settling in Amenia, they opened Monte’s Kitchen & Tap Room, a New American restaurant that embraces the flavors of southern Italy. Angelo “Chip” Monte mans the kitchen, while his wife Candice is in charge of front of house operations. PJ Monte, Chip’s nephew, helms the bar and wine program.
Matchbook art from Monte’s Venetian Room
Three months ago, PJ started on sauce.
Admittedly, “started” might not be the perfect word for it. After all, the Monte family has been using the same sauce recipe since it set up roots in Brooklyn in 1906.
Determined to introduce Monte’s storied sauce to a larger audience, PJ armed himself with family secrets and an abundance of perfectly ripe tomatoes and began making batch after batch of savory gold. Forgoing additives like dried herbs, pastes, preservatives, starches, and sugars, PJ uses only consciously sourced, high quality produce and herbs.
“Everything but the tomatoes come from the Hudson Valley as much as is seasonally possible,” he explains, adding that he uses only vine-ripened American plum tomatoes to power his sauce. As far as preparation goes, PJ produces four to eight cases at the beginning of each week for distribution to stockists in the region. To begin, he heads to the farmers’ market to handpick local ingredients. Then he returns home to sanitize the jars and craft the sauce from tomatoes, fresh basil, and 100-percent pure Italian olive oil. Although the recipe remains a secret, PJ reveals that it takes about an hour and a half of cooking before all the flavors harmonize. Once fully blended, the vegan and gluten-free concoction makes its way into jars, which are then boiled for proper sealing and shelf safety. As a final touch, PJ hand stamps each jar to ensure that he’s inspected every single one.
Although PJ has only been producing on a larger scale for a handful of months, Monte’s Sauce has already made its way to 15 grocery stores and markets in the Hudson Valley (including Cousin’s Pizza in Wingdale and Vinny’s Deli in Pawling) and beyond to Connecticut, the Hamptons, and New York City. If PJ has his say, however, Monte’s will soon be a mainstay across the nation.
“My plans for the sauce and Monte’s brand are to begin producing at scale and rolling out some additional sauces, pestos, etc. and eventually begin selling pastas, cheeses, and other fine Italian food products,” he reveals.
While Monte’s has increased production and retail on the horizon, that doesn’t mean the restaurant will shut down operations any time soon. On the contrary, the Amenia eatery will continue serving its signature Italian-American fare to Hudson Valleyites who crave home-cooked meals flavored with time-honored recipes and fresh, local ingredients. Unsurprisingly, many of those meals (like the meatballs, veal parmesan, and flatbread du jour) feature Monte’s sauce front and center.
It all starts with the sauce, after all.
Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room
3330 Rte 343, Amenia
PJ Monte (left) delivers sauce to Brookside Market in Sunnyside.