If you made it to the end of 2019, chances are you did lots of stuff. Maybe it was good stuff, maybe it was great stuff. There’s a chance it was awful stuff, in which case, you should be ashamed of yourself.
But what tends to go unnoticed in our personal reflections on the year gone by is just how much of the stuff that we did involved stuffing ourselves with food at one point or another.
Hopefully, we’ve all eaten a lot this year. Even the breakfast agnostics among us probably average a little over two meals a day, and that’s not even counting all the grazing, cheating and late-night feeding that peppers the inter-meal periods of our days.
Point is, food gets overlooked quite a bit, but its consumption is one of the most frequent and important activities we take part in during any given 12-month period. With that being true, here’s some of the dishes and restaurants that helped make this year as fun to live through as it was bad for our cholesterol.
Top Hat Oyster Bar & French Quarter Kitchen, Bellmore
Louisiana cuisine exists in a world of striking descriptors—it’s a world of alligators and mud bugs, of dark roux and Fat Tuesdays, of Cajun spice and rich flavors. It’s a food native to the south with notes of celebration thanks to its association with the city of New Orleans. And every so often, it’s a cuisine that travels north in the most engaging of ways.
Top Hat Oyster Bar & French Quarter Kitchen, born from the remnants of a gastropub, opened last year in Bellmore. Now, customers dine under enormous chandeliers in a restaurant flush with purple lighting, Mardi Gras-inspired accents and food and drink menus that offer a hearty callback to the cuisine’s southern roots, with just enough of an East Coast vibe to keep the locals comfy.
There are plenty of Louisiana favorites here, including seasoned shrimp or chicken Creole gumbo, a deconstructed muffuletta platter, Cajun jumbo lump crab cake and a New Orleans sausage duo, with Louisiana boudin stuffed andouille served with lavender honey and Creole mustard sauce.
There’s a section of the menu dubbed “Louisiana Specialties,” with all the favorites laid out in all their splendor. There’s Creole shrimp and grits, jambalaya, cornmeal-crusted bronzed catfish and a slow-roasted deboned half duck. But chef’s favorite is the classic étouffée, featuring crawfish (the legendary “mud bug”), with New Orleans’ Holy Trinity of onions, celery and bell pepper, cooked in the almost mythical dark roux, a heavenly thickener made with fat, flour and plenty of patience. The impossibly rich preparation is the perfect bath for strong crawfish, as it all culminates in a stimulating and succulent combination that will keep your flavor receptors guessing and your brain synapses flashing.
Smok-haus, Garden City
If the first individual to put flame to meat is a hero, then whomever first put smoke to meat is a saint.
Such is the sentiment washing over Smok-haus, the barbecue shack/chic eatery/comforting sanctuary that opened last year in Garden City. Smok-haus is the type of restaurant you’re simultaneously glad you found, yet angry you didn’t try sooner.
Pitmaster Manny Voumvourakis, a former financial manager who traded his spreadsheets for a spice blend, realized his love for barbecue when a hunting trip with some friends turned into a smoked-meat competition. Eventually, he reached out to Myron Mixon, enrolling in the barbecue-legend’s four-day boot camp in Georgia to learn the essentials of the low-and-slow tradition.
That effort translates into some damn fine barbecue at Smok-haus, where the menu features all-stars of the smoker like brisket, pulled pork and ribs, along with unexpected menu gems like the Italian-inspired smoked porchetta. Each meat has its own specific time in the smoker, and Voumvourakis has it down to a science—brisket smokes for 14 to 16 hours, pork for 12 hours, porchetta for 12 to 15 hours and chicken thighs for about 4.5 hours. And to expand the succulent smokiness, Voumvourakis uses a collection of different hardwoods in the process, including hickory, oak and cherry wood.
Dolce Gelato, Franklin Square
Crossing over Hempstead Turnpike headed south on Franklin Avenue into Franklin Square, you’re greeted for the most part by blue collar storefronts featuring a certain and undeniable air of industrial manufacturing. But that slate of gray and brown got an injection of brightly hued color with the opening of Dolce Cafe & Gelateria this past July.
Serving freshly made, small-batch gelato, pastries from Queens-based Italian bakeries and gelato shakes, along with Italian sodas and various coffee and espresso preparations, Dolce was opened by brothers Danny and Vito Altesi, with an assist from veteran gelato maestro Salvatore Potestio. Together, the triumvirate have apparently touched on something special at the corner store—as evidenced by a steady flow of customers ordering dessert at around 6 p.m., a time typically reserved for dinner.
The gelato is made fresh each day with all natural ingredients. The special flavor for each week, anything from peach to pistachio, is dotted with flecks of the ingredient that bring a textural flow to each bite. Other popular flavors include rainbow cookie, fig honey, fresh strawberry, Ferrero Rocher chocolate, mint chocolate, vanilla bean, peanut butter and more.
—By Steve Mosco
Soku Asian Fusion, Great Neck
The phrase “Asian fusion restaurant” evokes some cliches to restaurant-goers, images of a fad that’s become all too mainstream over the last decade. It takes real creativity to eke novelty out of Asian fusion cuisine, but Great Neck’s Soku Asian Fusion has creativity in spades.
Think you’ve had every oyster dish imaginable growing up on Long Island? Soku’s Kumamoto Oysters might force you to rethink that. The assortment of a half-dozen oysters garnished with lemongrass comes with a helping of soy sauce that gives the melt-in-your-mouth morsels an extra kick of flavor going down. Tired of boring old sushi? Soku’s Duck Tortillas are anything but. Naming aside, this is essentially a sushi roll, stuffed with greens and cooked duck breast and wrapped in a scallion pancake with spicy mayo on top. That small world of ingredients blend together to offer Soku one of its more unique dishes, which just happens to be to-die-for delicious. Each and every dish here was worth the weight.
Even the edamame here is a testament to Soku’s spirit for culinary innovation. The steamed soybean dish so often reduced to barely-salted table dressing is here rebranded with a peppering of chili powder and other spices.
That change from the ordinary in such a blink-and-you-miss-it item is indicative of the whole restaurant. Soku is an eatery that always goes the extra mile, and maybe even a few more, to stand above the rest.