Mara's Too in Wantagh: First bites

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This is a BBQ chicken and ribs platter.

This is a BBQ chicken and ribs platter. Mara's Too in Wantagh also features cheese grits, cornbread and coleslaw. Photo Credit: Newsday / Joan Reminick

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The dish on Long Island's restaurant and food scene.

Purple walls and Mardi Gras-style tinsel define the new Mara’s Too in Wantagh, the abridged (but no less appealing) version of Mara’s Homemade, a Cajun-Southern-BBQ restaurant in Syosset.

Owner Mara Levi shares the business with business partner Dennis Kaplan, her husband, David as well as their children. Son Josh Levi is in charge of the kitchen at both restaurants while daughter Chana was recently certified as a sommelier. A good thing, since the little restaurant now has its liquor license. Which means it also has a full bar offering bourbons, tequilas and Southern specialty drinks, such as Hurricanes and  Sazaracs. They also have Abita beer from Louisiana. Wines are $25 by the bottle, $8 by the glass.

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When I hit the restaurant for dinner, on a recent frigid night, the specialty drink was an excellent house-made lemonade and Mara herself was on hand to welcome guests. Adding to the warmth were space heaters, strategically placed throughout.

For starters, the restaurant’s okra, chicken and andouille gumbo ($6) proved rich and fiery.  A half pound “hot and spicy” burger ($11), topped with wing sauce, caramelized onions, jalapeños and Pepper Jack cheese, came on a house-made pretzel bun. Actually, the thick (and slightly overdone) burger and bun proved too big to bite into, so a knife and fork had to be called into play. First rate hand-cut fries accompanied.

A chicken and ribs combo ($15) featured St. Louis ribs deep-down smoky but surprisingly dry in parts; smoked chicken, though, proved ideal. On the side: Addictive cheese grits and sprightly vegan (mayonnaise-free) coleslaw, along with a piece of jalapeño cornbread a bit burned at the edges. To Levi’s credit, she walked over, looked at the plate, apologized for the cornbread and, in an instant, replaced it with a perfectly cooked, warm, moist wedge. Dessert was a commendably homey slice of Key lime pie ($7)

Mara’s Too is at 3261 Merrick Rd., Wantagh, 516-785-5300, marastoo.com

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