Location: 3261 Merrick Rd. Wantagh, NY 11793
Description: A new offshoot of Mara's Home Cooking in Syosset is Mara's Too, newly opened in ... More »
Mara's Too, the new offshoot of Mara's Home Cooking in Syosset, is every bit as sassy as the original. Smaller and cuter, too. With a Southern roadhouse vibe, it represents the collaborative effort of restaurant doyenne Mara Levi, her husband, David, chef son Josh, sommelier daughter Chana and new business partner Dennis Kaplan.
Mardi Gras-style tinsel and a roster of drinks -- from homemade lemonade to Sazeracs and Hurricanes -- bring a New Orleans vibe. So, too, does the menu, which also features Southern classics and slow-smoked BBQ. With homestyle hospitality comes a high-tech twist: Servers take your order on iPads, transmitting them instantly to the kitchen.
Get off to a rousing start with an okra chicken and andouille gumbo, an ingeniously spiced soup-stew that may be ordered in a hollowed-out bread bowl. A signature dish, ideal for sharing, is a crawfish-stuffed baguette. It's sliced at the table, oozing a lush, deftly seasoned confluence of crawfish tails and cheese. Cajun wings, though, taste surprisingly close to the conventional Buffalo variety. Go, instead, for gator bites, diced marinated alligator meat that's deep fried and served with a rémoulade sauce.
A fried oyster po'boy is a treat, the crisply fried cornmeal-dusted fish sandwiched into French bread dolloped with rémoulade sauce. So, too, is the catfish version of the sandwich. But a muffuletta po'boy -- a take on the huge Italian cold cut-olive salad sandwich made famous at Central Grocery in the Big Easy -- comes out a bit skimpy, the lively olive salad a trifle over-chilled.
Overcooking mars the otherwise impressive "hot and spicy" burger topped with wing sauce, caramelized onions, jalapeños and pepper jack cheese. Served on a house-made pretzel bun, it's so thick it must be eaten with knife and fork. Crisp, nutty, delectable hand-cut fries accompany.
Although both baby-back and St. Louis ribs are deeply smoky, the baby-backs win out as more meaty and tender -- at least on one occasion. Smoked chicken is an all-out success, as is crisp, light Southern fried chicken.
Best sides: creamy cheese grits, crisp vegan (mayonnaise-free) coleslaw and smoky-sweet "Levi" beans with bacon. The crawfish-studded mac and cheese should be ordered for the entire table.
Conclude with one of Levi's homestyle pies, such as the sweet-tart Key lime and gooey Kentucky bluegrass made with bourbon, pecans and chocolate. And if the kitchen has run out of chocolate cream pie -- well, that's just one more reason to return.