Occupying center stage in downtown Center Moriches is Sea Cove Italian American Bar & Gril. The sprawling, wood-paneled establishment, housed in a 19th century building, becomes a major scene on a weekend evening, when it's standing room only near the bar and all three dining rooms are packed. Small wonder the place has its own iPhone app.
Recently, the restaurant came under the command of chef and co-owner Joseph Lo Monaco, who added slow-smoked BBQ to a repertoire of Italian dishes and pub classics. Portions are mammoth, prices low. There are even a few family-style deals.
The garlic knots in the bread basket are light and appealing -- a good thing, since the wait between courses can drag on, even on a relatively quiet weeknight. When a Sicilian salad shows up, it turns out to be a winning toss of iceberg lettuce with salami, provolone, artichokes and more in a bright, if slightly acidic, vinaigrette. Lo Monaco makes a very good deep-dish tomato-cheese pizza, ideal for two. Four hearty eaters barely make a dent in a heavy-duty appetizer sampler platter featuring nacho chips topped with pulled pork -- slightly smoky, very saucy -- as well as fried sauce-glazed boneless "wings" and mozzarella sticks.
Word to the nongluttonous: Order pasta dishes in half portions. Linguine marechiara -- fresh clams and shrimp in a tomato and garlic sauce -- has lovely flavor. A shame the strands of pasta are overcooked. Too-soft angel hair plus a sauce that nearly overflows its plate undermine the otherwise fine capellini in tomato sauce laced with shredded crabmeat. And there's way too much wine-butter-lemon sauce on the chicken scarpariello, a version featuring whole cutlets with sausage and mushrooms. A surfeit of both sauce and salt get in the way of the shrimp scampi.
A burger, ordered rare, turns up barely pink at its center, lukewarm. But barbecue ribs are terrific -- smoky, meaty, all-out delicious. Best sides: creamy mac and cheese, nutty-tasting sweet potato fries.
Top finale: a caramel-apple "granny" pie from an outside source.
So much potential here. A bit of menu editing, a lighter hand with the sauces plus some work on timing could turn a community favorite into a true destination.