Want a side of time-travel with your burger? How about a little Frankenstein with your frankfurter? At each of these Long Island theme restaurants, you'll find lots of food for thought - and for fun:
739 Middle Country Rd., St. James, 631-780-5693
THE THEME Horror movies make up the motif of this fast-food spot where murals depict Frankenstein, Count Dracula, Wolf Man and numerous creepy-crawly creatures. The metaphor carries onto the menu, which lists such creations as a "bat burger" and a "wolf dog."
THE FOOD Owner Mauricio Oliveros, mad scientist of the kitchen, serves a Colombian-style frankfurter so large and ornately topped it requires two buns. Burgers have seasoning mixed into the ground meat, the result not unlike well-spiced meat loaf. Good fun, good food.
THE COST $
10 Bayville Ave., Bayville, 516-628-2628
THE THEME Ahoy and avast; the "hidden treasures of the ocean" collected by the fictitious Captain Barrett "Briney" Bay decorate this kitschy nautical restaurant alongside (and under the same ownership as) Bayville Adventure Park. Outside the restaurant is a wrecked hull, set atilt by the tiki bar. Indoors, you'll find model ships, captains' wheels and (count 'em) three huge saltwater aquariums.
THE FOOD Despite the kitsch, one bite of the lobster roll will tell you this is no culinary shipwreck. Try the crunchy, addictive hand-cut fries tossed with truffle oil and dusted with Parmesan, or the juicy, spicy, chili-crusted grilled chicken breast sandwich. A real surprise is the colorful caramelized tofu and vegetable stir-fry, hardly what you'd expect at this seafarer's set piece.
THE COST $$
1037 Rte. 112, Port Jefferson Station, 631-509-1288,
THE THEME The Florida Keys lifestyle comes to life (well, kind of) at this Port Jefferson Station restaurant and tiki bar. A palm-lined waterfront mural stretches from one end of the dining room to the other. There's an actual lifeguard chair and surfboards abound. The Florida-based franchise is owned by a former New York Mets assistant equipment manager, so you may catch a sports celeb from time to time.
THE FOOD As the name of the place implies, wings are king - and available with myriad sauces. Even better (and more tropical) is the addictive Caribbean-Mexican style wood-smoked fish dip, decoratively plated with jalapeños, onions, tomatoes and chips. An ancho chili mahimahi sandwich (grilled fish topped with a piquant sauce) scores a home run. The "Hurricane" burger is good and juicy.
THE COST $$
228 Airport Plaza Blvd., Farmingdale, 631-393-6150
12 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, 516-939-2237
THE THEME It's the 1957s all over again at these nostalgic soda fountain and burger houses where the in-house satellite radio perpetually pumps out oldies. The counter and soda fountain are decked out with '50s-style accoutrements; kids' meals are served in paper cars (T-Birds, Mustangs and Corvettes) dating from '54-to '57. Tables and chairs of stainless and Formica evoke dinette sets of days gone by.
THE FOOD It doesn't get more '50s-style than a cheeseburger (they will only cook it well-done) with fries (hand-cut and very good). The list of burger toppings range from pineapple to peanut butter to provolone (unheard of in the '50s). Wash it all down with an excellent milk shake or egg cream. Ah, happy days.
THE COST $-$$
7180 Republic Airport, Farmingdale, 631-694-8280
THE THEME Is World War II really over? It's still being played out at this long-playing restaurant at Republic Airport. Careful of the drums of "petrol" outside, near the Jeeps. Note the two antique fighter planes outside the dining room window. In the "latrine," the voice of Winston Churchil offers words of encouragement. The dining room sound track features 1940s music most (but not all) the time.
THE FOOD The menu is neither nostalgic nor cutting edge. At lunch, a steak tip salad featured a mostly iceberg mix of greens plus tomato, bleu cheese, red onion, toasted pine nuts, sliced mushrooms and flavorful but dry grilled meat with fried onion wisps and "bistro" fries (big cuts of skin-on potato). Roasted cedar plank salmon with lemon beurre blanc was unobjectionable but, like the salad, not very exciting.
THE COST $$-$$$
KEY: Average meal price per person $ = $15; $$ = $30