Fifty means gold. And there are more than a score of Long Island restaurants that have struck it, reaching the age in a business where surviving beyond a year typically is enjoyed by less than half. The reasons for longevity range from location and property ownership to family management and labor, from the quality of food to the loyalty of customers. “The one big word is ‘consistency,’ ” said Otto...
Fifty means gold.
And there are more than a score of Long Island restaurants that have struck it, reaching the age in a business where surviving beyond a year typically is enjoyed by less than half.
The reasons for longevity range from location and property ownership to family management and labor, from the quality of food to the loyalty of customers.
“The one big word is ‘consistency,’ ” said Otto Wittmeier, co-owner with his brother John, of the Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue, which opens for its 67th year on April 18, 2017.
“We don’t seem to vary. We don’t wander off our footprint. And we have people who call to reserve their chicken potpie for Wednesday and Thursday lunch.” And the Wittmeiers emphasize local ingredients, from duckling to scallops.
Cliff Saunders III owns Cliff’s Elbow Room, established in Jamesport in 1958. He said that while the fare has changed a bit over the years, “most customers still don’t even look at the menu,” already knowing what they want.
Saunders’ grandparents owned a restaurant in Laurel in 1946 that eventually became Cliff’s Elbow Too. There’s also Cliff’s Rendezvous in Riverhead, which arrived in 1977. “It’s not just the local residents. People come from North Babylon, from Massapequa . . . some just to say ‘hi’ . . . it’s like a family.”
Among the older Nassau County restaurants is Louie’s in Port Washington, once Louie’s Shore, later Louie’s Oyster Bar & Grille, now Louie’s Grill & Liquors. “But it’s always Louie’s,” said co-owner Martin Picone. “It was owned by the [Zwerlein] family for 97 years.” Louie’s began as a barge and eventually became a dockside landmark.
“It’s an integral part of the community,” Picone said, and the site of many “family events . . . christenings, showers, weddings, bereavement — the whole life cycle.”
Here are some Long Island restaurants that have entered their own gilded age.
Bigelow’s (79 N. Long Beach Rd., Rockville Centre): When Bigelow’s started frying in 1939, a new house cost about $3,800 and average annual income was $1,730. It remains a cash-only ultracasual destination for seafood, notably Ipswich clams, which Russ Bigelow was the first to fry on Long Island. Recommended: fried Ipswich, or whole belly clams; fried clam strips, smelts and whiting; fish and chips, made with either cod or flounder. More info: 516-678-3878, bigelows-rvc.com
An exterior view of Bigelow's in Rockville Centre.
Bigelow's in Rockville Centre offers both clam strips and full Ipswitch Clams (with bellies, shown here) that they bread on-site just before frying.
Borrelli’s (1580 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow): Borrelli’s opened in 1955, “before the Meadowbrook Parkway,” said owner Frank Borrelli Jr., “and before chicken Parmigiana. We had veal Parmigiana.” The informal Italian spot expanded and updated the menu over the decades but remains a magnet for local diners as well as visitors to Jones Beach and Eisenhower Park. Recommended: lasagna, linguine with clam sauce, chicken Francaise. More info: 516-794-0190, borrellisrestaurant.com
Frank Borrelli, owner of Borrelli’s in East Meadow.
Zuppa di Pesce with shrimp, mussels, calamari, and scallops over linguine in a red clam sauce at Borrelli’s in East Meadow.
Casa Basso (1928)
Casa Basso (59 Montauk Hwy., Westhampton): The namesake restaurant of M.L. Basso opened in 1928. Thirty years later, it changed ownership and was renamed Rene’s Casa Basso. Since 1986, it has been known as just Casa Basso and has been run by Bejto Bracovic, also the executive chef. The castle-like structure always has been identified by the 12-foot-tall statues of dueling musketeers just outside. Recommended: lobster, any style; clams casino; roast Long Island duckling. More info: 631-288-1841, casabasso.net
Two large swordsmen stand at the entrance of Casa Basso near the Old Montauk Highway in Westhampton.
Veal Parmigiana has been a mainstay at Casa Basso in Westhampton.
Cliff’s Elbow Room (1958)
Cliff’s Elbow Room (1549 Main Rd., Jamesport): In the early 1950s, Cliff’s was known as a bar. Now, there are 14 tables at Cliff’s Elbow Room, and they fill quickly. This casual gathering place has been serving since the year of “Vertigo” and “Gigi.” The restaurant is a destination for its marinated porterhouse steak. The secret marinade has hints of garlic and soy. Recommended: all steaks, marinated or not; fried oysters; broiled bay scallops. More info: 631-722-3292
The dining room of Cliff's Elbow Room in Jamesport.
Marinated Porterhouse steak, as served at Cliff's Elbow Room in Jamesport.
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House (1957)
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House (25 Main St., Roslyn): Resisting mini-trends and sticking to fresh seafood and tender beef bridges decades. The waterside restaurant has been owned only by the Scheiner family since 1957. Steve Scheiner, whose grandparents were the original owners, said 65 percent of the menu has stayed; dishes such as frogs’ legs and finnan haddie haven’t. Recommended: colossal stone crabs, Nantucket Bay scallops, salmon baked with a macadamia-nut crust, house-made banana cream pie. More info: 516-621-0055, jollyfishermanrestaurant.com
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House in Roslyn.
The Captain's Feast is one of the signature dishes at The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House in Roslyn.
Louie's Grill & Liquors (1905)
Louie's Grill & Liquors (395 Main St., Port Washington): Louie’s started in 1905 as the “Kare Killer,” a floating eatery and saloon. It has undergone a few lives. The waterfront location and the view at sunset have been lures for decades, along with the traditional seafood and flavorful updates from new chef Tomo Kobayashi. Exit sauerbraten and cioppino. Recommended: gingery lobster Cantonese, New England-style lobster roll, New England clam chowder, bone-in rib-eye steak. More info: 516-883-4242, louiessince1905.com
Patrons sip wine and chat at one of the high-top tables near the bar of Louie's Grill & Liquors in Port Washington.
An appetizer of herbed, steamed Chilean sea bass, with baby bok choy and peas, is dressed with black bean sauce at Louie's Grill & Liquors in Port Washington.
Modern Snack Bar (1950)
Modern Snack Bar (628 Main Rd., Aquebogue): Modern Snack Bar came in during the Truman administration, at first selling hot dogs and hamburgers passed through a window. The Wittmeier family, which established and has owned it all these years, expanded the place into a warm restaurant that now seats 125 for dependably homey “comfort” food, either to eat in or take out. The mashed turnips are peerless. Recommended: seasonal Peconic Bay scallops, lobster salad, sauerbraten, loin of pork, roast duckling, pies. More info: 631-722-3655, modernsnackbar.com
Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue.
The lobster salad, right, and shrimp salad, left, can be enjoyed at the same time at Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue.
Peter Luger (1960)
Peter Luger (255 Northern Blvd., Great Neck): Here’s the suburban offspring of the Williamsburg classic, which opened in 1887 — 16 years before the Williamsburg Bridge. The Tudor-style Great Neck restaurant has been in business since 1960, with a similar if not identical menu. There is, of course, a prime reason to go to Peter Luger: one of the best steaks you’ll ever eat. Recommended: steak for two, three or four; “extra heavy cut” prime rib; broiled lobster; creamed spinach. More info: 516-487-8800, peterluger.com
The porterhouse steak for two is a signature dish at Peter Luger in Great Neck, here, served with potato hash and creamed spinach.
Apple strudel comes with a flakey crust and homemade schlag, sweet, thick, whipped cream, at Peter Luger in Great Neck.
The 1770 House (1930s)
The 1770 House (143 Main St., East Hampton): A residence in 1663, this handsome place was converted to an inn in 1770 and evolved eventually into an ambitious, country restaurant. The modern restaurants are traceable to the 1930s and had dishes as different from each other as Chinese lemon chicken and cheese cannelloni. Wendy Perle Van Deusen, who owned the vintage spot from 1977 to 2002, balanced the traditions and the updating, as have newer owners, and current chef Michael Rozzi. Recommended: Hog’s Neck Bay oysters, Montauk fluke tartare, braised beef short rib, dry-rubbed Berkshire pork filet. More info: 631-324-1770, 1770house.com
The 1770 House in East Hampton.
Montauk fluke tartare, as served at The 1770 House in East Hampton.
Stella Ristorante (1960)
Stella Ristorante (152 Jericho Tpke., Floral Park): Family-owned and operated, Stella came to Floral Park while John F. Kennedy was en route to the White House. It began in 1960 as a pizzeria and became a long-lived, traditional Italian-American restaurant. A portrait of the late “Mamma Stella” now welcomes diners, as she herself did for many years. Recommended: eggplant rollatini, lasagna, tagliatelle with prosciutto and tomato sauce, breaded and baked pork chop with broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes. More info: 516-775-2202, stellaristorante.com
Meat lasagna, served at Stella Ristorante in Floral Park.