Barn Door 49
59 W. Main St., Bay Shore
SERVICE: Gentle and unobstrusive, but watchful
AMBIENCE: The front bar feels like an open-air taverna, and the back dining room like a cozy farmhouse, with lots of reclaimed wood, pillows and a fireplace.
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible; street parking
Some restaurant owners have a sixth sense about how to create good and lasting vibes. Gina Jaworowski may be one of these people.
In the late 1990s, Milk & Sugar, the breakfast-through-dinner cafe that Gina and her partner, Lenny Jaworowski, opened in Bay Shore, helped downtown’s eventual restaurant resurgence. It was open for 18 years, an enviable run as far as restaurants go.
Last year, the couple decided it was time for a reboot. Milk & Sugar’s successor, Barn Door 49, became Gina Jaworowski’s baby, and was a total revamp of the space and concept. Out went the vintage couches, and in came heavy wood tables, a bar and a farmhouse vibe, down to every detail of menu and décor: drinks served in Mason jars, blown-up photos of rural life, cream served in miniature milk pails.
It can border on kitschy, but Barn Door 49 never crosses that line. And its rustic looks are secondary to the most important part of the formula: Chef Mike Mills and his team feed you well, from start to finish.
Barn Door 49’s front bar evokes a taverna, with heavy wooden high-top tables on the sidewalk that draw a crowd on warm nights. The beer list is long, with plenty of local choices, as well as two wines on tap. The cocktail list has a something-for-everyone ethos: A popular mint bourbon peach tea, for instance, is almost achingly sweet, while No Sleep Till… is an instant summer classic that combines gin, citrus, muddled herbs and lemongrass kombucha over ice. (A side note: Chief bartender Anthony Lucero started with the Jaworowskis years ago as a busser at the Victorian Room, a business they own across the street.)
Through an archway, the back dining room is a cathedral of barn wood with a fireplace in the middle, pillows along wall-length banquettes and a giant portrait of the Jaworowski children on one wall. Gentle, unobtrusive but watchful servers run this room, and they quickly deliver a board of crusty sourdough, baked here, with whipped butter and a creamy green-olive tapenade.
To keep the carb party going, order Barn Door’s charcuterie board for two — one night, overloaded with spicy boar sausage and hunks of blue cheese, plus grapes, candied walnuts, honey, blackberry jam, grainy mustard and more toasted bread.
Appetizers are rooted in comfort-food territory, but with a fine-dining gloss. A slow-roasted pork belly is crisped on top and velvetlike, with peach jam and a mop of cabbage delivering hits of sweet and sour. Short ribs get a 2 1/2-hour braise until they’re falling apart; their concentrated juices thoroughly soak smoked farro below to delirious effect.
But shrimp dumplings — six to an order — were amply stuffed but lukewarm on arrival, so kind of gummy. The ubiquitous appetizer of the moment, charred octopus (called pulpo here) was piping hot, though, and tender, sliced into coins and tumbled with potatoes and slivered olives.
Salads are pretty to look at, but the “twisted” wedge — bibb lettuce, bits of bacon and ingenious pickled tomatoes — could have used more blue-cheese dressing. The proportions of fennel vinaigrette to spicy greens and roasted beets to goat cheese of another salad was pretty much perfect.
The kitchen’s mastery emerges in a showstopping entree of local striped bass draped across a thyme-laced ragout of cannellini beans. The fish’s skin was crackling-crisp, the flesh tender, and I had to resist ordering it on a follow-up visit.
Beguiling in a different way is a huge sirloin steak, sliced into flaps, that takes on a swirl of tertiary flavors from a 28-day dry aging; the glazed Brussels sprouts alongside, though, were too enormous to have cooked through.
Barn Door’s burger is a sturdy grass-fed patty that’s nevertheless packed with juices and is amped up with a layer of shiitake marmalade. (It comes with decent but squishy steak fries.) That burger also appears at lunch, and is a more dependable choice than a house-cured salmon “pastrami” sandwich, which suffered another proportion issue and felt like eating a bread sandwich.
Whether lunch or dinner, don’t pass over the carrot cake, gently spiced and almost luxe, or cherry cheesecake in a Mason jar. Both encapsulate Barn Door 49’s personality: kind of healthy, kind of indulgent, with every line in its place.