When Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails opened in 2016, Long Island didn’t quite know what to make of it. Sandwiched between a liquor store and a dog-grooming studio on Merrick Road in Wantagh, the narrow, barely decorated space had one window in front and, at the back, a tiny kitchen where chef-owner Chris Perrotta toiled with one sous chef. But what came out of that kitchen! Handmade agnolotti stuffed with local corn, tortillas griddled to order and filled with braised Berkshire pork, baby back ribs haunted with Sichuan peppercorns. The bar, domain of Perrotta’s partner, Frank Ubriaco, boasted some of the Island’s best cocktails. Was this a fine dining restaurant with no amenities? A pretentious bar? In fact, it was something new under the dining sun, a great restaurant that happened to lack a lot of what used to signify a great restaurant: white tablecloths, an army of cooks and an army of servers.
This is the way we dine now. And Feed Me’s 10th Top 100 list chronicles and celebrates the changes wrought over the last decade.
Blackbird was a local example of a seismic shift in the national dining scene—a severing of the link between refined cooking and formal dining that demonstrated you could deploy the very best ingredients and techniques to produce humble or simple foods and serve the result in a casual, affordable setting.
On Long Island, modern restaurants such as Bakuto in Lindenhurst, Barrow Food House in Aquebogue, The Trattoria in St. James and more have followed a similar path. The new informality trickled up to the fanciest restaurants. Over the last decade, Mirabelle in Stony Brook, for instance, merged its original “restaurant” and “tavern” concepts into one closer to the latter. Lola in Great Neck ditched its modernist foams to reveal the neo-Israeli heart that had always beat below the surface of the menu.
Meanwhile, very modest spots such as taqueria titan Mi Viejito Pueblito in Huntington Station started getting the respect they always deserved. Diners realized that the Ipswich clams at a fry joint like Bigelow’s in Rockville Centre gave it no less claim to greatness than the pan-roasted king salmon with red quinoa and chanterelles at The Plaza Cafe in Southampton, that a pastrami sandwich at Lido Deli in Long Beach could be as satisfying as a porterhouse at Peter Luger in Great Neck.
Restaurant reviewing has changed accordingly. When this list first appeared in 2013, for example, it comprised 10 categories, each featuring 10 restaurants. Now, if there’s one South African-Pakistani-by-way-of-Scotland place that deserves recognition (as does Peri-Peri Guys in Hicksville), it goes on the list. If there are 12 stupendous restaurants in one category (Ciao, Italia!), we include them all.
Here you’ll find a dozen extraordinary restaurants that have been on every Top 100 list since the beginning. For some, adapting to changing tastes has been critical to their longevity; for others, changing tastes have made them increasingly relevant. Take House of Dosas in Hicksville: It was the only vegetarian restaurant on the original list, and as plant-based diets became mainstream, it developed an audience far wider than aficionados of South Indian cooking.
Are you ready? Let’s go out to eat.
Nick & Toni's
136 N. Main St., East Hampton; 631-324-3550, nickandtonis.com
In the mid-1980s, Toni Ross and Jeffrey (“Nick”) Salaway returned from Italy, where they had met as students, to their native New York and decided to turn the Italian ways of the table—fresh, seasonal, simple food—into a business. “They felt that East Hampton was missing that, and it would be great to start a restaurant that reflected their experience in Europe,” said Mark Smith, who later became their partner in Nick & Toni’s, the restaurant Salaway and Ross opened in 1988. Drawing from the farms and fishing boats of the East End, Nick & Toni’s quickly carved out a niche: It was one of the first places to serve olive oil with bread, and to have an indoor wood-burning oven. From the jump, summer nights at Nick & Toni’s were drenched in celebrity, but despite the scene, the atmosphere at Nick & Toni’s has always been enveloping to all, a seduction timed by the rattle of a cocktail shaker and gilded by wood flames, low lights and intuitive service. Salaway, who managed the place, died in 2001, but some of the place’s earliest dishes—namely, zucchini fritto and penne alla vecchia bettola (penne tumbled with crushed red peppers, cream, tomatoes and Grana Padano) have never left the menu, which has long been overseen by executive chef Joe Realmuto.
1043 Northern Blvd., Roslyn; 516-869-8989, limani.com
At a table inside Limani, while a server fillets char-grills dorado inches from your waiting plate, it’s easy to feel spoiled and seduced. The billowing curtains and crisp white tablecloths, the creamy flesh of very fresh fish, the chilled Greek white wine (Assyrtiko) in your glass—the vibes are so deeply Mediterranean you can almost feel the sea breeze ruffling your hair, even on Northern Boulevard. What underpins this sense of indulgence, though, is quite the opposite, and deliberately so: Limani has restraint at its heart, its kitchen having long exiled the ingredients that Limani’s toned, well-heeled diners avoid with rigor. “We don’t use any cream or butter,” said general manager and partner Franco Sukaj. “We keep things super-simple, and we don’t change the menu much.” The seafood flown in from Europe each week or procured along the East Coast is instead kissed by healthy fats, citrus, capers and herbs, just as it has been for the last 14 years. “We do that for our return clientele, who are focused on a more Mediterranean diet—vegetables, fish, olive oil,” Sukaj said. Limani may be known for its mezze (such as ceviche, grilled calamari or octopus), lively salads and whole grilled fish (black sea bass, fagri, Dover sole), but there’s one tiny plate that would cause a riot if it were axed: zucchini chips. “It’s the only thing that every table has on it,” said Sukaj. True to Limani fashion, though, they are expressly not deep-fried. “We fry everything in a pan.”
1 Ocean Rd., Bridgehampton; 631-537-5665, almondrestaurant.com
Almond has a knack for being the same yet different, for “culinarily morphing and changing with the times while also keeping who you are,” said Eric Lemonides, who co-owns the Bridgehampton hot spot with chef Jason Weiner. “When we first opened, I was 31 years old, Jason was 32 years old and we built the restaurant that we both knew and understood, which was a really classic, old-school, down- and-dirty French bistro,” Lemonides recalled. But the pair found themselves getting bored, and they feared the same might happen to their large and loyal fan base. Their solution? Hiring a series of chefs de cuisine—most recently, Andrew Mahoney—who bring new visions and dishes to Almond.
113 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck; 516-466-5666, restaurantlola.com
Consistently excellent, yes. But little else about Lola has remained the same since it opened. In 2009, Michael Ginor, a former Wall Street executive and captain in the Israeli Defense Forces, decided to open his dream restaurant in his hometown of Great Neck. He already owned one restaurant there, Tel Aviv, but at Lola, he could elevate all his culinary influences using molecular gastronomy. When Tel Aviv closed in 2011, many of its dishes moved to Lola, taking up residence with Ginor’s foams and gels—and foie gras: Ginor is a co-founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, North America’s largest producer. In 2012, 21-year-old Lenny Messina was hired as a salad cook and was made partner within two years. In 2015, they debuted a new menu that showcased made-to-order hummus, lamb malawach (a rich, Yemenite-style phyllo “pizza”), fatoosh salad with za’atar-dusted pita, roasted chicken with apricot and almond couscous. Admittedly, Ginor’s other income stream kept Lola afloat early on, but he said that if Messina hadn’t shown up with his gifts for Levantine food, classic French technique and kitchen leadership, the enterprise would have foundered. “I got lucky,” he said. And so did Long Island.
605 Main St., Islip; 631-277-7070, tellerschophouse.com
Whether we’re talking service, food or atmosphere, consistency matters to restaurant diners, and therefore to most restaurant kitchens. Nowhere is this more the case than with steakhouses, where changing the curtains can trigger a rebellion. Small wonder, then, that the only perceptible difference between Tellers’ signature rib eye today and the one in 2013—which Newsday then rhapsodically declared “a 38-ounce spectacle”—is that it’s 40 ounces now. Yes, menu items disappear from time to time, but “Anything you take off, suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to say it’s their favorite dish,” said Michael Bohlsen, who co-owns Tellers with his brother, Kurt. “We have appetizers that come and go, but really people usually come here for the traditional steakhouse experience.” Tellers, in fact, has proved to be as sturdy a business as the 1927 bank building the Bohlsens converted into a dining room in 1999. “The longevity of the staff is a big part of our success,” Bohlsen said. “We’ve had some people since the day we opened.” Among the more recent arrivals is executive chef Richard Soriano, who the Bohlsens hired in 2019. His mandate is to maintain standards and freshen the menu with specials that change every few days. “That kind of variety has kept a lot of our regulars coming.” But even in that case, Tellers aims for consistency, if only of approach.
House of Dosas
416 S. Broadway, Hicksville; 516-938-7517, houseofdosas.com
That House of Dosas would be a standard bearer for the vegetarian food of South India on Long Island was hardly a foregone conclusion when Jay Jeyasri opened this modest restaurant in Hicksville in 2000. “From the beginning, most of our customers were either from North India or were non–Indian Americans,” said Jeyasri. For both groups, the menu represented a whole new culinary vocabulary: First, there are the titular dosas, enormous crunchy-tender crepes made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils and rolled up or folded around dozens of filling variations. At lunchtime, big thali plates offer tastes of vegetable curries, chutneys, sambal (lentil stew), fritters and more. The growth of plant-based eating has been a boon to House of Dosas and, for vegans, Jeyasri and his longtime chef, Varopan Nannithamby, have developed dishes in which tofu is substituted for cheese. Just so you know, the great Indian supermarket Patel Brothers is across the street, so if you need spices, for instance, or just want to marvel at the many brands of basmati rice, go visit.
Bryant & Cooper
2 Middle Neck Rd., Roslyn; 516-627-7270, pollrestaurants.com
The year was 1986. Ronald Reagan was president, Halley’s Comet did a drive-by, gas averaged 89 cents a gallon. And brothers George and Gillis Poll decided to take over an ailing restaurant in Roslyn. Both brothers had worked in the industry since high school, and in Manhattan, Gillis Poll had noticed how steakhouses were perpetually busy. “So we had the idea to turn [the building] into a high-end steakhouse.” Albeit one with a slight twist: An Italian steakhouse, one that would combine two of Long Island diners’ great passions, porterhouse and pasta. There is a constellation of dry-aged prime cuts: Rib eye, filet mignon, strip and porterhouse for two (or even three), its armor charred to a peppery crisp, its innards as pink as a wild rose. The Polls, who also love fish, nab the best of what’s in East Coast waters, from Nantucket Bay scallops to Florida stone crabs.
135 Maple Ave., Bay Shore; 631-666-0995, thelakehouserest.com
On a recent afternoon, The LakeHouse’s three owners, chef Matt Connors, his wife, Eileen, and manager Jay Gut, sat reminiscing about changes over the past decade. “Let’s see,” said Eileen. “Matt lost both his parents, I lost my mom .... We’ve had two children, a recession, COVID.” With a laugh, Jay added, “I got a divorce, we can throw that in there. I got married and divorced.” When The LakeHouse opened in 2006, it quickly became known as a place for fine food in a fine setting—a 50-seat affair on Bay Shore’s Lawrence Lake. But in 2016, when the restaurant moved to its present location, fine begat spectacular: a 10,000-square-foot structure with multiple dining rooms (never has a Beefsteak Charlie’s been so happily reimagined) and 300 seats, many of them offering superb views of Great South Bay and ferries steaming off to Fire Island. At this point, The LakeHouse sailed into a storm of success from which it has never really emerged. “We were a New American restaurant before there were a ton of them on Long Island. But we had a very educated clientele,” said Eileen. The post-pandemic menu is devoted to perennial favorites, such as the salad of goat cheese and creamed chanterelles, as well as seasonally inspired fare. But the approach to both is the same, Matt maintained. “My style of cooking is really unfussy, it’s just good technique and good ingredients, well-balanced dishes, the kind of food the people want to eat.”
255 Northern Blvd., Great Neck; 516-487-8800, peterluger.com
At Peter Luger Steak House in Great Neck, the first porterhouse left the grill in 1960. Yet that feels like yesterday when you realize Brooklyn’s Peter Luger dates to 1887, when it was called Carl Luger’s Cafe, Billiards and Bowling Alley. In 1950, several years after the original Peter Luger died, long-time customers Sol Forman and Seymour Sloyer bought the Brooklyn restaurant, hired Sol’s wife, Marsha, as the meat inspector and purchaser (she spent two years learning the craft in New York City’s meat markets), and then opened the Long Island satellite ten years later. Sixty-plus years on, the same rituals unfold each night in the Great Neck dining room: Wedge salads, thick bacon and icy martinis give way to dry-aged porterhouse steaks that arrive on a hot platter with a hiss and sizzle. The jacketed server will run the slices around the platter for a last, furtive sear, tip the dish to collect the juices, and spoon these over the meat, finishing each plate with your chosen sides—dense, barely creamed spinach, maybe, or hashlike German potatoes. Less expensive are expertly realized plates such as a roasted half-chicken or grilled lamb shoulder chops rimmed with bubbles of toasty fat. At the end of the meal, a bowl of schlag is a luscious accessory for apple strudel. By the time you reemerge, practically waddling onto Northern Boulevard, you’ll be ready for a nap.
150 Main St., Stony Brook; 631-751-0550, lessings.com
It’s been a momentous year at Mirabelle, a restaurant that has defined local fine dining, first in St. James and then in Stony Brook, for almost four decades: Chef Guy Reuge, born and trained in France and a veteran of La Tulipe and Le Cygne in Manhattan, passed the tongs to Fernando Machado, a Portuguese native and his longtime second-in command. Under the guidance of Reuge, Mirabelle’s tenure paralleled the evolution of upscale restaurants on Long Island. From the beginning, he was a champion of local produce, fish, duck—even sea salt. And, over time, his dishes became less identifiably French as he integrated more ingredients and techniques from American, Asian and Latin repertoires. In recent years, Reuge kept on innovating and refining, although the restaurant has become increasingly less formal. There is still an elegant restaurant and more casual tavern, but the menus have merged into one that ranges from foie gras to a burger with bacon-onion marmalade. And Reuge, now executive chef emeritus, and his wife, Maria, have moved to Maria’s home state of Virginia. “In Virginia, there are so many restaurants and farms to explore. I want to keep on learning—learning something new every day—that’s what makes life worth living.”
The Plaza Cafe
61 Hill St. Southampton; 631-283-9323, plazacafesouthampton.com
“I was never supposed to be here,” confided Doug Gulija, 25 years after he opened The Plaza Cafe. In 1990 he and his wife, Andi (who died in 2010), had just returned from France where the rising New York City chef had just completed a stage, or unpaid internship, at Michelin-starred Le Grand Véfour in Paris. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” his wife told him. “We’re having a kid. And we’re not raising it in Manhattan.” And so they moved to Southampton, where Gulija had grown up, and after a few years in other people’s kitchens they opened The Plaza Cafe in 1997. Gulija is endlessly inspired by the sea’s bounty and puts as much of it on his ever-changing menu as he can. (Never absent: lobster-and-shrimp shepherd’s pie, horseradish-crusted cod and prosciutto-wrapped shrimp.) And although the dining room has lost its formality, the food has retained every inch of its restrained elegance and Gulija and his team—including Giovani Sibre in the kitchen, Samantha Zarakotas in the dining room, and his mother, Maria Gulija, on desserts—work hard to create an atmosphere of what they call civilized dining. “I know you’re going to pay a lot of money to eat here,” Gulija said. “And we have got to deliver.”
10 Pinelawn Rd., Melville; 631-271-7780, blackstonesteakhouse.com
Menus with an equal emphasis on steak and sushi may be commonplace now, but there was a time when they did not exist—hardly surprising when you consider that Japan, birthplace of sushi, had religious proscriptions against eating meat for more than 1,000 years. Such a pairing no longer seems surprising on Long Island, and that’s due in no small part to Anthony Scotto Restaurants’ Blackstone Steakhouse, which championed that particular brand of surf and turf, executing both so well, it spawned a host of imitators, including a few other Scotto places. “You’ll see the steak and sushi model in a lot of other restaurants these days, but Blackstone was the first, by far,” said Joe Bruton, managing partner for the group. “And even today, we are always looking to be different, to be out-of-the-box, to source another meat from another part of the world, to get fish flown in from Hawaii, to bring in stone crabs when they’re in season.” Of late, Blackstone has come to emphasize the tableside experience, as with the slicing of its signature Wagyu tomahawks. “Our servers and even bartenders are having more interactive experiences with guests. And I think that builds good rapport and helps elevate the experience.”