Members of the family who once ran Stony Brook's venerated Country House Restaurant have returned to the comfort-food fold with a new restaurant in Wading River, North Tavern.
North Tavern opened in late June inside the lofty building that once held Fiesta Mexicana and, before that, Amarelle. Fiesta Mexicana's orange walls and Tex-Mex vibe has been replaced by neutral tones, but the high ceilings and central stone (electric) fireplace remain. There are about 80 seats between the dining room, two patios and a refurbished bar.
Chef Drew Wendelken is the son of Thomas Wendelken, who opened the Country House in the late 1970s. Drew was the chef there, too, and his wife, Carol Wendelken, and brother Brian Wendelken, worked alongside each other and a few other kinfolk until the business was sold in 2006.
Drew, Carol and Brian reunited to open North Tavern, where Drew Wendelken is once again chef and Brian's wife, Denise Wendelken, is a co-owner. "We also have family members who come and help us," said Carol Wendelken, reciting a list of children and siblings who work both the front and back of house, as well as who helped with the building's renovation. (Restaurants are in her blood, too: Her grandfather Max Dobhan owned eateries and saloons in Brooklyn decades ago.) "And we named a lot of the menu items after family members," she said.
That includes Aunt Denise's stuffed shells with spinach, an appetizer ($12); Carol Ann's turkey meatball Parmesan ($12); and Grandma's pierogi with apple sauce and sour cream ($9).
For about five years, Drew and Carol Wendelken owned a restaurant in Encino, California, called Drew's American Cafe. In 1992, a Los Angeles Times reviewer called his cuisine a "highly personal, extremely quirky take on traditional American food."
A few of those dishes have traveled home to Long Island with the chef, said Carol, including a chicken potpie with potato pastry ($16) and a few fresh-fish dishes. Among North Tavern's seafood takes are pan-seared scallops with warm potato salad and pea puree ($28) and a recent special of salmon and spinach served Wellington-style under a cap of puff pastry ($32). Oh, and there's also Brother Joe's crisp salmon filet over potato pancakes ($28).
Beers tread the middle road, from Guinness to Peroni and a few local options, and cocktails have a Cosmo-era ethos. "We try to make them beautiful," Carol said, such as a "birthday cake" martini of vodka and gin with a scoop of strawberry Italian ice and a dark-chocolate-dipped strawberry for $11. Desserts, made in house and priced at $6, include Dee's hot apple pie, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
North Tavern opens daily at 4 p.m., and is closed on Mondays.
North Tavern, 2028 N. Country Rd., Wading River. 631-886-2102.