GREY HORSE TAVERN
291 Bayport Ave., Bayport
AMBIENCE: A rustic tavern with lots of charm serving unfussy, satisfying dishes.
ESSENTIALS: 4 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; wheelchair accessible, major credit cards and reservations accepted, good for groups, catering
Adjacent to the railroad tracks in Bayport, the nearly 150-year-old building that houses Grey Horse Tavern is a charming spot that’s a portal to a Colonial past. A wood-framed tap room displays a stately bar. A labyrinth of little rooms offers a homey ambience, especially now, as it’s dressed with the twinkling lights of holiday décor.
While the dining room is cozy and tranquil, the action behind the scenes has been abuzz since Irene Dougal and Linda Ringhouse bought the place in 2008, starting with restorations and renovations that spanned nine months.
Most recently, the owners hired Lia Fallon, a high-profile chef who’s no stranger to those following dining news on Long Island. The East End native earned respect for her cooking at Amarelle in Wading River, Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, Brewology in Speonk and The Riverhead Project (now closed). But the long hours and the demands of running an independently owned restaurant “are a huge undertaking,” she said. So when she was hired for a private chef gig a couple years ago, she thought she’d take the job and never look back.
Fast forward to the summer, when a friend talked her into consulting for Grey Horse Tavern. Consulting transformed into an executive chef position that she described as a calling. She said she’s moved by the character of the place, anchored by the support of passionate owners and sustained by a clientele that has embraced the restaurant as a community hub.
Grey Horse Tavern remains a work in progress — one that you should pay a visit to even if Bayport isn’t on your route. Fallon’s cooking is honest and confident, with details that reveal her fine-dining past, like the walnut-parsley gremolata on a roasted squash dish and a great Cheddar burger made with a short-rib blend from Niman Ranch.
The weekday menu offers starters, salads and entrees labeled garden, farm and sea. To start, I’d consider a special, such as hearty sausage and escarole soup. Follow it with the “duck, duck, mousse,” duck charcuterie beside a rich liver mousse paired with chestnut honey and candied nuts. Stuffed clams are less enthralling, as they arrive looking like they’ve spent too much time under a broiler. Instead, give in to that mac-and-cheese skillet, with a four-cheese cream sauce, pancetta and toasted bread crumbs. It’s hardly a starter and more of a meal.
Among entrees, the pork schnitzel is a humble crowd pleaser, dressed up with butter-poached potatoes and showy heirloom red and yellow beets. Roasted delicata squash arrives as rings on a plate, overflowing with cornbread stuffing and that flavorful gremolata. The shrimp and noodles entree is an overreach, a combination of bok choy, carrots, edamame and mushrooms served in a lemongrass broth.
It wouldn’t hurt to visit on a Sunday. That’s when Fallon features a Sunday roast from 4 to 7 p.m., an offering that switches up from dinner and dessert one Sunday to a generous starter another. Otherwise, Sunday is marked by brunch from open to close, from chocolate croissants to steak and eggs to a chicken-and-waffle sandwich — even if your brunch starts at 5 p.m.
That rotating Sunday roast points to the future of the menu here, as Fallon fine-tunes the kitchen, finds her groove and cooks the kind of food that has won the loyalty of Long Island fans.