Harleys American Grille
283 Main St., Farmingdale
SERVICE: Focused, informed and never far
AMBIENCE: A little bit beachy, a little bit Moorish, with whiffs of old-school New York
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; wheelchair accessible, street parking in front, municipal lot in back
Behind every aged steak is a story, one of deterioration. It often happens in dark places hidden from view. Inside Harleys American Grille in Farmingdale, though, it’s on full view behind the host stand: giant cuts of beef hibernating in a murky, salt-lined locker, breaking down and building flavor.
It’s not pretty, but these steaks are the heart of the place. And after 49 days, they will be butchered and fired by chef Allison Fasano, who heads the kitchen at Harleys, the only female head chef of a steakhouse on Long Island. Fasano, 28, is a gutsy, assured chef who has cooked alongside Bobby Flay (at Gato) and in a Bastianich restaurant, Del Posto in Manhattan, and has good instincts for creating things you want to devour. Owners Benedetto and Cynthia Lomanto (who also own Vespa across the street) had equally honed instincts when they hired her.
Harleys is divided into two spaces: a sun-dappled front bar with a few cushy high-top tables, and a sexier back dining room with leather banquettes and a club-like feel. Ornate tiled floors and contrasting tones make the place feel a little bit Moorish, a little bit beachy and a little bit old-school New York. Servers treat you like treasured guests, checking in often and swooping down in small battalions when a course arrives.
Since you’ll probably be splashing out a lot (it’s easy to hit $150 a head), consider bypassing a plate of oysters or clams for the full-on seafood tower. There are bluepoints and littlenecks on ice, but two items in particular help it punch above its weight: a heaped salad of sweetish lobster meat tumbled with scallions, and a simple, lemony ceviche of crab that tastes as if it were scuttling in the bay 10 minutes ago. The house sauces are excellent, too, especially a hot sauce that could easily be bottled and sold.
Harleys octopus dish has made appearances on social media, a dramatic curl of tentacle over smashed chickpeas and garlic with a spoonful of sausage hash. It seemed over-embellished, though, and couldn’t hold a candle to our hands-down favorite starter, roasted bone marrow with a deep, giving vein of molten fat spiked with gremolata and smeared with bacon-onion jam.
A beet salad feels rote, but Harleys artichoke salad is crispy, original and indulgent: leaves slathered Caesar-style in a tangy, creamy dressing and dotted with charred lemon slivers that are like candy. If you polished one of these off with the robust French onion soup, an ooze of Gruyère burbling along its top, you’d be fed for days.
But then there are those steaks, from a Kansas City-style strip whose salt-slathered, charred crust hides a pleasure dome of supple meat to a deeply marbled porterhouse exuding the full spectrum of earthiness.
Harleys sides are generously portioned and solid: an inventive crock of grilled fennel; creamed corn that sends you back to fifth grade; and a loose and gooey lobster mac-and-cheese, tumbled in béchamel with lobster meat diffused throughout. The paprika-slathered house potatoes, though, were soft when you expected them to be crispy, and drowned under all of that spice.
Carnivores can travel multiple other pathways, from duck breast in a slick of orange-laced jus over farro (excellent) to lamb chops capped with a distracting breadcrumb crust (dry). Burgers only show their faces at lunchtime, and the house burger, smothered with Gruyère and more bacon-onion jam, felt blunted in flavor compared to Harleys steaks. Those traveling off-piste from meat should dive headlong into halibut, a dewy hunk of fish in creamy coconut curry with Thai undertones.
Harleys wine list feels tame (and well marked up), treading a familiar Cab-Sav and Italian red groove. Cocktails, conversely, are unnecessarily ornate — a few more classic choices would complement these bold dishes well. And if you make it as far as dessert, Harleys are quirky and inventive, from a killer almond-crusted ricotta cheesecake to a hulking slab of olive oil cake with sugary icing and a lava flow of stewed oranges. Just pace yourself, and you can get there.