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Highway Restaurant and Bar review: Contemporary American spot has staying power

Steamed pork buns with red cabbage and carrot

Steamed pork buns with red cabbage and carrot slaw are a savory appetizer at Highway Restaurant and Bar. Credit: Nicole Horton

Many restaurants have tanked in the shadow of the nearby M60 armored vehicle pointed at Montauk Highway in East Hampton.

Veterans will recall the quick exits of Gulf Stream Grill and Chez and Chez, Rubi Red and Ristorante Capri, Rugosa and Highway Diner, among others, at the Everett Albert Herter VFW site. But Highway Restaurant and Bar is one to remember now.

Under new ownership, the successor to Highway Diner has been re-imagined into a handsome, contemporary American spot, sporting full Hamptons style, from the sleek two-way fireplace/room divider to the martini-glass bedecked slacks worn by at least one dining-room honcho.

Making the rambling spot more inviting, however, is the markedly improved service under general manager Adam Lancashire, whose experience includes The Living Room in East Hampton and Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. And the food from chef Justin Finney's kitchen often is very good.

That starts with delicious ricotta-slathered toasts, accented with fava beans and mint. Also recommended: steamed pork buns, juicy and flavorful, finished with red-cabbage slaw. Crisp chicken wings are meaty enough but gain nothing from their soy-chile sauce.

Finney sends out some reliable, homey fare. Consider the excellent, flaky-crust, generous chicken potpie and the even better roasted chicken au jus, flanked by warm-weather vegetables. The house's official, juicy cheeseburger stands out, too, from patty to toppings.

Turning Italianate, a savory, fresh and light version of eggplant Parmigiana will lure you at the table, or perhaps for takeout. Rigatoni Bolognese similarly delivers serious flavor. But the bucatini with sausage, braised fennel and tomato is surprisingly bland. Penne with a pesto of pistachios and olives arrives on the dry side. So does the artfully presented but finally disappointing salmon risotto, a pasty affair with watercress and celery.

Lobster bouillabaisse, advertised with rouille, defines travesty. A few small pieces of lobster vie with cubes of tepid finfish. Instead of fiery rouille, the Marseilles sauce sparked with garlic and red pepper, you get what seems a modest mayo. Aioli is all right with lobster. But it doesn't intensify the very sleepy spin on fish stew.

There are well-chosen wines and draft beers, plus good cocktails. And the desserts include a terrific, tall ice cream sandwich, with hazelnuts and caramel ice cream; and a rich chocolate tart with honey ice cream -- two more reasons you'll want this Highway to go on.

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