Nautical flags decorate JW's Public House. The general message from these codes must mean "Eat here."
JW's brightens up dining along Glen Head Road, indoors and out. The white beadboard wainscoting contributes to it. So do the vintage black-and-white photos that evoke waterside activities, things marine, and, at least in one shot, Lauraine Murphy's, the departed Manhasset restaurant. Nostalgia matters at this address, previously occupied by The Fishery Grill. JW's is all about traditional seafood and homey cooking with a few twists. Most of it is very good, as are the brews on tap.
Start with a sampler of soups: a small cup each of creamy New England-style clam chowder, huskier fish-and-shrimp chowder, roasted chicken-and-tortilla soup, and perhaps a version of billi bi, the rich mussel soup. They're savory, all-seasons selections. To be enjoyed in the moment: delicate fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese.
The house's sliders are led by the short-rib and pulled-pork varieties, trailed by an overdone cheeseburger and a less-than-crabby crabcake. Baked local oysters, spurred by leeks and applewood-smoked bacon, are sweet and fine. But the crisp pork belly arrives more dry than crackling.
It also comes with house-pickled vegetables, similar to the sliced ones served instead of a bread basket. They're refreshing, but do make you think that the anti-carb crowd is getting pretty extreme. Nevertheless, potato buns for the sliders are absolutely delicious.
JW's offers two lobster rolls, hot and cold, on buttered potato buns, accompanied by coleslaw and French fries. Each is respectable, with an edge to the warmer one. Whole, steamed lobster may be a special, meaty and moist.
The whole, roasted branzino deserves its "special" status, too, snowy and light, atop sauteed escarole and fingerling potatoes. Grilled swordfish, with a toasted orzo and frisee salad, finished with a ginger-white zinfandel beurre blanc, is excellent, and does finally suggest a practical use for the wine. Beer batter boosts the fish and chips starring cod.
Cider-glazed, mustard-seed crusted pork chops find allies in baked yams and grilled asparagus; the rib eye, with shallot-blue cheese butter and garlic-mashed spuds. But the roasted Beijing duck, one-half actually, shows up blackened and carbonized, as if the last burst of heat it experienced came from a blowtorch. Mashed sweet potatoes and spinach can't rescue it.
Key lime pie is puffed-up and tangy; the brownie tower sundae for two, festooned with mini M&Ms.
That's a casual signal from JW's, too.