Editor's note: This restaurant has closed
The main course at Joseph Bonacore's restaurants is surprise. He's serving it in a different way at the revived Lawson Pub.
Veteran diners will remember Bonacore for his bold combinations of Italian and New American cooking at three-star Tuscany in Rockville Centre in the mid-1990s. There were few spots where you'd find tender bison in a reduction infused with Coca-Cola; or grilled ostrich with a sundried-cherry sauce, as well as stellar ribollita and pastas.
In the years since then, Bonacore's fare, overall, has turned more casual, but still with an emphasis on big flavors. That has defined Lawson Pub, its brief successor called Fiamma, and the current spot, which returns to the original name.
It's a pleasant enough place, with an appealing barroom and dining room to match. There are some modest decorative touches. But Lawson Pub is free of froufrou. As always, your focus is on Bonacore's cuisine.
His savory, mini-arancini: rice balls boosted by bacon and caramelized onions, served with basil mayo. Eggplant meatballs arrive tender and tasty, accented with white wine and tomato. Tangy Peppadews spark crisp fried calamari. Corn salsa, guacamole and roasted-garlic aioli complement ample crabcakes.
The "flame grilled" beet salad comes with arugula, fennel, pistachios, peppers and ricotta salata, glossy from a honey-sherry vinaigrette. A "no leaf" vegetable salad headlining asparagus and chickpeas is fine. And Bonacore's salad starring creamy burrata and zesty caponata will jump-start any meal.
Melted Gorgonzola cheese, tomato bruschetta, and arugula salad contribute to the "G pie" pizza, which won't make you forget your favorite pie joint. Neither will the creamed spinach white pizza, despite the addition of bacon and caramelized onions.
But the house's Black Angus cheeseburger, gilded with lobster salad as if to make a wry surf-turf affair, and completed with Cheddar cheese and bacon, is a very satisfying, unwieldy mouthful. Less inviting, however, is the dry roasted-pork butt sandwich with duck sauce and Muenster cheese. "Beggars purse" pasta is a so-so, four-cheese affair with a prosciutto-seasoned cream sauce and lemony bread crumbs. The shrimp macaroni-and-cheese has more appeal.
Sesame seed-crusted tuna, which has become the heir to stuffed flounder around Long Island, swims in respectably, atop a salad of tomato, corn, bell pepper and arugula. Bonacore sends out a sizable, juicy pork shank, with spinach, shiitake mushroom and roasted potato.
Given the generous portions, pick mini-ice cream cones for dessert. The artful creme brulee "spoons" may evoke very distant memories of Tuscany's chocolate-orange rendition. And cheesecake "lollipops" will catch you off-guard. Contentedly so.