The Linwood Restaurant & Cocktails
150 E. Main St., Bay Shore
SERVICE Sure hands in a storm
AMBIENCE Expect a dull roar during crunch times
ESSENTIALS Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch), and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (dinner); Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (dinner only). Credit cards accepted. Street and lot parking. Wheelchair accessible.
What they’re going for is anyone’s guess, at least at first glance. Chandeliers over the bar? Well, sure, but adjacent to fake greenery that invites comparisons to “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters”? Those dark teal walls are certainly a handsome touch but, wait, is that … overgrown AstroTurf on a patio wall? Is it OK now for an exposed brick wall and a mirrored brick wall to line the same room — because I’m really not sure. And what’s that stuff behind the chain-mail curtains that travel miles from the ceiling to velveteen chairs on a concrete floor? Framed prints of birds, that’s what. Stepping back, one gazes on a Bay Shore scene that the charitable might describe as festive, the less charitable as a mish-mosh, and the downright hostile as a shambles.
But there is another word for those who dare to seek connections in epic disparateness — creativity — and the same impulse that appears to have hornswoggled the designer is deployed to stunning effect in the kitchen by chef Henry Freidank III. Thanks to him, co-owner Drew Dvorkin, and general manager Tracy Johanna, the Linwood Restaurant & Cocktails (even the name’s prosody clangs!) features a food and drinks program that’s so good, it’s exciting.
If it’s true that we live these days under a tyranny known as the something-for-everyone menu, The Linwood is a resistance fighter disguised as a collabo. This mac-and-cheese-iceberg-wedge-duck-breast-fried-chicken-steak-frites-cavatelli-Bolognese-loving palace is more than meets the eye. Freidank’s knack for shrimp and scungilli and crab and octopus would probably have made a poor escabeche impossible anyway, but the careful use of celery hearts, lemon and red onion charms the sea creatures into a higher form of deliciousness.
Pork’s tattered reputation — it’s my vote for most consistently-abused meat on the island — is restored via a tender and juicy chop whose bone-in Berkshire-ness plays nicely with, of all things, a glazing marmalade of red cabbage. And then there’s Johanna’s Water View, a lovely rum beverage that somehow finds kinship between watermelon and basil and perfumey orange blossom water.
Not all of Johanna’s experiments succeed — a gin and bell pepper cocktail known as The Bellboy will work only for those who dream of garden salsa-flavored SunChips in liquid form — and there are puzzling kitchen moments, too, as when the perfectly fried chicken over grits is marred by an unbecoming sweetness. But these are forgivable, perhaps inevitable, in a place that wants to both live up to expectations and confound them at once. Overall, there is a confidence to the cooking, one that coaxes diners into uncharted territory even as it coaxes unexpected flavors from comforting classics. “Wow,” said the 13-year-old at my table after trying Linwood’s mac and cheese, whose menu description had filled him with worry. (Muenster? Fontina? No sodium tripolyphosphate?!)
But I know what you’re waiting to hear about: the iceberg wedge, because of course. It’s actually a shareable three-pack of baby wedges, each an easy target for bullying by wedges of the Outback Steakhouse variety. You’ll feel the confusion slip from your face when you taste the avocado ranch dressing dusted with fried shallots accompanied by a single heavenly slab of house-cured pork belly. Here, as with the grilled octopus tossed with lemon and dill, and the medallions of tuna tataki floating in a soy sauce delicately tamed by minced cucumber, The Linwood demonstrates a flair for re-imagining the familiar without once jumping the shark. Nowhere is that more true than in the case of Johanna’s menu of mocktails, which in both difficulty of execution and complexity of flavor are every bit the equal of their boozy brethren.
Weekends feature live music performed on the Linwood’s side porch overlooking Main Street, a cozy venue typically packed with folks whose fashion tastes run from Uniqlo and H&M to the Steve Miller Band 2011 concert tour. Such clashes are to be expected these days in downtown Bay Shore, whose flurry of commercial and residential construction suggests nothing less than a transformational moment. There’s a boomtown spirit afoot, with all the promise and ranshackleness that the term implies, a spirit that The Linwood lives and breathes.
This review has been updated to correct ingredients listed in a cocktail and the general manager's title.