American, Eclectic, Wine bar
Near LIRR station, Bar scene
With a steady amount of dinner deals, a Thursday "Girls Night Out" and a Sunday brunch, this wine bar is extremely laid-back. Soups, salads and appetizers are all served in contemporary American fashion, as entrees like pork osso bucco, pistachio-crusted St. Peter's fish and the "Chicken Lola" (chicken breast stuffed with sauteed onions, mushrooms, soppressata) are among several other dishes crafted with modern style. Gluten-free pasta is available by request; reservations are recommended.
Tues-Thurs: 4 p.m. — 10 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Sun: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Mon: Closed.; (bar open later on weekends)
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Lola's has a vibe, an aura of festivity. Servers look genuinely happy, and the food is as upbeat and comforting as the ambiance. What's more, nothing on the regular menu exceeds $20.
It's hard not to pop too many of the warm fried tortillas filling the breadbasket; top them with the spunky tomatillo salsa or savory black bean dip. It's wise, though, to go easy, especially if you're ordering the pernil (slow roasted and pulled pork), which also involves tortillas as well as bright guacamole and tomato salsa. A bowl of chicken chili makes another lusty Tex-Mex starter.
Kung pao calamari with peanuts and spicy sauce has an alluring kick, but be forewarned: The squid loses crispness under the sticky glaze. I have a weakness for chef David Livingston's fried mac and cheese bites, which are unabashedly naughty, undeniably good. To cut the richness, a poached Granny Smith apple salad works well - and better than most salads of that ilk.
Pan-roasted loin of pork is big food, in terms of both size and flavor. The tender slabs of meat are plated with mashed potatoes, spinach and cranberry compote. You won't need a knife to cut the pork shank osso buco, slow roasted and ideal for winter dining.
A lighter alternative is "paradise" pasta, whole-wheat angel hair in a white-garlic and oil sauce with julienne carrots and zucchini. Not exciting but surprisingly good. A friend's basil-marinated shrimp are expertly grilled, hyper-flavorsome.
One night, I dine on a big, beefy drippy burger topped with grilled onions with irresistible hand-cut fries. A blackened chicken tidbit sandwich on garlic bread topped with melted mozzarella has its own robust charm. My favorite among the house-made finales is the creamy cheesecake with blueberry sauce.
Would somebody tell me why perfectly fine grilled shrimp must come with a mozzarella-tomato-Portobello stack, the unwieldy cliche drizzled with balsamic and pesto? A total flub is the coconut-crusted St. Peter's fish, which juxtaposes the sweet with the bland.
I'm also let down by an apple tart whose overcooked filling resembles baby applesauce. And a brownie sundae lacks fudgy intensity; it's doused with aerosol whipped cream.
There's lots to recommend this ever-evolving place - $10 wine flights, a $20.09 early evening prix fixe, a chef and owner who are constantly tweaking things to make them better.
No question, Lola wants you. --Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 1/21/09.