If you could bring one Long Island restaurant back from the dead, which would it be?
Why you yearn to return might not be either the taste or the aroma of the food, but simply the warm reverie and recollection.
Consider some of the headstones: Caminari’s in Locust Valley and La Tavernetta in Woodmere, Viennese Coach in Syosset and Maine Maid Inn of Jericho, Italian Landmark in Copiague and Pappagallo in Glen Head, Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square in Southampton and Armando’s Seafood Barge in Southold. And earlier this year, Luigi Q in Hicksville was leveled in a fire.
If you’re nostalgic about Patricia Murphy’s popovers and the John Peel Room’s yard of ale, boot up your memories. In the words of Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
Here are a dozen departed dining rooms, each alive because their names haven’t come up for the last time. Plus a contemporary choice to visit these days.
Big Barry's (Multiple locations): Barry Layne’s “grub ’n’ firewater” establishments were known for the under-5-foot host’s oversize personality and cowboy hat, the kitschy Old West imagery, steaks and burgers that were sold by the pound. Big Barry’s also specialized in chili and chicken wings, and a very popular salad dressing, plus gold-panning pans for effect. The TV spots that heralded it still live on in all their slapstick glory on YouTube. The Rocky Point restaurant opened in 1977; Lake Grove, 1980; Huntington, 1983. Layne sold them in 1994. Layne was later a celebrity of another sort by making the quarterfinals of “America’s Got Talent” in 2012.
If you miss Big Barry's, you can try the spaghetti wester ironies of The Refuge (515 Broadhollow Rd., Melville). More info: 631-577-4444, refuge110.com.
Clearwater (Massapequa): Chef Michael Meehan’s résumé includes Mill River Inn in Oyster Bay and Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, both gone. Currently he’s at Radio Radio in Huntington. But this sharp, contemporary, waterside seafooder, which started its run in 1999 and lasted until 2001, was the big catch, marked by sculpted aluminum sails and a dramatic three-panel photo of the sea to remind another generation of moviegoers of Cinerama. Meehan’s hits took in lobster potpie capped with a chive biscuit, cedar-planked Copper River salmon, cornmeal-crusted Idaho rainbow trout with wild rice cakes, a three-masted cookie boat with meringue oars and a cargo of sorbet called “red sails in the sunset.”
If you miss Clearwater, you can savor the seafood at The Plaza Cafe (61 Hill St., Southampton). More info: 631-283-9323, plazacafe.us
Hamburger Choo Choo
Hamburger Choo Choo (Huntington): A magnet for decades at the corner of Main and New streets, Hamburger Choo Choo sent you your food via the flatbed cars of a model train on Lionel tracks. The distinctive electrical delivery system was beloved by children and adults alike. The colorful, entertaining, unpretentious little restaurant was destroyed by fire in 1982. In addition to its namesake menu staple, the luncheonette prepared lots of roast beef, fries, milkshakes, and egg creams.
If you miss Hamburger Choo Choo, there are no trains, but at least you’ll get a 1950s flavor at All American Hamburger Drive-In (4286 Merrick Rd., Massapequa). More info: 516-798-9574, allamericanhamburgerli.com
Hunam (Levittown): The legend continues to grow, especially after you’ve visited any other Chinese restaurant in Nassau or Suffolk during the last decade. Hunam devotees reminisce about the peerless twice-fried beef with fragile pancakes, perfect hacked chicken, spicy cabbage, delicate fish rolls, orange beef named for the great chef Chan, crisp whole sea bass, chicken Soong, cold noodles with sesame sauce, Beijing duck ... none better on Long Island. Period. Hunam closed in 2007.
If you miss Hunam, join the rest of the mourners, and be selective at Beijing House (170 Jericho Tpke., Syosset). More info: 516-864-0702, beijinghousesyosset.com
Louis XVI (Patchogue): Was there a more opulent restaurant on Long Island? From the grand rooms to the widescreen water view, the star power in the kitchen to works of art on the plate, Louis XVI stood for the refinement of a bygone decade. It shined in the late 1990s into the early years of the millennium. The chef was from Manhattan’s legendary La Cote Basque, the owner from the more modest Harborside in Patchogue. Red snapper with scales of potato and red wine sauce evoked Daniel Boulud’s at Le Cirque. Butter-poached lobster with lemongrass-infused consommé, and a dessert named the “Marie Antoinette Doll,” with skirts of sorbet and a spun-sugar headpiece, typified the extravagance.
If you miss Louis XVI, there’s three-star food, a grand view of Great South Bay and pretty appointments at The Lake House (135 Maple Ave., Bay Shore). More info: 631-666-0995, thelakehouserest.com
La Pace (Glen Cove): The stately dining room with its deep-green, zigzag wall covering and exceptional Italian and continental specialties made La Pace, which opened in 1978, a landmark for 27 years. Hand-rolled fusilli and ricotta gnocchi, agnolotti with duck sauce and fettuccine with oysters, vied with porcini risotto, macadamia-nut crusted fish, truffled quail and rack of lamb. All led to chocolate-covered figs, fruit tarts and owner Angelo Ventrella’s great chocolate mousse. Everyone received a generous dollop with his or her dessert.
If you miss La Pace, order the specials and revel at Franina (58 Jericho Tpke., Syosset). More info: 516-496-9770.
Panama Hatties (Huntington Station): From Tom Schaudel to Blake Verity to Matthew Hisiger, Panama Hatties had a small galaxy of star chefs. The ambition and the results soared, especially during the Hisiger era, when the restaurant easily made Newsday’s list of Long Island’s best. Peppered tuna, seared foie gras, grilled ostrich, pan-roasted bison sirloin, venison in juniper berry sauce, a Victrola and a Manhattan skyline each designed in chocolate, particularly a dessert called “The Scream,” with the expressionist masterwork in a chocolate painting, showed there always was something artful to munch on.
If you miss Panama Hatties, head to the very focused Stone Creek Inn (405 Montauk Hwy., East Quogue). More info: 631-653-6770, stonecreekinn.com
Ross' North Fork
Ross' North Fork (Southold): John C. Ross brought farm-to-table cooking to the East End before the term became a badge of honor. Starting in 1974, Ross created a bountiful, locavore-oriented, pioneering restaurant that history increasingly reveres. His Bonac clam chowder, summery lobster stew, roast duck with plum sauce, smoked duck with Cumberland sauce, and fruit cobblers set the course for a new generation of local chefs for almost a quarter century.
If you miss Ross’ North Fork, visit The North Fork Table & Inn (57225 Main Rd., Southold, 631-765-0177). More info: northforktableandinn.com
The Station at Water Mill
The Station (Water Mill): As romantic as “Brief Encounter” and just as bittersweet when it closed in 1992, The Station marked an essential stop. It was situated in the high-ceiling 1903 Water Mill railroad station, a cozy, country setting in deep green for French-accented food. The Station evolved from restaurant to bistro over six years. And if you didn’t meet Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in mid-heartbreak, you might have been at a table next to a laughing couple, Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks. Celeri rémoulade, pork pie, steak au poivre, roast chicken, wine-poached pears, and a decadent chocolate pot de crème ensured return trips.
If you miss The Station, wave the tricolor at Bistro Cassis (55 Wall St., Huntington). More info: 631-421-4122, bistrocassis.com
Villa Altadonna (Mineola): At restaurants in Mineola, and in Little Neck and Ozone Park in Queens, Joseph Altadonna brought Sicily to the table long before truly regional Italian cooking arrived here. His pasta con le sarde, made with fresh sardines, raisins, pine nuts, fennel fronds, saffron, onion and toasted bread crumbs, was incomparable. Likewise, stuffed and baked sardines, swordfish rolls, baccala salad, caponata, stuffed and fried olives, stuffed artichoke, tripe with olives and capers, beef and pork-skin braciole, pasta alla Norma with eggplant and ricotta salata, prickly pears with Caciocavallo cheese, and cannoli. The Mineola restaurant opened in 1998. By 2003, it had moved to Little Neck.
If you miss Villa Altadonna, dine at Casa Rustica (175 W. Main St., Smithtown). More info: 631-265-9265, casarustica.net
Von Leesen's (Farmingdale): The 1930 luncheonette and confectionary was a Main Street mainstay, in a building that dated to the early 1900s. It was crowded, noisy and kept its 1920s décor until a fire in 1994, which resulted in a 1950s-style remodeling. Von Leesen’s closed in 1998. Obligatory dishes included the ham salad sandwich, fresh ham, grilled cheese, German potato salad, German potato omelet, hot fudge sundae with house-made ice cream and rice pudding; the drinks, a lime rickey, lemonade and a beverage that must have been inspired by a Creamsicle.
If you miss Von Leesen’s, enter Hildebrandt’s (84 Hillside Ave., Williston Park). More info: 516-741-0608, hildebrandtsrestaurant.com
Restaurant Zanghi (Glen Cove): Nino and Nicola Zanghi changed the way Long Islanders viewed Italian-continental restaurants. From the early 1960s until 1991, by which time it was named Nicola’s, their place stood out for Northern Italian, French and New American choices, traditional and inventive. Whole striped bass Provençale, lobster with Pernod, veal with morels, vitello tonnato, navarin of swordfish, duck with rhubarb and dried cherries, and game underscored the approach, as did the house-made pastries.
If you miss Restaurant Zanghi, go to the same address and be Italian at La Ginestra (50 Forest Ave., Glen Cove). More info: 516-674-2244, laginestrany.com