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.
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 more than 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.
Sun Ming, Huntington
A free-standing suburban take on a Chinese pagoda, Sun Ming was a local architectural landmark as well as a shrine to Cantonese-American cuisine. From 1966 until 2009, the Chin family served local families a steady stream of wonton and egg-drop soup, egg rolls and spare ribs, lemon chicken and lo mein.
CONSIDER TRYING If you miss Sun Ming, thank your stars for its elder sibling, Kwong Ming (3342 Jerusalem Ave., Wantagh), founded by Albert Chin in 1962. Located in a low-slung strip mall, it lacks the visual splendor of Sun Ming — but serves a near-identical menu. More info: 516-221-0480, kwongmingofwantagh.com.
Riverbay, Williston Park
When Riverbay served its last clam in 2013, it ended a chapter in seafood cookery that started in 1960 when James Poll bought Pappas of Sheepshead Bay. In 1980, a few years after Pappas closed, it reappeared in Williston Park, run by James’s sons Dean, Gillis and George. In 1989 they changed its name to Riverbay, but it never lost the feel of a New York fish house where variety of seafood and simplicity of preparation were paramount.
CONSIDER TRYING At Sea Bar (7 Great Neck Rd., Great Neck Plaza), owner Jimmy Soursos and chef Gregory Zapantis explore the world of seafood in a friendly, casual venue suited to everyday dining, not weekend celebrations. More info: 516-441-5708, seabar.life.
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.
CONSIDER TRYING 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.
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. Chef Michael 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.”
CONSIDER TRYING Savor the seafood at The Plaza Cafe (61 Hill St., Southampton). The Newsday Top 100 restaurant is an out-of-the-way jewel boasts an elegant, hushed dining room and its menu includes a shepherd’s pie filled with lobster, shrimp, mushrooms and root vegetables under a chive-potato crust. More info: 631-283-9323, plazacafesouthampton.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.
CONSIDER TRYING Sample la cucina Siciliana at Insatiable Eats (300 E Main St, Riverhead), Marco Barilla’s restaurant/pasta laboratory/gourmet market. The chef, who grew up in the northeastern Sicilian city of Messina, delivers specialties that include braciole di pesce spada, pasta alla Norma, bucatini con sarde, fusilli con pesto alla Trapanese. More info: 631-726-4444, insatiableeats.com.
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.
CONSIDER TRYING Join the rest of the mourners and be selective at Beijing House (170 Jericho Tpke., Syosset), where you can sample such Northern Chinese winners as green bean jelly (a thick noodle made from bean starch, served cold), sautéed lamb with scallion and spicy dan dan noodles. More info: 516-864-0702, beijinghouseus.com.
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 housemade ice cream and rice pudding; the drinks, a lime rickey, lemonade and a beverage that must have been inspired by a Creamsicle.
CONSIDER TRYING Von Leesen's is survived by an even older ice cream parlor, Hildebrandt's (84 Hillside Ave., Williston Park). New owners Singer and Randy Sarf bought the place in 2022, reinvigorating it for another few generations. More info: 516-741-0608, hildebrandtsrestaurant.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.
CONSIDER TRYING 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.
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.
CONSIDER TRYING If you like your burgers with a side of theme, head to Haunted House of Hamburgers (330 Fulton St., Farmingdale), where everyday is Halloween. Outside, you’ll be greeted by gargoyles and a small graveyard. Inside, you can choose among Tombstone tacos, Vampire Bat wings, Zombie or Tarantula burgers. More info: 516-777-1031, hhhamburgers.com.
The Station at Water Mill, 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.
CONSIDER TRYING Hop on the LIRR’s Montauk branch and get off at Speonk, where the decommissioned station has been transformed into the singular Little Gull Cafe (54 N. Phillips Ave., Speonk). Chef-owner Will Pendergast specializes in breakfast and lunch (plus weekend dinners) that are truly local-farm-to-table with even the hamburger buns made from scratch. More info: 631-801-2176, littlegullcafe.com.
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.
CONSIDER TRYING The very focused Stone Creek Inn (405 Montauk Hwy., East Quogue) is a Newsday Top 100 restaurant that's the ultimate class act, plying delicious food and professional service in gracious surroundings for almost three decades. More info: 631-653-6770, stonecreekinn.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.
CONSIDER TRYING Order the specials and revel at Franina (58 Jericho Tpke., Syosset), an elegant mainstay of Long Island's Italian fine dining scene since 1980. More info: 516-496-9770, franina.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 housemade pastries.
CONSIDER TRYING Go to the same address and be Italian at La Ginestra (50 Forest Ave., Glen Cove). More info: 516-674-2244, laginestrany.com.
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.
CONSIDER TRYING The North Fork Table & Inn (57225 Main Rd., Southold), a Newsday Top 100 restaurant, showcases local fish, poultry and, especially, vegetables under the direction of chef John Fraser who is well-known for his innovative, farm-to-table cooking. More info: 631-765-0177, northforktableandinn.com