At the Main Street Cafe in Northport, I found exactly the burger and fries I'd long been craving. I'm talking about a hefty hand-shaped half-pound of Black Angus meat, charbroiled to smoky juiciness and served on a butter-grilled bakery roll alongside thick cuts of crisp skin-on fried potatoes. That's just one of many enticements at this cozy little pub.

I remember, though, a few years back, being unable to so much as enter the place, stopped at the door by thick clouds of cigarette smoke. These days, along with the cleaner air, there's new ownership. Three years ago, a bartender, a waitress and the chef pooled their resources and purchased the place. They still work at their old jobs, chef-owner Tim O'Neill cooking alongside co-chef Mark Nicol. Most weekend evenings, people line up outside the door for a table. They're sometimes three deep at the bar, where the bartender pours a perfect Black and Tan. In the dining area, one wall is hung with vintage photos of firefighters, cops and crooks -- there's even a shot of Al Capone in his coffin. On another wall, caricatures of regulars add to the relaxed ambience.

The warmth carries through to O'Neill's menu. I liked his heady onion soup floating a crouton and crowned with a melt of Gruyere. Better still was the creamy (not gluey) New England clam chowder. Pea soup, though, was too thick, almost requiring a fork.

We ordered mussels two different ways -- in a spunky curry- cream sauce and in a fierce and fiery fra diavolo bath. Panko-crusted scallops, a special one evening, were both rich and delicate.

Once, when I wanted only a small salad, the waitress was happy to downsize the dinner portion of grilled salmon atop field greens with candied walnuts, goat cheese, grape tomatoes and dried cranberries. My husband's sliced duck breast salad with spinach proved bright and contemporary in concept.

A lemon-pepper grilled chicken sandwich with melted cheese made for a guilty pleasure. So did the "Irish" burger, a hamburger crowned with chopped red onion, roasted red pepper and spicy mustard. Even the turkey burger, too often a dry patty fit for dieters only, was a juicy treat.

On an evening when nothing but red meat would do, I ordered a special of marinated skirt steak with polenta. The meat was sweet and smoky, the polenta a reliable counterpoint. Less compelling was a chili-glazed tuna steak. It was overdone, topped with a thick red glop. I preferred the flounder francaise, egg-battered fish in a mild and citrusy lemon sauce.

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A finale of cheesecake made me glad I'd ordered it, as did moist triple chocolate layer cake.

At the Main Street Cafe, some of the greatest pleasures are the simplest ones. --Joan Reminick (5/15/05)