18 Woodbine Ave.
SERVICE: Very good
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Friday from 4 p.m.; Friday, from 5 p.m.; Saturday, from noon. Closed Sunday and Monday. Reservations necessary on weekends, recommended on weekdays. Cash or personal checks only. No credit cards. Tight dining area.
Enter Maroni Cuisine and find Michael in Wonderland.
Michael Maroni gained national attention in 2007 for winning a televised meatball “throwdown” with celebrity chef Bobby Flay. And Grandma’s meatballs still arrive amid the 20 to 25 small plates that define Maroni’s nightly tasting menus. But they only hint at what’s to come.
Imaginative, playful, quirky, idiosyncratic, singular, Maroni Cuisine is a rabbit hole of a restaurant, unlike any on Long Island. Venture down.
The 15-year-old spot was a Northport landmark long before the meatball melee. The eclectic style and the tight quarters may not appeal to every diner. But the results are excellent and never better than they are now.
Cost will vary, depending on the day and time, so call ahead. Figure $85 to $125 for the tasting. There also are a la carte choices on a few weekdays. But Maroni provides no formal menu. The experience is all about sampling a score of spirited dishes, wines and beers included.
They’re all served in a compact dining room, mostly tables for two with some four-seaters. Wainscoting acts like a partial frame for a golden-age collection of rock memorabilia.
And rock classics are the background sound. When a vivid course arrives to the electric opening chords of “Layla” or the lyrics of “Purple Haze,” it amounts to apropos fanfare.
Salute the songs and the chef with your espresso cup of buttery, intense lobster bisque. Nibble on the addictive squares of grilled cheese with a truffle emulsion. Agree to the ridiculously good pastrami egg roll, Kobe beef cheeseburger sliders and crisp Korean spareribs. Enjoy the “million dollar potato chip,” capped with crème fraîche and caviar.
They may be followed by a sushi-crudo-seared seafood sequence, starring yellowtail, salmon, and tuna. Or the mini-plateau of shellfish, sporting snow crab, shrimp and a briny-sweet oyster. Afterward, expect an update on clams casino and perhaps a taste of calamari fra diavolo, light and moist sea bass oreganata and pan-seared snapper.
Yes, that’s “Like a Rolling Stone” for the accompaniment.
Maroni’s pasta selections are, of course, terrific. One night, those fried calamari may be the advance team for standout, deeply marine squid-ink pasta. The daily special could be baby shells finished in a smoky pork ragu with arugula, preceded by lush porcini tortelli flecked with black truffle, or a homey-haute spin on linguine with clams. A pesto moment comes next.
This is the about the right time for a little slice of veal Milanese, a mouthful of exceedingly tender osso buco, a square of elemental eggplant Parmigiana and those immortalized meatballs.
Eventually: dessert, or to be precise, desserts. Maroni sends out a crackling crème brûlée, a chocolate-and-marshmallow variation on a soufflé, bite-size ice-cream sandwiches, and more.
“Dream On” becomes a digestif. Espresso is expected.
But in mondo Maroni, a mad tea party would be, too.