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Michael Maroni: An appreciation for late, esteemed chef's impact on Long Island dining

The Maroni lobster roll is a highlight from

The Maroni lobster roll is a highlight from the restaurant's tasting menus. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

The electric opening chords of  "Layla" announced the arrival of intense lobster bisque. "Like a Rolling Stone" signaled crisp Korean spare ribs. And, to cue sushi and crudo: "Purple Haze."

Michael Maroni, playful provocateur and rock-star chef, knew how to ignite your appetite and start the show. You always wanted more, going course-by-course at his 25-seat stage of a restaurant in Northport.

His death on Friday, at 57, stunned anyone who has enjoyed this restless cook's appetite for life at Maroni Cuisine.

There is shock. But many influential chefs and restaurateurs have departed early. The great Alain Chapel, a founder of nouvelle cuisine, was 52. Fernand Point, who transformed French cooking, was 58. More recently, Gilbert Le Coze, who with his sister Maguy, established the precursor to Le Bernardin in Paris and opened the now-landmark restaurant in Manhattan, was 49.

Maroni's approach, of course, was very different but often innovative and always memorable. And on Long Island, he established one of the first and best tasting menus in either Nassau or Suffolk.

The consolation for all who knew him, who reveled in his imagination and savored his colorful cuisine, is the bittersweet but essential news that Maroni Cuisine will reopen on Thursday. 

My last meal there was in 2016. It was, for Maroni, a typical adventure in eating: 20 dishes, many much different from one another. During the two-hour trip down the rabbit hole to the tune of rock music, the styles included cuisines Italian, Italian-American, New American, traditional American, French, Chinese, Korean, pan-Asian, upscale bar food, deluxe luncheonette, seafood raw and cooked. And Maroni himself might pop through curtains like a Jack in the Box to deliver a dish.

With prices of $140 and $160 per person, cash only, cramped quarters, and surprise and serendipity instead of predictability, Maroni Cuisine couldn't be everyone's ideal eatery. But it whimsically has bridged the familiar and the not-so. Pastrami egg rolls meet stone crab claws;  eggplant Parm, a potato chip with creme fraiche and caviar; baked clams, a riff on "beggar's purses" filled with shrimp and water chestnuts.

Maroni frequently is remembered for a 2007 TV "throwdown" with celebrity chef Bobby Flay. Maroni's meatballs, from Grandma's recipe, beat Flay's. The meatballs help define Maroni Cuisine, where the dining-in and the take-out, the homey and the elegant, go side-by-side.

When was the last time you saw a take-out menu highlight "hot pots" of meatballs and pasta with "rustic spaghetti sauce," plus crisp duck, Kobe cheeseburger, lobster rolls, Korean BBQ spare ribs, chicken Parmigiana, and, just in case, a quart of white clam sauce.

On that night in 2016, by the time the creme brulee, a chocolate-marshmallow spin on a souffle, and ice cream sandwiches, reached the table, the soundtrack ironically hit Aerosmith's "Dream On."

Count on it.

Visiting hours for Maroni will be held at Nolan Funeral Home in Northport on Tuesday, from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Private cremation to follow. 

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