At the highly anticipated 2 Spring restaurant, roasted langoustine is expertly coupled with pork terrine and cradled by lacy Champagne foam. It is the work of a critically acclaimed chef who gave up life in the city to raise the dining game in the hamlet of Oyster Bay.
From there, take a short stroll and you’ll find Autentico, where an accomplished Sicilian-born chef is carrying out the American dream. He transformed an old bakery into one of Long Island’s best Italian restaurants, sporting an ever-changing menu that pushes the limits with dishes that include super tender tripe in tomato gravy and spaghetti with tuna sauce and capers.
And then there’s Nikkei of Peru, an expansion of the popular Port Washington restaurant, where South American and Japanese cuisines are combined for creations that include tuna tataki that pairs seared tuna with cilantro huacatay, a Peruvian black mint paste.
In a span of two years, Oyster Bay — the 17th century community circled by Oyster Bay Town with some of Long Island’s deepest pockets of wealth and best known as the place where President Theodore Roosevelt used to summer — has gone from being an underserved restaurant community to a locale with dining swagger.
We spent several days here for Season 3 of “Feed Me TV,” exploring what led to this restaurant boom. (See all of Season 3 at newsday.com/feedmetv. Also available on Roku TV, Apple TV, Fire TV and the Newsday app.)
“There are things happening in the downtown, from shifting demographics to young families,” said Meredith Maus, executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association. “They bring with them a diverse palette and a desire to go out at night.”
If Maus and restaurant owners were to pinpoint a catalyst, it would be Oyster Bay Brewing Co. The brewery, which opened in 2013, moved to a larger location in 2016.
About the same time, Autentico came to town, followed by Osteria Leana, another Italian restaurant with a more modern menu, which took over the old brewery space.
“I thought Oyster Bay was a good opportunity,” said chef Peter Van Der Mije. “There are a lot of developed spaces out here, Huntington, Roslyn. And Oyster Bay falls between them.
“I give a lot of credit to Oyster Bay Brewing Company,” he added. “They put Oyster Bay in a kind of hipster, cool place.”
Soon there was Nikkei, upscale coffee at Southdown and finally 2 Spring, an American bistro opened by Claudia and Michael Taglich, long-standing members of the community who wanted a restaurant in their backyard on par with those in the city. They took over an old building and spent lavishly to renovate it.
Here are the six places that have put Oyster Bay hamlet on the dining map.
Autentico (124 South St.): Located on South Street, in a space that once housed a bakery, is one of Long Island’s best Italian restaurants and one of the few that truthfully claims to be authentic. Opened in February 2016 by Zac Nudo and Connie Cincotta, who can be found working the dining room most nights, the secret to Autentico’s success is Francesco Pecoraro, the Sicilian-born chef who worked his way across Italy at restaurants in Sicily and in Emilia-Romagna on the Adriatic Sea. The space has a cozy feel with distressed chairs and menus that are artfully written by hand. The menu changes regularly, but expect to find plates of meat and cheeses carefully sourced from Italy, tagliatelle with meaty ragus, a crispy breadless eggplant Parmesan and more adventurous fare such as trippa a la Romana, a slow-cooked tripe stew that rewards those willing to take the plunge. The mastery from Pecoraro, who touches every dish that comes out of the kitchen, doesn’t stop there. He’s an award-winning pastry chef, whose sweets are on display at the pastry counter in the back of the restaurant. If it’s on the menu, don’t skip the stracchino mousse, a subtle fresh cheese mousse that may be almost too beautiful to eat. More info: 516-922-2212, autenticooysterbay.com
Nikkei of Peru
Nikkei of Peru (94 South St.): A year after finding critical success in Port Washington, Nikkei of Peru expanded to sushi-deprived Oyster Bay in 2017. Owner Barry Wohl, who has since opened another location in Westchester County and has plans to open more locations, saw an opportunity in the narrow South Street space that previously housed a pizzeria, Verona Una. Wohl has teamed with chef-partner Hermanto Jong, who also goes by Asa, and who trained in the city at the original Nobu 57 and its sister, Nobu Next Door. Nikkei can refer to people who migrated from Japan, in this case to Peru, and the menu here is a mashup of the two cultures. More info: 516-226-1810, nikkeiofperu.com
Osteria Leana (76 South St.): Like the Schenkers, Peter Van Der Mije and his family moved from the city for a less hectic life on Long Island. After a few years of working as a private chef, Van Der Mije, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked under top city toques including Marcus Samuelsson, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Kluger, missed the bustle of the restaurant kitchen. Oyster Bay offered a space close to home, and cheap rent, and Osteria Leana was born. Located off the main drag, in the original home of Oyster Bay Brewing Co. and a space that was once the town jail, this laid back Italian restaurant takes its cues and name from the chef’s grandmother. The 40-seat eatery features an open kitchen where you will find Van Der Mije toiling away on a seasonal menu that changes regularly and includes creative takes on classics including a house-made linguine. More info: 516-584-6995, osterialeana.com
2 Spring (2 Spring St.): The newest addition to the Oyster Bay restaurant scene is also one that has solidified the hamlet’s new status as a Long Island dining destination. The reason: Jesse Schenker, the wunderkind chef whose accolades run deep. He trained under celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, ran two acclaimed Manhattan restaurants — Recette and The Gander — and beat Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian in a plantain cooking challenge. Last year, Schenker and his wife, Lindsay, made the decision to walk away from their go-go city life and move east, lured by the prospect of raising the culinary bar on Long Island and an easier family life raising their three children in the suburbs. So 2 Spring replaced the much-beleaguered Italian restaurant Cafe al Dente, which was padlocked by the town in a move that became the subject of a lawsuit. Owners Michael and Claudia Taglich bought the crumbling building and have spared no expense sprucing it up, creating a 45-seat restaurant that is spread out over two floors and decorated in sleek accents that include exposed brick, lots of glass and clean lines. There is a lively bar scene, exceptional service and, come summer, a patio. It’s all designed to complement Schenker’s American bistro fare, which relies on seasonal ingredients as much as possible and changes regularly. Salt cod fritters are topped with lamb ragu and a curry aioli, roasted chicken is paired with a crispy wedge of chicken confit and pastas are made in-house. For now, getting a table at dinner requires a reservation weeks in advance. For last-minute eaters, try the bar, or better yet go for lunch or brunch, the only time the excellent beefy dry-aged cheeseburger is on the menu. More info: 516-624-2411, 2springstreet.com
Oyster Bay Brewing Co.
Oyster Bay Brewing Co. (36 Audrey Ave.): The pioneer of the hamlet’s food revival, Oyster Bay Brewing Co., is the brainchild of Gabe Haim and Ryan Schlotter, friends who got their start as homebrewers and decided to open a brewery in 2013 in Oyster Bay because it was about equal distance from their respective homes. It’s clear the pair was onto something. With more than 40 breweries and growing on Long Island, Oyster Bay was on the forefront of the brewery boom in Nassau. The friends were quickly met with success from a town thirsty for something new and hip. In 2016, the brewery’s growth allowed them to move to a much larger space on Audrey Avenue. Today, they produce more than a dozen beers, including the Barn Rocker, which can be found across the Island and on the menu at Nassau Coliseum. But stop by the tasting room, and you’ll find a festive atmosphere where beer flows, TVs are tuned to sports and there are plenty of video games to keep you entertained if beer nerddom is not enough to keep your attention. More info: 516-802-5546, oysterbaybrewing.com