95 Hudson Ave., Freeport
SERVICE: Attentive, experienced
AMBIENCE: Bright main dining room with canal, marina view
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 10:30 p.m., Sunday to 9 p.m., closed Monday. Reservations recommended on weekends; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair ramp at entrance.
Perched above a tranquil canal and marina, Pier 95 presides over dining out in Freeport.
While decibels rise and expectations fall regularly along the village’s high-octane, highly publicized Nautical Mile, nearby Pier 95 quietly has become one of Long Island’s top seafood spots as well as a dependable destination for fine Portuguese cuisine.
Owner and executive chef Ramiro Santos oversees the main dining room, a bright and inviting one in hues of cream and white. The room was completely rebuilt after superstorm Sandy, which sent 4 feet of water inside and closed the place for more than eight months.
Santos and his staff also ensure the appeal of the woody, clubby bar area, which remains a comfortable alternative for the aqua-averse or anyone wanting to see sports on TV.
Decorating the water-view dining area is a colorful painting of a ship at sea and a couple of vintage portraits that suggest the fisherman you imagine onboard. They suit a site where diners watch the Hudson Canal waters ripple, see boats go by, follow gliding birds and enjoy a long, pastel summer twilight.
On a Saturday night, the place is packed with families, couples dating and the occasional birthday party. It does get a little noisy, but not from overexcited Instagrammers and influencers, or anyone insisting cellphone chatter go public. The result is near-retro appeal.
Conversations are often over oysters and littlenecks on the half shell. Diners nibble on flavorful black olives and slather herb butter on crusty, dense, addictive broa, the classic Portuguese bread. All of which precede a terrific appetizer from Santos and chef de cuisine Antonio Mira: braised, sliced octopus in olive oil, fueled by paprika and garlic. That bread is ideal for cleaning the plate.
The competition comes from cod cakes set on an herbaceous tomato sauce, sweet steamed clams, tender clams casino, and mussels finished with white wine, sweet peppers, tomato, and herbs. The traditional saute of pork and clams Alentejana, a Portuguese surf and turf, delivers a plate of authenticity.
Santos and Mira are equally at ease with American favorites, from meaty Maryland crabcakes and the elemental shrimp cocktail to New England-style clam chowder and a coral-shaded lobster soup that’s a tasty cousin of bisque, floating nubbins of shellfish. You can continue the theme with a perfectly steamed 2-pound lobster, set on a platter with a hillock of shoestring fries.
Plump sea scallops benefit from a Bearnaise sauce tinted with tomato. Veer Italian with a generous serving of linguine with lobster, shrimp, clams and mussels in a tomato-and-white wine sauce. Try the paella Valenciana, this version an ample union of shellfish, chouriço sausage, pork, chicken and white rice.
Pier 95’s big catch, however, is finfish. A special of monkfish medallions capped with a creamy, toasted almond sauce should be a regular. Likewise, a hefty cut of striped bass, which arrives from the oven on a shallow pool of saffron sauce, flanked by clams. The accompanying risotto, however, is more like plain rice with spinach.
Grilled swordfish is expertly crosshatched and is topped with lemon-ginger sauce; seared, rare tuna, with citrus-soy sauce. The whole, grilled branzino rivals them. Evocative and excellent: bacalhau, or desalted cod, with roasted peppers and a garlic-and-olive oil infusion.
If you’re not looking for seafood, Pier 95 also prepares a very good riff on steak Diane and roasted duck with blueberry sauce; and if you want dessert, strawberries Romanoff and flan are apropos.
Pier 95 still hooks you. It was and is the best restaurant in Freeport.