115 Main St., Port Jefferson
SERVICE: Has a sense of humor about the sometimes bewildering menu. Dishes come quickly and are bussed just as quickly.
AMBIENCE: A seaside breakfast place meets a modern speakeasy. Narrow, loud and freewheeling.
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Reservations not accepted; major credit cards accepted; street parking; wheelchair accessible.
The potato chips are on fire. At least, that’s what it looks on the table near the door — flames lick upward around a towering burger. And wait, is that a glazed doughnut on top?
The recipient takes out their iPhone. You probably will as well, several times, during a meal at Prohibition Kitchen in Port Jefferson. Despite the sense you’re being wink-winked toward social media moments, it’s hard to stifle the urge to snap dishes such as PB&J wings showered with peanuts, oversized pretzels dangling from hooks, or rococo milkshakes with rainbow-sprinkle rims. Improbably, these showy dishes work — most of the time, at least. Also improbably, you can down a steady stream of fried things such as crispy cauliflower hunks encrusted with pulverized Ritz crackers and still not segue into food-induced couch lock.
Prohibition Kitchen is the brainchild of Lisa Harris, who once owned Caffe Portofino in Northport, founded (and sold) Morning Sunshine Breakfast Cookies and two years ago opened a doughnut shop around the corner from here, East Main & Main. Tom Fazio, a chef trained in hospitality at the New York Institute of Technology, does double duty as executive chef and general manager.
Petite by most restaurant standards, Prohibition Kitchen is a narrow, loud, vaguely nautical-slash-vintagey room of wooden booths and tables, with Instagrammable details aplenty, such as a giant neon sign that reads “Boozy" behind the bar. Also behind that bar, beers and wines all come from New York State (Bridge Lane wines are on tap) and cocktails are dialed in, from a spicy rye-based julep, a bracing Manhattan and more delicate numbers such as the Coraline, a fruity, summery gin drink finished with sparkling wine. (At 10 p.m., lights are dimmed and drinks are served in teacups as they would have been during Prohibition — hence the name).
The flipbook menu is confusing to navigate: Breakfast is served all day, desserts cover many pages, and categories seem to bleed into each other, as if breakfast wants to cross-dress as dinner and vice versa. Fortunately, servers have a sense of humor and can help parse out existential questions such as, do I really want lobster mac-and-cheese inside a doughnut? (Yes, you probably do). Or a burger on an everything bagel? (Probably not). Or flaming potato chips?
What's clear as day is that this is not a place to come for wellness reasons. Doughnuts are plentiful, half the menu is given over to sweet things, and it’s hard to leave without eating something fried. There are four fryers in the kitchen — including one filled with duck fat, which lends the giant pretzel its shattery crust (it also comes with luscious brew cheese and pungent mustard). That fine-tuned frying process, whether by pan or fryer, yields things such as downright awesome fried green tomatoes with crumbled goat cheese and robust pesto of hemp and arugula, or that decadent lobster mac-and-cheese-filled doughnut, which ends up tasting lighter than it sounds and whose lobster melts into the entire thing for a briny backbeat. Or fried chicken of the extra-crispy variety as the star element of the Dirty Mother Clucker, a sandwich that comes on a glazed doughnut slicked with a white chorizo gravy. It one-ups chicken and waffles, though I do not wish to know its caloric load.
Burger-wise, that bacon burger (with cream cheese) on an everything bagel is not memorable enough to wrangle its challenging size — I preferred the kitschy Americana of the smashed house burger, called Captain Midnight, with melted American cheese and the kind of special secret sauce that renders good burgers great. A pulled pork sandwich of what's billed as “cinnamon-chipotle pork butt,” was soupy and much too sweet.
Vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians get some love with things such as fried edamame dumplings (slightly clobbered by their orange-soy-tamarind sauce) and a hybrid pan-Asian noodle bowl that combines cold soba with a soft-boiled egg, cucumber, mushrooms and sambal oelek that seethes with heat. The kitchen’s riff on mussels, in a coconut-milk broth with swirling Indian spices, is spectacular. A watermelon, hemp-arugula pesto and feta salad felt tired, though, and a lobster roll rendition called the Knuckle Sandwich was way too fishy to take more than one bite of.
Desserts exemplify a high level of craftiness, such as a "cake" of crepes melded together with cream and showered with cocoa, simple but clever. A gooey s'mores skillet is a crowd favorite but my money is on a shareable urn of lemon pound cake that soaks in blueberries, lemon sauce and gelato from above. It's enormous, over the top, and unnecessary, exactly the kind of reason you'll come here in the first place.