Stuffed rabbit roulade at The Rabbit Hole Bar & Grill...

Stuffed rabbit roulade at The Rabbit Hole Bar & Grill in Merrick. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

The day-to-day work of running a restaurant is so consuming, it’s difficult to step back and look at the big picture. But that’s what Stephen Rosenbluth did earlier this fall, and the result was the shuttering of his 9-year-old Merrick seafood restaurant, Anchor Down, and its relaunch as The Rabbit Hole Bar & Grill. 

“The demographics in Merrick have definitely changed,” said the chef-owner. “A lot of my customers were older and, during COVID, many of them moved to Florida.” The new wave in Merrick, he observed, was younger families, often on tighter budgets and looking for a more contemporary experience.

Then, too, the seafood concept came with its own challenges: “The price of fish isn’t as high as it was last year,” he said, “but even so, it fluctuates so much, it’s hard to control your food costs.” Nor had he ever solved a problem posed by Anchor Down’s location tucked away in a marina but with no water view: “From the beginning, we kept getting comments like ‘A seafood restaurant should be on the water, not near the water.’ ”

“Near the Water,” in fact, was one of the names he considered for the reboot. But he settled on The Rabbit Hole Bar & Grill because it made a virtue of being out of the way and a little hard to find. “The idea was to give it a speakeasy feeling,” he said. “We made the décor more streamlined and tried to give it a '20s vibe.”

To make The Rabbit Hole more affordable than Anchor Down, Rosenbluth created a small-plates menu with a dozen items priced $18 or less. There’s NOLA-style grilled oysters, root beer-glazed Duroc pork belly, Thai bang-bang shrimp, a tower of fried halloumi cheese, poutine, nori-wrapped tuna, Bavarian pretzel and, or course, fried calamari. Also under the $18 mark: Soups, salads, burgers and tacos. None of the larger entrees — among them, chicken Milanese, hanger steak, braised short ribs and a rabbit roulade served over ratatouille — costs more than $24. Desserts, most of them made in house, top out at $10.

Rosenbluth thinks of the new venue as a cross between a bistro and a drinks-forward gastropub. To that end, he is offering a dozen well-chosen (and well-priced) wines by the glass and bottle; beers local, imported and seasonal; and a roster of signature cocktails one of which, The Silver Fox (Absolut Citron, triple sec, lime, white cranberry juice and edible glitter) honors his late father, Hal Rosenbluth, who died last year.

Last year Rosenbluth also split from his wife and business partner, Jennifer Rubin. She is now the sole owner of their second restaurant, Anchor Down Dockside, in Seaford (closed, as usual, during the winter).

The Rabbit Hole, 1960 Bayberry Ave., Merrick, 516-544-4334, therabbitholeli.com. Open Tuesday to Thursday 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday 4:30 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday noon to 10:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m., closed Monday.

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