Some changes happen with a flourish. Others are quieter and deliberately under the radar. So it was with the transfer of power at Rustic Root in Woodbury, which may look the same as it did a year ago, but has had an under-the-hood rewiring.
Last fall, chef Chris Perrotta and Frank Ubriaco, who run Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails in Wantagh, heard that Rustic Root — a larger spot about a 15-minute shot up Route 135, was up for sale, a few months after one of its partners, Keith Giannadeo, had passed away.
“We weren’t really looking for a new place,” said Perrotta, who with Ubriaco had opened Blackbird in 2016. Yet they also recognized a simpatico of sorts between the two places — Blackbird, an intimate bistro known for fresh pastas and seasonal cooking, and Rustic Root, a twice-as-large, slightly more casual spot that had also opened in 2016, when farm-to-table was rooting itself as guiding restaurant ethos. “The location was fantastic. It’s not as hyper-seasonal as Blackbird, but pretty much was in the same genre. It kind of fit.”
The new partners took the reins last fall, leaving the urban farmhouse décor and outdoor patio intact as they gradually shifted the menu and adapted to an additional daily service: Lunch.
What eventually took their place on the menu were some of Perrotta’s signatures, such as the fresh pastas he is known for, from rigatoni (served with a braised short-rib sugo) to supple agnolotti filled with summer corn — which the chef finds at nearby Meyer’s Farm Stand — and drizzled with pesto.
“Just the fact that it’s so close is a match made in heaven,” said Perrotta, who has been hitting up the farm for years, and might also grab zucchini, heirloom tomatoes and “every single herb. I am literally there every morning picking up stuff for both restaurants.”
Those zucchini are seared and served with salsa verde, pickled onions and queso fresco for a vegetarian spin on tacos, an appetizer; the sweet corn also goes into hush puppies with bacon and jalapeño. Cacio e pepe arancini, wings and a curl of octopus with fregola, olives, blood orange, chili and Meyer lemon aioli are also among the small plates ($9 to $22) and salads. Besides pastas, larger dishes ($19 to $50) include a hefty burger blanketed in raclette cheese; roasted prawns and chorizo in a beurre blanc sauce, over polenta; seared halibut with cucumbers and jalapeño (the kitchen serves a rotation of fresh fish from Copiague’s Gra-Bar); and a dry-aged strip steak with bordelaise sauce. Sunday brunch brings buttermilk pancakes, egg sandwiches (with roasted mushrooms, chives, bacon and Gruyere), and a lox and cream cheese flatbread with everything seasoning; and among the desserts is a crumbly maple bread pudding with house vanilla gelato.
Blackbird, consistently on Newsday’s list of top 100 restaurants, is also known for cocktails. Though the bar at Rustic Root is smaller, Ubriaco said the drinks menu has been retooled by beverage director Elizabeth Donahue, who introduced a tequila old fashioned, a bourbon-spiked spin on an Arnold Palmer and summer quaffs like vodka with watermelon or tequila with honey, lime, and blueberry ale. On tap are a handful of local beers, and by-the glass wines run to a few from Cutchogue’s Bedell Cellars. Coffee comes from Mongo’s Coffee in Syosset.
Both Perrotta and Ubriaco now shuttle between both places. Asked where he could be found on any given evening, the chef joked “On 135.” In Wantagh, longtime chef Carlos Vargas holds down the fort.
Rustic Root is open for lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday at 7927 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury; 516-364-5041, rusticrootkitchen.com