S.T.A.G.S TAP HOUSE
308 Main St., Huntington
SERVICE: Prompt and knowledgeable
AMBIENCE: The woods lodge meets Main Street at S.T.A.G.S Tap House, where gastropub fare courts a crowd looking for more than the average burger and a beer.
ESSENTIALS: Open for dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible, street parking.
Despite the name, you will not be inundated with bachelor party debauchery at S.T.A.G.S Tap House. The new spot in Huntington will appeal to diners craving dishes that pair well with beer — snacks, comfort food classics and meaty dishes more interesting than a bar menu of wings, burgers and quesadillas. Even with its over-the-top, dude food aesthetic, S.T.A.G.S mostly succeeds.
Of course, there are burgers, though spreads, sides and multiple meats show more personality. A broccolini and pimento starter, served warm with a side of chips in a bag, offers an addictive spin on a spinach and artichoke dip, and Montauk fish and chips — even with a side of mushy peas — can hold up to anyone’s favorite.
Since consulting chef Adam Goldgell has earned a fine reputation, partners Jeffrey States, Joe Forgione and partner-restaurant manager Michael Garbedian have given him carte blanche with the menu. Goldgell’s résumé includes his runner-up spot on the first season of Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” with Robert Irvine. Locally, he ran the kitchen at Reel in East Rockaway, as well as former restaurants Hog House BBQ in Huntington Station, Panama Hatties in Huntington Station and Sugo Cafe in Long Beach. Once he established the menu and systems in the kitchen, Koji Kakimoto took over as executive chef.
Inside the restaurant, deer references steer memory away from their menacing reputation for eating a garden down to nubs. A narrow, woodsy dining room riffs on a lodge, with restroom entrances outfitted like barn doors labeled “Does” and “Stags.” This isn’t the kind of spot where you’ll have to talk over the Red Hot Chili Pepper channel on Pandora, nor will you have to shout across the table to be heard. Service is tight, perfunctory and refreshingly untethered from the “have-you-been-here-before” script.
You can relax here if this is your kind of place, a haven for craft beer lovers and their companions. It’s one of a growing number of spots that pay tribute to local brews: in this case, 40 on tap, nearly 30 in cans or bottles.
A session pilsner goes well with starters like the smoked trout — the sleeper of spreads, comprising fish from Cold Spring Hatchery doctored with apples, capers, pickles and herbed mayo.
The Ball jar it’s served in shares a leaf-shaped plate with toast, but you should swap it for crackers, tortillas or gougères delivered upon arrival. Do not miss the schmaltz served with breads, golden delicious chicken fat that trumps butter.
Other starters push boundaries by piling on ingredients, such as Danish meatballs with artichoke hearts finely chopped and mixed in with breadcrumbs, then drizzled with a grain mustard cream. It almost works, unlike the jerk pork belly, a mess of ingredients including roasted pineapple salsa and macadamia nut butter.
That broccolini with pimento cheese is all the more charming with that bag of chips. Besides, who doesn’t like warm cheese? Speaking of which, the mac and cheese with breadcrumbs, when it’s on the menu, would win a contest. Sometimes it has lobster in it (which is an eye-roller for me: Who wants to sully beautiful lobster with Cheddar or American cheese? And yet people do). The doneness of the macaroni, the consistency of the cheese are just right, which is less common than you’d think.
Among entrees, fish and chips point to England, the nexus for gastropubs. Wearing tempura-light golden batter and served with perfect skin-on fries, this would be my go-to if I were to become a regular here, even if those mushy peas, layered with pearl onions and what looks like La Choy crispy noodles, don’t quite come together.
About that burger: It’s perfectly respectable, spare or weighted down with pimento cheese, mushrooms or gravy — presented like a knife in the heart on a plate. It’s a detail of the dude food genre, yet dishes and service here exceed expectations. And it’s clear the staff at S.T.A.G.S is having fun.