Snaps American Bistro
13 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre
SERVICE: Professional and on point
AMBIENCE: Raucous or intimate, depending on the hour
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.; closed Monday. Credit cards accepted. Street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
At the end of a recent meal, while waiting for my credit card to be bruised by an area restaurant, a dinner companion and I decided to pass the time by engaging in a thought experiment. The topic: had the two hamburger dinners we’d just eaten been a prudent use of $110. Yes, the burgers had been delicious; yes, we’d also had drinks and apps; yes, the conversation was lively. But was it $110 lively? Should I have spent the evening with my friend or bought a 32-inch TV? If we’d had a nightcap, could I have paid off my car?
It’s grumblings like these that have created an opening for restaurants like Snaps, which after 15 years spent cultivating a loyal following in Wantagh, opened a second eatery in Rockville Centre in January. There, on any Thursday evening, a large, exceptional burger can be had — a half-pound blend of house-ground chuck, hanger steak and short rib meat — for the say-what-now price of five dollars. Five. If this doesn’t forever change the face of Thursday nights in Rockville Centre, I don’t know what will.
To dismiss such deals as a come-on — Snaps also has a $5 fried chicken night on Wednesday, and a $5 chicken taco night on Tuesday — is to misunderstand the aggrieved state in which the dining public increasingly finds itself. Even as more of us eat out more often than ever, prices at fine dining establishments only rise, as does our disenchantment with them, provoking a backlash and creating an opening for chef Scott Bradley and his wife, Patty, Snaps’ owners.
So why is the place packed on Friday evenings, when there are no $5 deals? Because of Snaps’ ingenuity at converting one-offs into subscribers. They come for the deals, but come back for the excellent wait service and extensive menu, for a kitchen that’s lightning fast and rarely screws up. Does this explain why diners happily fork over $36 for Snaps’ marquee rib-eye steak with rosemary garlic potatoes? No. The high-quality beef aged in-house and perfectly cooked has much to do with it. But Snaps’ consistency and professionalism are not to be overlooked.
In such an atmosphere, most everything tastes better than it has a right to — the chicken Parmesan sandwich, for instance, its tight focaccia construction exploding with tomato sauce and mozzarella lava flowing toward a side of spaghetti. A delectable pancetta-flecked risotto helps you forgive the underseasoned salmon atop it, a flavorful cup of au jus does the same for a desiccated pork sandwich.
Like most menus these days, Bradley’s gallops madly through many of the world’s cuisines, yet only the schmancy stuff seems truly out of place. A gloppy finger sandwich of lobster topped by a fried egg topped by arugula tastes even odder than it sounds when served in Snaps’ fun, almost aggressively informal dining room (Mason jar light fixtures, specials unfurling from a wall-mounted roll of butcher paper). Then again, the blue cheese and short rib quesadilla, schmancy in the extreme, is as terrific as Snaps’ tarted-up, non-5-buck burger offerings. My favorite: the Cali, a thick spackling of caramelized onions, prosciutto and spreadable goat cheese that some might call life-changing without meaning it. I, however, do.
Chickpea fries are here to stay and there’s no pretending otherwise, so you might as well make the best of it and enjoy Bradley’s Jenga-size pieces with a few bewitching squirts of olive aioli. The same goes for the now dangerously ubiquitous churro, which Snaps imagines as a flaming hot cinnamon stick doused with a blob of mocha ice cream, and I imagine you’ll fight everyone at the table for.
Don’t get me wrong. There will always be things that puzzle me about the place, and I don’t mean the bacon mustard Brussels sprouts, which actually cleverly tame that bitter brassica, or the overly messy shrimp po'boy. Nope, it’s stuff like those juicy chicken teriyaki wontons served in the cute Chinese takeout box, that cuteness marred by a flavorless blob of soba within.
And yet, even as I mused over these miscues at Snaps’ bar one afternoon, my reservations about the place seemed to magically melt away, leaving nothing but admiration in their wake. Five-dollar happy hour martinis will do that to you.