Snaps American Bistro in Wantagh is almost always slamming, no matter what night you go. Though the décor is modest at best and the parking is minimal, this warm and welcoming restaurant is where locals go for a menu that veers between fancy and comfort food.
Dinner Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.; brunch Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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Longevity is a rarity among Long Island restaurants. This week, we revisit Snaps American Bistro in Wantagh.
Eleven years old and Snaps is slamming. On a Tuesday night, almost every table is taken. Show up Thursday to Saturday without a reservation, and you're liable to wait an hour. Folks aren't coming for flash. Snaps' decor is modest at best, and the location, in an even more modest shopping center, has minimal parking.
Chef-owner Scott Bradley's cooking earned two stars in 2004 from Newsday's Peter M. Gianotti, a half-star more than it deserves now. Bradley doesn't follow such current trends as local, seasonal or pared down. Ingredients are not encouraged to speak for themselves; in fact, their voices often are muffled by cream or truffle oil -- or both.
The menu veers between fancy and comfort food. One recent evening, our party ordered the chef's tasting menu ($50 for eight generous courses) to sample the fancy. Lobster bisque, our first course, was oversalted and tasted mainly of cream and truffle oil, as did the next course, truffled gnocchi with Parmesan.
Bradley cooks meat with skill. Hanger steak, served with creamed spinach, horseradish cream and truffled fries, was perfectly seared. But platings can be dated and dull: A chicken Milanese cutlet was topped with an overdressed salad of arugula, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. A perfectly nice lamb chop was saddled with an almost identical salad garnish.
Forays into Asian territory don't pan out. Tuna tartare was suspended in mayonnaise and served with potato chips and lackluster seaweed salad. Grilled shrimp in a Thai-curry-mango broth with noodles had none of the vigor of actual Thai cooking, only the sweetness.
Snaps attracts scores of weeknight diners for its themed bargain dinners: $5 tacos (two of them) on Tuesdays, $5 fried chicken on Wednesdays, $5 bacon-cheeseburgers on Thursdays. Lifeless tacos consisted of dry tortillas, dull braised chicken, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. Fried chicken was OK, though less of a bargain considering that each of the accompanying sides also cost $5. Burgers were big, attractive, well dressed and tasty. But stay away from a shrimp po-boy whose bountiful (and succulent) spicy breaded shrimp were ill served by a partially baked baguette that the kitchen hadn't bothered to brown.
Every time I've eaten at Snaps, I have chatted with patrons at neighboring tables who are absolutely loving their meals (the same meals I am absolutely not loving). Clearly, Bradley is giving people what they want. And what they seem to want is a warm, welcoming restaurant with big portions that are appealingly described and well priced. Would Snaps do more business if the food were fresher and better executed? Probably not. Which, in a nutshell, is the dilemma faced by so many Long Island restaurateurs.