ST. JAMES PUBLIC HOUSE
552 North Country Rd., St. James
SERVICE: “Cheers”-like hospitality from a hardworking staff.
AMBIENCE: Sleek roadhouse, with comfy booths in the bar, live music on the weekends, and a step-down dining room accented with mid-century modern textiles and lighting fixtures.
ESSENTIALS: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day; credit cards, wheelchair accessible
At 6 on a recent Saturday night, the hostess is apologetic. All of the tables in the dining room of this new roadhouse from the owners of Twisted Tavern in Bohemia and Seven Quarts Tavern in Northport, have been reserved.
Not to worry: We grab seats next to strangers at a communal pub table in the bar and our new best friends enthusiastically recommend the shepherd’s pie and French onion soup.
The dining room, with its exposed brick, beamed ceilings, and globe light fixtures, is attractive. But the lively bar, with its deep booths, flat-screen televisions and servers rushing back and forth with drinks, is not a bad place to share beer- and wine-friendly soups, salads, burgers and skillet dinners.
The seafood appetizers mostly disappoint. Four small “black and bleu” shrimp (not particularly blackened, and kind of skimpy), swim in a thin carrot and celery broth and aren’t enhanced by the blob of blue cheese that tops each one. The baked clams are difficult to discover under mountains of unremarkable crumb topping. Better to start with that fragrant onion soup, which bubbles as it is brought to the table. For fans of the wedge salad, the Public House’s version is exemplary. Don’t expect a dieter’s special. Half a chilled head of iceberg lettuce arrives at the table topped with a mountain of crispy fried onions. The blue cheese dressing is plentiful and tangy. Copious bacon bits garnish the dish.
This is a kitchen that loves bacon. The applewood smoked bacon mac-and-cheese arrives piping hot in a cast iron skillet, loaded with lardons. Crushed potato chips on top balance the extreme gooeyness of the three-cheese sauce. I hate to disagree with my tablemates, but the shepherd’s pie wasn’t great, the ground beef in Guinness gravy a little bit greasy and overly sweet, the mashed potato topping not entirely warmed through. A better choice is the semi-boneless chicken, butterflied, pan-seared, and then roasted. What a pleasure when the chef does all that work so you don’t have to pick the bones.
The Public House burger is 8 delicious ounces of house-ground beef on a brioche roll. The accompanying fries were plentiful but limp. The tuna burger, well-seasoned with a teriyaki glaze and Sriracha aioli, arrives with a little Chinese takeout container full of soba noodle salad. Points for presentation, but the side dish was bland.
When the best dessert is a slice of Holey Moses cheesecake (imported from the Westhampton Beach bakery), you know that sweets are not the kitchen’s priority. An unimpressively thin piece of Key lime pie had a metallic aftertaste. The molten chocolate cake was properly underdone, but swapped artificial flavoring for deep chocolate flavor. Better to follow the example of my neighbors and order a brandy or an Irish coffee for the road.