Suddenly -- steak.
And a lot more on the side, too.
Long Island, where the carnivorous believe it's prime time all the time, is greeting a new generation of Suffolk steakhouses that broadens the audience and expands the menus.
Reserve a table at George Martin's Strip Steak in Great River, a top-10 restaurant in 2011, for chops, seafood and steaks as varied as unadorned porterhouse and a spin on the kingly veal dish, here steak Oscar, completed with crabmeat and asparagus.
These establishments build on the classic menus at, for example, Peter Luger in Great Neck, where it's likely that you know what you want before you sit down: a shellfish cocktail and porterhouse steak, creamed spinach and fried potatoes.
"Among the things we like are new versions of things we know," said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, a consumer marketing research firm in Port Washington. "Count on it that steak will be a part of our life," even in an up-and-down economy.
He added: "One out of 100" restaurant visits are to fine-dining establishments where the appeal is "fuel, art and entertainment. ... 20 years ago, you'd have never said to me that a steak house has a sushi bar." Now, it's a "way to stay contemporary."
In Suffolk, you cut into steak and a wider repertoire at some standbys -- Tellers Chophouse in Islip; Prime, Mac's and Black & Blue in downtown Huntington; Pace's in Hauppauge and Port Jefferson; and 21 Main in West Sayville, all of which are still sizzling.
Here are the four newbies that have set the Suffolk steak scene on a roll:
INSIGNIA 3 stars
Welcome to the fun house, brought to you by Anthony Scotto of Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville and Rare650 in Syosset. Insignia's over-the-top approach makes its forefathers seem like cloisters. The sprawling, swaggering showstopper is packed regularly. Getting a weekend reservation at a respectable hour already is an adventure. Part of the appeal is the very Vegas look and high-roller style. How do you resist floating glass light fixtures that look like ice cubes? The two-story wine room? Or the wide-ranging wine list, presented via tablet computer, even if entry-level is about $40?
Recommended All steaks, the raw bar staples, pristine sushi, whole grilled fish, seafood chowder, "seven spice" Kobe mini-burgers and, for a trace of modesty, warm cinnamon doughnuts. $$$-$$$$+
J. MICHAELS TUSCAN STEAKHOUSE 3 stars
In the 19th-century house that for decades was home to La Capannina, J. Michaels Tuscan Steakhouse combines two of Long Island's favorite cuisines. The theme is "Old World charm, New World dining," a balancing act that works in a dining room lit so that it almost glows. The steakery essentials are buttressed with excellent Italian cooking. J. Michaels also is notable for its friendly, easygoing service, which sometimes turns more formal with a hot towel offered after each course.
Recommended All steaks, Barolo-braised short ribs, cured-salmon rolls filled with crabmeat, lobster meatballs, seared sashimi-grade tuna with mint relish and charred tomato, traditional spaghetti and meatballs, side-dish vegetables, chocolate mousse pie, cheesecake, berries with crème anglaise. $$$
GEORGE MARTIN'S STRIP STEAK 2 1/2 stars
60 River Rd., Great River
The eastern outpost of the George Martin restaurant group, Strip Steak is situated at the end of the Southern State Parkway and the edge of Heckscher State Park. The original George Martin is an American-style bistro in Rockville Centre. This handsome place is full of polished wood and boasts a fireplace. And, overall, there's an inviting union of the unpretentious and the fanciful. Service is especially attentive; the mood, relaxed and comfortable.
Recommended Porterhouse steak, filet mignon, maple-brined Berkshire pork chop with roasted pears, merlot-braised beef short ribs, sesame-crusted tuna, oysters Rockefeller, salads, cocktails, cheesecake, apple crisp, chocolate and vanilla crèmes brûlée. $$$
GRILL 454 1 star
88 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Commack
The most modest member of the new foursome, Grill 454 is affiliated with AJ Maxwell's, the surf-and-turf restaurant near Rockefeller Center that once housed The Forum of the Twelve Caesars. The prices here generally are easier to take and the appointments don't rivet your attention. Grill 454 is at the location that used to house Charlie Brown's, at the east end of a shopping center anchored by King Kullen. There's a busy bar and a more private dining area situated between it and the main dining room.
Recommended Filet mignon, bone-in sirloin, hanger steak, shellfish cocktails, salads, eggplant Parmigiana, chicken Parmigiana, steamed lobster, seared halibut, red snapper oreganata, cheesecake. $$-$$$
A star is rising
FOOD 3 stars
10 Pinelawn Rd., Melville
When Blackstone Steakhouse opened in 2005, it earned a two-star rating and immediately upgraded dining out near Route 110 in Melville.
Based on recent visits, the restaurant itself deserves an upgrade, too.
In addition to Lanza's excellent food, Blackstone has refined and enhanced its level of service. And the ambience continues to have a party-in-progress quality at dinner; a businessman's club at lunch. The decibels are high day and night.
Either way, have a steak: sirloin, filet mignon, rib, porterhouse, all outstanding. Catch the shellfish cocktails and the raw bar. Sample some superior uncooked fish, fatty tuna to fluke, yellowtail carpaccio to tuna tartare.
Try Lanza's sesame-crusted halibut, grilled whole fish of the day, lobster-and-crab salad, porcini-dusted diver sea scallops, braised Berkshire pork belly, pan-roasted pork chops, short ribs with mushroom risotto.
Side dishes and desserts, while not the reason to dine here, are better than before, too.
Sometimes, updating a restaurant is a dreary affair. Here: fun.
The Nassau competition
There are very good steakhouses elsewhere in Nassau, of course, from Frank's Steaks in Jericho and Rockville Centre to Rare650 in Syosset, Brooks & Porter in Merrick, Jake's Steakhouse in East Meadow, Chas. Rothmann's in East Norwich.
But the concentration of long-standing bastions of beef continues to make the boulevard a meaty destination.
You'll find Peter Luger, Morton's and Burton & Doyle near one another in Great Neck. And, continuing east, you'll reach Bryant & Cooper in Roslyn. Each one is a best surprise-is-no-surprise destination with very devoted fans and central-casting waiters. They're all currently rated two stars.
2 Middle Neck Rd. (at Northern Boulevard), Roslyn
516-627-7698, bryantandcooper.com $$$-$$$$
661 Northern Blvd., Great Neck
516-487-9200, burtonanddoyle.com $$$-$$$$
777 Northern Blvd., Great Neck
516-498-2950, mortons.com/greatneck $$$-$$$$
255 Northern Blvd., Great Neck
516-487-8800, peterluger.com $$$-$$$$