605 Main St., Islip
SERVICE: Efficient, sometimes officious
AMBIENCE: Luxe looks
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 3 p.m.to 9 p.m. Off-street parking and valet. Wheelchair accessible.
You are not the kind of guy to spend 600 bucks on dinner for four, but here you are, about to do it. Maybe it’s that roaring fire and gleaming copper bar in the lounge, or the bank lobby turned bustling dining room, undeniably sumptuous even though you hate that word, with its impossibly high ceilings and 30-foot windows and glowing Deco wall sconces and artificial trees. In the 1920s and ’30s, when Tellers was still the First National Bank of Islip, tens of thousands of dollars were produced on-site annually — that is, they literally printed money. And as the hostess escorts you past tan banquettes, zigzagging around platters of mammoth crustaceans boiled orange and beef Wellingtons and multitiered shellfish towers, it sometimes seems like they’ve never stopped.
As long as the table orders mojitos, the conversation stays on the level of Adele’s weight loss, but things deepen significantly once you opt for a smoked Manhattan or Negroni, both cocktails that Tellers ages in barrels on the premises so for once you can “taste true luxury.” You’re more the bottomless basket of cornbread type, which the uppity waiter seems to have divined, directing your attention to an appetizer of black pepper bacon, which is actually an inch-thick slab of pork belly with a tongue-tingling horseradish glaze and inky sear. The joy you take in polishing it off suggests a man with a serious statin prescription in his future.
Next to this, the baked clams can hardly compete, and indeed, the nine overly breaded specimens stare up at you apologetically from a plate strewn with kelp, as if someone had just plucked them fresh-baked from the sea. The lobster and seafood wontons strike you as first efforts by untalented origami students, but they're interesting. The only starters to truly escape the bacon’s long, porky shadow, though, are the lobster bisque and duck fat fries, once more confirming that there are few things in this world that can’t be improved by duck fat. Your screams of acclaim as you swab potatoes through mustard-mayo sauce are tempered only by an oddly sour Caesar salad, its English muffin croutons so hard, talk of carbon dating ensues.
But you haven’t come to Tellers for any of that, not really. Tonight, just tonight, you want to feast qualmlessly on a steak. Tomorrow is for thinking about methane emissions, Amazon wildfires, heart disease and the impossibility of knowing whether a happy cow is really happy. Tonight is for the Celebration Strip, 20 ounces of the finest dry-aged, bourbon-tinged, carnal succulence that your canines have ever torn into. You apologize for none of this, and pray that vegetarians find something in life to deliver such Dionysian thrills.
You give in to the audacity of the 40-ounce rib-eye as well and especially the 12 inches of clean white bone tomahawking out of it, which has the added benefit of announcing your affluence to the far corners of the dining room. One bite and it quickly becomes clear that a) if a persuasive case can be made for an $89 piece of meat, this is it, b) you’re the descendant of hunters not gatherers, and c) Tellers is killing it, mostly. Still, it pays to be judicious in picking side dishes, be it burnt broccoli or scalloped potatoes (terrific), creamed spinach (so-so), or roasted Brussels sprouts (died a horrible death).
Not all the excitement is of the four-legged variety. The Tuna Rossini might not leave you humming “Barber of Seville,” but it demonstrates Tellers’ knack for imaginative fare, a knack not often enough exploited. Planks of rosy-hued fish are arranged tepee-style over foie gras and black truffle sauce, an arresting trio. Equally superb is the Key lime pie, scrumptious on its own but sublime when plated with a blueberry sauce and coconut sorbet.
Add to that a few bottles of wine from Tellers’ extensive and well-curated wine list, and poof, your wallet is practically floating. And yet, you’re already plotting a return trip, if only for the $19 prix fixe lunch, a serious candidate for finest weekday bargain on the island. By now, you’re a little bit hooked on Tellers, and you are not the kind of guy to deny this.