“Do you ever have deja vu, Mrs. Lancaster?”
“I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.”
This Q&A from “Groundhog Day” could describe the experience at numerous restaurants via countless menus in Nassau and Suffolk. Some dishes are nearly everywhere and too many taste the same.
So, here’s a digestible report on 10 signature dishes that have taken hold on Long Island — and the dining rooms where they stand out.
Squid could become an endangered species here, grilled, stuffed, stewed, or fried. But it’s the crisp pile of rings and tentacles that’s the big catch.
Italian and Italian-American restaurants elevate squid almost as regularly as pasta. The fried calamari at La Tavola (183 W. Main St., Sayville; pictured) prepares a very satisfying version, with plenty of crunch outside and tenderness within. Dip the rings in a spicy marinara sauce or, even better, a riff on sauce rémoulade laced with horseradish. More info: 631-750-6900. latavolasayville.com
Thom Thom (3340 Park Ave., Wantagh) isn’t satisfied with merely frying. The kitchen offers kung pao calamari, sauced as if it’s chicken in Chinese restaurants, with added crunch from ground peanuts. Who needs a fish house? More info: 516-221-8022, thomthomrestaurant.com
Listed as “hot tapas,” fried calamari is a crisp treat at Cafe Buenos Aires (23 Wall St., Huntington). It arrives with a side of chipotle aioli and vies with Argentine flair amid the ceviche and the stuffed piquillo peppers. More info: 631-603-3600. cafebuenosaires.net
Pasta with red sauce
The sea of marinara and tomato sauce continues to rise. You can get a good version in the most informal place, in a pizzeria, off the shelf. These three are among the leaders in simmering the sauce.
Tomato sauce overflows at Mamma Lombardi’s (400 Furrows Rd., Holbrook; pictured), whether you’re eating in the main restaurant or the adjoining pizzeria. Sample it with the spaghetti in marinara sauce, spaghetti with tomato sauce, and, adding some other ingredients, in the fired-up penne arrabbiata and Roman rigatoni all’Amatriciana. More info: 631-737-0774. mammalombardis.com
Scarpetta Beach (290 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk) is the handsomely designed oceanfront restaurant in Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Spa. Expect extraordinary pastas and a transporting exercise in perfection: the simply named spaghetti, subtitled tomato and basil. Sweet and superb, crowned with Parmigiano-Reggiano. More info: 631-668-1771, ldvhospitality.com
Sergio’s (5422 Merrick Rd., Massapequa) is a longtime neighborhood favorite in Massapequa. Pasta with sardines, beef braciola, tripe, pork chops with vinegar peppers, an orange salad, are all attractions. Likewise, perciatelli with tomato sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed shells, lasagna, baked ziti, ravioli, and manicotti. More info: 516-541-6554, sergiositalianrestaurant.com
The king of shellfish on Long Island and many other coastal venues, it’s immortalized here grilled, broiled, boiled, in a lobster roll either warm or cold, in restaurants American, Italian, Chinese, more. But it’s hard to top the simply steamed beauty.
Louie’s Grill & Liquors (395 Main St., Port Washington; pictured), the latest incarnation of what started in 1905 as a barge on Manhasset Bay, is a major seafood house. The lobster Cantonese is diverting, and the two types of lobster roll addictive. But it’s the 1.5 pound steamed lobster with coleslaw and corn on the cob that’s the reigning rendition. More info: 516-883-4242, louiessince1905.com
Jordan Lobster Farms (1 Pettit Place, Island Park) leaves nothing to mystery. Diners and customers know why they’re here. Lobster rolls and lobster cakes are available. But the whole steamed lobsters, from 1.25 to 10 pounds define the place. Check ahead about whether the bigger ones are available. The lobster is served with coleslaw, fries, lemon, and butter. More info: 516-806-6251, jordanlobsterfarms.com
Prime: An American Kitchen & Bar (117 New York Ave., Huntington) has a water view, dependable New American cuisine and sushi, and, yes, steamed lobster. The two-pounder is all you’d want. Lobster also appears here in lobster-and-corn chowder, shrimp-and-lobster wontons, a lobster cocktail, and butter-poached lobster to enrich a steak or anything else. More info: 631-385-1515, restaurantprime.com
Roast chicken is wonderful and barbecued chicken a treat; grilled chicken, elemental and chicken potpie, homey. But fried chicken’s appeal is unassailable.
Southern cooking is revered at LL Dent (221 Old Country Rd., Carle Place; pictured), a shopping-center restaurant that transports you. The fried chicken is exceptional, served with two side dishes. Fried chicken and Belgium waffles will entice you, too. And try the cheese grits, the cornbread, sweet-potato biscuit, Hoppin’ John, sweet potato pie. More info: 516-742-0940, lldent.com
Orient Odyssey (511 N. Broadway, Jericho) ranks high among Long Island’s Chinese restaurants, for everything from dim sum to mayonnaise shrimp with sugared walnuts. Deep in the extensive menu is “golden fried crispy chicken,” with roasted garlic — a rustic feast. More info: 516-719-0021, orientodysseyny.com
Salamander’s on Front (38 Front St., Greenport) is the destination for memorable fried chicken with coleslaw and cornbread, simple and to the point. Enjoy it with an order of Buffalo-style chicken wings, or quietly pick the Vietnamese caramel duck legs to give another big bird equal time. Outstanding to take out, too. More info: 631-477-3711, salamandersonfront.com
Long Island duckling truly is “the big duck,” from roadside architecture to a history of duck farming that produced more than 7 million quackers in the 1960s. The number is considerably lower now. But duck remains a menu staple, from all sources.
Lola (113A Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck; pictured) a Mediterranean-themed restaurant, is committed to duck in many forms. The main dish these days is the seared Hudson Valley duck breast, accompanied by a white-bean ragout and duck bacon, with an herbaceous jus. If you’re in a full duck mood, sample the foie gras. More info: 516-466-5666, restaurantlola.com
The combo of seared duck breast and confit of duck leg is a four-star classic at Mirabelle (150 Main St., Stony Brook), in the Three Village Inn. Currently, it’s accented with a vol-au-vent of chanterelle mushrooms and corn, pickled cherries, and roasted eggplant. The duck liver-and-foie gras mousse with toasted brioche is a lush way to precede it. More info: 631-751-0555, lessings.com
Beijing duck highlights Chinese cuisine. Monsoon Steak & Sushi (48 Deer Park Ave. Babylon) prepares one of the best, a whole Peking duck served for two, with cucumber, scallion, hoisin, parchment skin, shredded duck and steamed buns. More info: 631-587-4400, monsoonny.com
They come is many sizes and from many counties, from China to Sweden to Italy and beyond. You can savor them in a pizzeria, a restaurant, even at the eatery in IKEA. And pick your favorite from beef to chicken to the combination of beef, veal, and pork.
Emilio’s (2201 Jericho Tpke., Commack; pictured) is the flagship of a little Long Island armada of eateries. It’s packed for terrific pizza, appealing pasta, and Italian-American specialties. The beefy appetizer of Mamma Mia Meatballs is reason enough to visit, plated with a long-simmered sauce, ricotta, sweet roasted peppers, and garlic bread. The dish also is served at Fanatico in Jericho and Passione in Carle Place. More info: 631-462-6267, emilios-restaurant.com
Tony Colombos (208 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre) makes the beef-veal-pork variety, with a savory Sunday red sauce, whipped ricotta with basil, crisp prosciutto chips, and focaccia crostini. Yes, it’s an appetizer. More info: 516-678-1996, tonycolombos.com
Maroni Cuisine (18 Woodbine Ave., Northport) is a small restaurant with big ambitions. Come for the tasting menu, a showcase of different cuisines and preparations and maybe 25 courses. But the distinctive spot is known for Grandma’s meatballs, available by the pot, and for their victory in a televised “throwdown” over those of celebrity chef Bobby Flay. TKO. More info: 631-757-4500, maronicuisine.com
You can have them oreganata, casino, seasoned with hot sausage, horseradish, and more. The breadcrumbs will vary, the tasty result shouldn’t.
Catch Oyster Bar (63 N. Ocean Ave., Patchogue; pictured) is no larger than a bluepoint. But about 30 diners can dig into the raw and the cooked. The cooked includes baked clam “stuffier,” first-class baked clam emboldened with bacon. They’re ample and excellent. More info: 631-627-6860, catchoysterbar.com
Artie’s South Shore Fish Market & Restaurant (4257 Austin Blvd., Island Park) does offer baked clams with the subtle tingle of horseradish, a suggestion of lemon zest, and garlic. They’re one of many dishes you’ll want at the ultracasual restaurant and fish market. More info: 516-889-0692, southshorefish.com
Salt & Barrel (61 W. Main St., Bay Shore) livens up its stuffed clams with andouille sausage, plus onion and breadcrumbs. They call for only a squirt of lemon. And the company of the restaurant’s tarragon biscuits is obligatory. More info: 631-647-8818, saltandbarrel.com
The fish of the moment, succeeding Chilean sea bass and filet of some-kind-of-sole, branzino is a mild, unassertive Mediterranean sea bass amenable to many preparations.
Whole branzino al forno is a specialty at Arturo’s (246-04 Jericho Tpke., Floral Park; pictured), the veteran establishment near the county line in Bellerose-Floral Park. It swims in on greens, boosted by white wine and garlic sauce. More info: 516-352-7418, arturorestaurant.com
Full-flavored and carefully cooked is the whole fish baked in a salt crust at Casa Rustica (175 W. Main St., Smithtown). The moist, aromatic fish is complemented by a tomato concassé, with lemon, parsley, and mustard, and fileted tableside. More info: 631-265-9265, casarustica.net
Kyma (1446 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn) leads the restaurants that focus on whole grilled fish sold by the pound. Lavraki, or Mediterranean sea bass, is lean and one of the main choices, along with pompano, black sea bass, and fagri, or pink snapper. More info: 516-621-3700, kymarestaurants.com
Pasta with clam sauce
If there’s a leading candidate for the national dish of Long Island, this is it. You’ll find it more often than spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna — combined.
Almost equal parts New American and Italian, Cafe Testarossa (499 Jericho Tpke., Syosset; pictured) stylishly zooms along with creative, consistently excellent food. Linguine with Manila clams goes pedal-to-the-metal with Calabrian pepper and basil. More info: 516-364-8877, cafetestarossa.com
An exceptional production will be found at an unlikely source: Bryant & Cooper (2 Middle Neck Rd., Roslyn), one of Long Island’s top steakhouses. It’s a destination for stone crabs in season and lobster anytime, but the buttery, rich linguine with white clam sauce is a major main course. You can precede it with clams oreganata, casino, or on the half shell. More info: 516-627-7270, pollrestaurants.com
Jonathan’s Ristorante (15 Wall St., Huntington) mixes the traditional and the contemporary, Italian with New American. After a fine fritto misto or a salad with beets and robiola cheese, order the expertly made spaghetti with Manila clams, and roasted garlic, spurred by the little kick from a very serious habanero chili pepper. More info: 631-549-0055, jonathansristorante.com
It’s almost everywhere and prepared almost any way. Broil, sear, bake, poach — pick one. Or have it uncooked as sushi or sashimi at nearly all Japanese restaurants, where you’re likely to find it in teriyaki, too. And the devotee of smoked salmon must visit the nearest Fairway Market for Scottish, Irish, Nova Scotia, pastrami-seasoned, and pickled.
Toku Modern Asian (2014C Northern Blvd., Manhasset; pictured), a star feeding shoppers and eaters in the Americana shopping center, sears salmon and complements it with bok choy, eggplant, soy and ginger. It competes with a cooked salmon-and-avocado roll, salmon tartare, and salmon sushi and sashimi. More info: 516-627-8658, pollrestaurants.com
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House (25 Main St., Roslyn), in its 60th year near the pond in Roslyn, is a reef-and-beef establishment that’s both traditional and contemporary. The house’s salmon is enriched with a macadamia-nut crust and golden banana fritter. More info: 516-621-0055, jollyfishermanrestaurant.com
The many local branches of Bagel Boss are appetizing spots for sandwiches, wraps, salads, omelets, pancakes, French toast, rugelach and a lot more. Sample the Atlantic smoked salmon, belly lox, and baked kippered salmon, with or without a bagel, with or without a schmear, to eat in or to take out. More info: Bagel Boss locations include Hewlett, Oceanside, Lake Success, Carle Place, Jericho, Merrick, East Norwich, Roslyn, Bay Shore and East Northport.