VINCENT’S CLAM BAR
179 Old Country Rd., Carle Place
SERVICE: A well-oiled machine
AMBIENCE: Family style fun
ESSENTIALS: Open Sunday through Thursday from 11:45 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking lot. Wheelchair accessible.
The elderly gentleman sat staring into his Manhattan at the bar, failure on his face and surrender in his voice. “I’m going off the keto,” he murmured quietly to his friend, but loud enough for the woman a few stools down, her head darting upward. “I’m off the keto too!” she exclaimed.
Of all the milestones celebrated at Vincent’s Clam Bar each day, and there are many, none is quite so poignant as the sight of a low-carb dieter going down in defeat. And it says something about the Carle Place landmark that this is the place they come to admit it.
“Bread?” asks Jenny the bartender. I hesitate. The ex-ketos, old hands at this sort of moral dilemma, stare at me spellbound, keen to witness the fall of man in real time. They are not disappointed. I greet the steaming hot boule with all the decorum of a dog eating a couch. Neither the mountain of linguine nor its mother lode of clams fazes me, so lost am I in the briny, juiciness of it all. This is not the sort of dish anyone finishes at Vincent’s, but it is the dish you finish at 3 a.m. cloaked by darkness, the only light that of the refrigerator from which you’ve just retrieved the take-home box.
I got a similar thrill from the chicken Francese, an enormous portion of gently-breaded breast floating in a similarly enormous puddle of lemon sauce, and something called a lobster kiss, in which the tender meat is baked in foil, swirled with scallops and cream sauce, and served over pasta. But it’s the mollusk on the marquee that Vincent’s lavishes most of its attention on, and they are wonderful, from the generous clam presence in the aforementioned noodle dish, to the oreganata starter with breading that accents but never overwhelms, to the irresistible top necks on the half-shell. How irresistible? The clam-crazed gorgers I dined with nearly got sick from eating so many, like a tableful of Nettie Fowlers in “Carousel.”
Vincent’s has occupied the same shopping center off Old Country Rd. for 40 years, and like its neighbors, Petco and Bob’s Discount Furniture, has a chain feel to it. The waits are long on weekend nights, the sound system toggles between “Volare” and “Funiculi, Funicula,” and no one thinks twice about washing down gnocchi Bolognese with raspberry margaritas. The tables in the spacious dining room are closely packed, which is to say that if a stranger smiles at your mozzarella sticks, be ready to fend off looting with a serving fork.
That Vincent’s boasts a “world-famous” tomato sauce will come as news to the world, which has so far found it indistinguishable from any of a hundred supermarket sauces. Three levels of heat and a dedicated website aren’t enough for me to overlook an odd sugariness that at best adds little to the proceedings, and at worst floods out every dish with parmigiana in the name, the chef being something of a heavy pour.
But the menu is frightfully extensive, and diners who read through to the end will discover a number of fine non-Italo entrees, including a fresh, flavorsome, well-grilled and — this being Vincent’s — huge portion of salmon, plus some decent bisques and chowders. And when in doubt, or forced to dine with picky eaters, don’t overlook the fine brick oven pizzas.
After a dinner that exceeds the recommended daily caloric intake for a buffalo, you will likely feel a bit contrite, but it’s nothing that a Vincent’s creme brulee or napoleon can’t cure. The former is the size and depth of a wading pool, the latter looks less like the delicate French dessert of memory than the love child of a waffle and a funnel cake, but both are luscious and — like the linguine with clams — perfect 3 a.m. snacks, in the unlikely event that either makes it home.
Thanks to a few standout dishes, many more creditable ones, and a zeal for big portions at modest prices, it’s really not hard to see why Vincent’s has generated a large and devoted following. You’ll likely feel larger, too, by evening’s end.