(631) 287-5500 Southampton
Hey, big spender, do I have a restaurant for you! Diners looking for luxury at whatever price, including expense account types, celebrities, celebrity wanabees and those in search of glamour and prestige have made Nello Summertimes in Southampton, with its striking outdoor patio, indoor dancing and hot, late night Euro Club scene, the coolest place in the Hamptons.
It’s also the priciest there or almost anywhere. Checks at the original Nello on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, according to the Zagat Survey, average $79 for dinners with one drink and tip. While that price is a wee bit more than a happy meal at McDonald’s would cost, the tab in Southampton dwarfs it with a listing of $109.
Yet there probably isn’t a better place around for impressing a client, closing a big deal, amazing out of town visitors or dazzling a date than Nello Summertimes in a beautifully redecorated 17th Century Inn where the Post House had been. It’s open on weekends after Labor Day and before mid-April except during January and February.
Its Northern Italian pastas, elaborate salads and stylish entrées range from often sublime to sometimes disappointing while its waitstaff varies from sharp to spacey. Yet the Upper East Siders, familiar with the Madison Avenue spot, have made its outdoor brick patio and regal dining room their summertime headquarters while Hamptonites who want to see and be seen flock to this stunningly situated spot year round.
The cost of dining or drinking at a restaurant with such awesome atmospherics is reflected in alcoholic drinks, gin and tonics and cranberry-vodka concoctions go for $21 a pop (reduced from a pre-recession high of $27), in its uniformly excellent house made pastas, most in the $35 to $40 range and in bottles of wine where the cheapest was $70 when I visited (a coke was $7.50)
Nellos Summertimes’ prices and prestige are part of a large and largely predictable trend: Long Island’s priciest restaurants are (1) on the East End and (2) branches of fashionable Manhattan eating places. Nello Summertimes is both as is Sant Ambroeus in Southampton. Still other high flyers like Il Mulino and Limani in Roslyn also have their roots in Manhattan. (Steakhouses are also among the priciest picks).
(631) 757-4500 Northport
The only Long Island restaurant among the three with top-of-the-line tabs that’s homegrown is the modest Maroni Cuisine of Northport, an eclectic cash only spot that serves a memorable, though expensive, 15 to 25 mini-course tasting lunch ($85), weekday dinner ($110) and Friday and Saturday dinner ($115) early seating, ($125) late seating. Those prices include wine, beer, dessert and coffee but not tax and tip. Although patrons can order á la carte dishes on weekdays and in an outdoor courtyard at all times, the tasting meal is the way to go here.
Maroni Cuisine has gone from a tiny, mainly take-out spot with eight or ten seats to a destination restaurant with outdoor dining and a private party room. From a place that relied on its take-out counter for 75% of its business to just the opposite. There’s no tasting meal menu, diners eat what the talkative, gregarious Michael Maroni decides to cook. Yet, there is some room for variations: Substitutions are made for people with allergies or those who just don’t like a specific dish. And what are diners served here? Scallion pancakes with crème fraiche and caviar, oysters on the half shell, tuna and salmon sashimi, a Kobe beef cheeseburger, a Memphis style barbecued rib, linguini with black truffles, cheese ravioli in a white truffle sauce and the restaurant’s signature dish, Grandma Maroni’s meatballs, rustic treats in a thick, rich red sauce accompanied by goat cheese on a toast round.
(516) 869-8989 Roslyn
Limani, which means “seaport” in Greek, is an opulent, expansive, expensive, newish restaurant in Roslyn. At its heart, it’s a simple, straightforward spot that offers diners fresh fish with clear eyes and clean gills, charcoal grilled in olive oil and lemon with a sprinkling of capers and herbs. Its centerpiece is a large spotlighted seafood display on a bed of ice showcasing a creative array of fresh fish from North America and the Mediterranean. Diners view the possibilities, then make their choice and pay for it by the pound much as is done at Milos in Manhattan where some of Limani’s staff saw previous service. The whole fish, fish cuts and shellfish range in price from langoustines for $60 a pound to Artic Char at $24 a pound. The lowest priced appetizer here sells for $15 (Patzaria-roasted beets and skordalia) and the highest charcoal broiled U-10 jumbo shrimp fetches $55 a pound.
There are also eight meat entrées available at prices that range from $28 (chicken) to $54 (cowboy steak) but only people who order spaghetti at a Chinese restaurant would order meat at a Greek fish house. Target the likes of filler-free crab cakes, grilled sushi-style octopus, firm, meaty Fagri, a Greek pink snapper, flaky, ivory Turbot and a crisp mix of paper-thin fried zucchini, eggplant and cheese. But don’t be surprised if your check comes to $100 a person at the grandiose Limani, a high end Hellenic heaven with stunning glass, tile, marble and wood accents.
Royal Kabab and Grill
(631) 423-2315 Huntington Station
A world away from Nello Summertimes, Maroni Cuisine and Limani is the nine-month-old Royal Kabab and Grill, House of Spice and Kabab, a neat little seven-table storefront Indian-Pakistani spot run by two brothers from Bangladesh on the Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. Located at the far end of a nondescript strip shopping center, just to the west of Route 110, it is nearly invisible, yet it might well be the least expensive restaurant around these parts. Just how cheap is it? Let’s put it this way: Two of the most frugal folks I know are too embarrassed to present the discount coupons Royal Kabab distributes because their prices are already so miniscule.
To begin at the beginning, appetizer prices are as low as $2 (most are $3 and $4), India’s admirable, exotic breads can be ordered for as little as $l.50 (Nan) with none topping $4. Vegetarians can get an entrée here for $5 (the two most expensive dishes are $7). Seven dollars is also what chicken curry goes for while a chicken seekh kabab costs all of $4, the same price as all desserts. It’s possible to eat a three-course (appetizer, entrée, dessert) dinner here for $11. Throw in that Nan and it will cost $12.50.
While some of Royal Kabab’s prices are at least similar to that found at other bargain Asian and Middle Eastern ethnic eating places (they, rather than American restaurants, are the way to go for budget minded patrons) its menu that features Halal meats is longer, more varied and creative than most. Diners get to choose from eleven starters, eleven of those justifiably renowned breads, six rice and Biryani dishes, ten vegetarian ones, fourteen meats, nine standard kababs, nine house special meals (mostly upscale kebabs), four desserts and five beverage choices.
Hizir Baba Food Mart
(631) 591-3067 Riverhead
Hizir Baba follows the familiar ethnic Middle Eastern-Asian good food, good prices trail. It’s a barebones, Turkish-Mediterranean restaurant along a charming stretch of river and boardwalk in Riverhead. In warm weather, eating outside on its porch or at one of the picnic tables under the trees is a delight. But no matter what the weather, Hizir Baba (it means God’s End, Hizir’s father, a Muslim saint, an angel’s name, etc.) is a find. Its food is tasty and interesting, its service is friendly and knowing, and its prices are right. (It even accepts credit cards). This seven day a week, very affordable spot starts out in the morning with a $4.95 egg, olive, cheese, jam, cucumber, tomato and house baked pita breakfast. Lunch and dinner offer even more variety and value. With only three exceptions, all of the twelve entrées, served with bugler or rice pilaf, salad and homemade Turkish bread, cost $9.95. That study, delicious bread also accompanies appetizers priced as low as $3.95 and peaking at $9.95 for a platter of assorted starters that’s enough for two. A bowl of soup (lentil or chunky chicken) will set you back only $3.50 while desserts (baklava and four puddings) are in the $3.50 to $4 category. Recommended are all eggplant dishes, especially the charred, smoky eggplant salad, the tender lamb kebab, the Izgara kofte or beef patties atop rice and the pizza-like pies (pide) crowned with sausages, cheese, tomatoes, peppers and eggs.
Mama’s Italian Restaurant
(631) 567-0909 Oakdale
Let’s face it, Mama’s, a family owned Oakdale Italian restaurant, would not be included in this piece were it not for its Monday and Tuesday night, 4 to 10pm pasta nights. Not that Mama’s is expensive, it isn’t, but many of its counterparts are in the same price bracket. That is until Monday and Tuesday when mobs of hungry diners storm the place, often patiently waiting in line. Although $9.95 pasta nights aren’t a rarity on the Island, this one includes soup, salad, entrée, rice pudding and coffee.
There are twelve selections at $9.95 including seven spaghetti choices (tomato sauce, garlic and oil, meat sauce, pesto sauce, mushrooms in marinara sauce, puttanesca and anchovies). Throw in two linguini, two penne and a tortellini alfredo and you have the picture. There are also twelve additional possibilities for the big spenders who want to plunk down another buck. Among them are lasagna, baked ziti, three ravioli choices, stuffed shells, baked manicotti and two more spaghetti picks (meatballs or sausage, red or white clam sauce).