Seaford, (516) 809-9693
The Phoenix deserves more attention than it’s getting. This is the restaurant that many, if not most, diners are looking for, but only a relative handful has discovered. It offers creative cooking and diverse dishes at moderate prices. It’s a small-plate American pubby place for dinner that offers colossal sandwiches at lunch and later becomes a rocking bar scene serving tapas until one or two o’clock in the morning.
Physically the Phoenix is anything but palatial. Rather, its assertive red and black color scheme, hanging bare bulbs, white butcher paper over clothed tables, spacious black leather chairs and separate barroom give it the look of a throwback lounge. All of this might influence some diners to take the restaurant less seriously than it deserves.
But, this is a high quality, if casual, eating place with sit-up-and-take-notice food. Owners Peter Mangouranes and Paul and Anthony Oliva, and chef Ryan Augusta, are experienced restaurateurs who have run largely below-the-radar spots in East Northport, Farmingdale and Massapequa Park. Although I’ve been reviewing Island restaurants for at least a thousand years, I was unfamiliar with any of their previous (and present) holdings, so after a few bites of Mr. Augusta’s innovative dishes I experienced a “Where have these guys been all my life?” moment.
Our competent, affable waitress told us, “Everybody loves everything here.” That is probably a slight overstatement, but only by a little. There’s something for everyone on the Phoenix menu. It will especially appeal to those who enjoy sampling multiple dishes (as in a Chinese restaurant) rather than having one usually sizeable entrée. The menu is divided into sandwich, salad, soup, cured meats, cheeses, earth (vegetarian), land, sea, large plate and sweets sections. Large plates here translate to entrées, but there are only four, while no less than eighteen small plates are listed. These and the sandwiches, which come with a choice of edamame, a small house salad or house-made potato chips, are the way to go.
Most of the diners at our table ordered two small plates each, one as an appetizer and the other as a main course. Among them were a savory bread pudding the size and shape of a tiny loaf of bread with shredded chicken gravy on a cranberry reduction that was an imaginative take on a Sunday after church dish ($6); a sizable, tasty portion of short ribs ragout mixed with pasta, blistered tomatoes and sporting a goat cheese demi-glace ($9); the creamiest fresh corn with a batch of crumbled bacon lardons at its center ($5); two tender seared scallops perched attractively atop rice cakes in a velvety fire-roasted tomato cream sauce ($8); two moist, fall-from-the-bone pork shanks ($10); cheese ravioli surrounded by melted leeks and toasted pumpkin seeds in a butternut squash beurre blanc ($7); a crunchy, angry shrimp sandwich harboring chunks of fried shrimp, Creole bacon mustard, pickled cucumbers and mixed greens (at $12 it’s messy to eat but worth the trouble); a four shrimp, spicy andouille sausage concoction enhanced by its Creole gravy and cheddar grits ($9); and a main course of pristine, sushi-rare slices of tuna with a soy-lime risotto that was so citrusy it tended to obliterate the fish’s flavor ($17). So too did the peanut butter in a layered mousse dominate its chocolate and raspberry sauce ($8).
Better by far were the crisp, crunchy cubes of fried bread pudding with cinnamon crème anglaise ($8); the silken, almost liquid, vanilla custard with crunchy toffee chocolate pieces ($8); and a warm, seasonal peach and plum cobbler topped with brown sugar crumbles and a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($8). Yes!
photos by stephen lang