The Savoy Tavern

The Savoy Tavern
16 Merrick Ave, Merrick
516-506-7717, savoytavern.com

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One person can make all the difference in the world. That’s as true in the restaurant business as in any other endeavor. In the case of The Savoy Tavern that person is Kevin Liebov. The Merrick restaurant opened about two years ago to reviews that ranged from tepid to terrible. Last March Liebov, then executive chef of Nicholas James Bistro in Merrick, got an offer he couldn’t refuse. He closed his 19-year-old restaurant and, along with his veteran crew, moved to The Savoy.

Liebov brought a lot of valuable experience with him. Before Nicholas James, he had toiled in the kitchens of Enoteca in Douglaston and at the Garden City Hotel. Since his arrival, The Savoy Tavern (where the Brooks and Porter Steak House had been) has changed for the better. It’s still a striking, high ceilinged, dark wood, masculine place
of overhead fans, columns, beams, barrel-shaped lighting, bare tables and floors and palms, but now the food at this boisterous tavern is consistently excellent. Liebov and his crew have given the Savoy a second chance. His new American menu, especially his appetizers and tavern classics, are noteworthy. They sometimes border on the elegant and are always unpretentious. Fishbowl-sized glasses of wine do not hurt a bit either.

The pork belly rice bowl appetizer ($13) is typical in many ways. I feared its ingredients would be submerged in rice. Instead it balanced contributions from
pork belly, avocado, pickled ginger, jasmine rice and scallions with cilantro and lime. Crab cakes ($13) continued the admirable vibe. Frequently mediocre, these two were outstanding, crisp, panko-crusted lump beauties with Napa papaya slaw and chipotle aioli. A country salad listed as small was a sizable, diverse amalgam of greens, fruit, cheese and nuts ($11), while the sturdy, formidable, slightly hard iceberg wedge salad had flavor galore with bacon, onion, peppers and cheese ($12).

Aside from a somewhat drab, lightly battered fish (cod) and chips ($18) that fell
into the ordinary category, entrées were almost the equal of starters. Shrimp Toscano featured jumbo shrimp, a lively egg batter and a bed of linguini with a garlic white wine butter sauce ($28). Satisfactory, simply grilled jumbo shrimp weren’t quite as exciting with asparagus, mushrooms and roasted red peppers ($26). Strips of unusually tender hanger steak, the result of a noteworthy marinade, came on a pile of vibrant sautéed vegetables with a large thatch of fries ($26).

House-made desserts (all $8) including a crisp-surfaced crème brûlée, a generous apple cobbler à la mode and especially a velvety, refined, croissant bread pudding were all delicious.

Two caveats: Runners serving the food never knew who ordered what dishes and the restaurant is working to lessen its often-deafening noise level. For the time being avoid live music on weekends and private party nights.

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.