Long Island Bar, a restored dive in Cobble Hill, has a smart chef and well-executed menu



Ordering salads at Long Island Bar feels a little awkward. The place is so lovingly restored to its 1950s soul that you half-expect a grizzled longshoreman to walk in and stare you down.

But this is 2014. And owner Joel Tompkins’ resurrected watering hole fits boho Cobble Hill to a T, from smart artisan cocktails that start the meal to a sly menu that winks at the past while firmly facing forward.

There is a serious kitchen behind the hard-drinking facade here. The chef, Gabriel Martinez, worked at Alinea, the Chicago temple of brainiac gastronomy. Superior ingredients in deceptively simple plates are his MO.

His wit and cooking chops shine through starters like the Kentucky salad ($11), a kaleidoscopic heap of black-eyed peas, corn, cherry tomatoes, pickled okra and peanuts in a sweetly spiky vinaigrette. It’s nearly symphonic in tastes and textures, but aw-shucks in deliberately messy plating.

I later learned it was replaced on the menu by a seasonally appropriate salad of shaved brussels sprouts, treviso, bacon, maple syrup and pomegranates. I can’t wait to try it.

Carrot salad ($11) might sound wimpy, but Martinez gives it real heft, marinating meaty pristine carrot strips, vivid sunflower greens, nutty sunflower seeds and exceptionally subtle feta in a barely-there orange-chili-infused bath. It’s bracing and satisfying.

There’s old-fashioned bar grub too — sort of. Fried cheese

curds ($10) might sound generic or greasy, but Martinez’s are exceptional. Once the chewy nubs are gone, you’ll want to grab a spoon to finish off the fried-onion-sprinkled buttermilk-onion dip.

Any bar worth its tequila should kill it with burgers ($18 for two patties, $15 for one), and Long Island Bar does. Martinez slaps Fleischer’s beef on a soft white bun with pungent sour pickles, cheddar and a creamy tomato drizzle called “Fancy Sauce.” It’s accompanied by an Everest of perfectly crispy fries that even a group couldn’t finish.

Grilled trout ($21) brings the kitchen’s first stumble. The fish gets charred a few seconds too long, leaving a burnt-tasting, tough skin. But the flesh is snowy and fork-tender, and the dill-infused riff on potato salad beneath makes an irresistible companion.

But that minor misstep is forgotten once dessert arrives. Butterscotch pudding ($5) is luxuriantly creamy with a butterscotch essence so intense you’ll feel like inhaling it with a straw.

It’s served with a pair of rich homemade butter cookies, which make a nice touch; so does a cherry on top, a sweetly retro accent that’s also thoughtful and clever. And when a bar this attractive also serves such a smart, well-executed menu, it’s hard to think of a more perfect symbol.

Butterscotch pudding comes with homemade cookies at the Long Island Bar.
Butterscotch pudding comes with homemade cookies at the Long Island Bar.
In short: Behind the glowing neon sign and gleaming Art Deco bar at this onetime dive, there’s a serious kitchen and very smart chef.

Mili Thakur