New York Times

Dining | Merrick

Steak, Sides and Oh, Those Salads

By JOANNE STARKEY
Published: April 13, 2008

STYLISH steakhouses continue to pop up on the Island. Most are on the North Shore but the newest, Brooks & Porter, opened in Merrick on the South Shore at the end of February. The place is named not for its owners or for local bigwigs but for two locomotives once used by the Long Island Rail Road. Models of the trains occupy pride of place atop a divider between the dining room and the bar.

In the Region
Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey

One evening I had a terrific meal of bacon-wrapped scallops followed by a juicy rib-eye steak, crunchy hash browns and velvety creamed spinach. I was taking my last bite of jewel-toned berries slathered in whipped cream when my friend sitting next to me shouted, “I can’t wait to get out of here!” I agreed, for my head was aching from the noise.

The food at Brooks & Porter is on a par with that at the Island’s best steakhouses, but there are a lot of hard surfaces, and the noise level was ear-splitting on my two visits (both Saturday nights). The conversation at our booth for four that night began with shouts — mostly “What did you say?” — and ended in silence. We had given up.

On my second visit the two of us were seated on a small balcony overlooking the bar and dining room. It was a bit less noisy there but still not quiet. That balcony was a great perch for people-watching, however.

The dining room is a beauty in the dark, woody, masculine mode. The bar is also a stunner, with its massive mirror, huge vase of flowering branches and long shiny granite bar. Above both rooms, at the eye level of diners in the balcony, are whirling ceiling fans and lights with giant drum-shaped shades. At the back of the dining room is a seafood bar where chefs, wearing tall toques, stand ready to assemble seafood cocktails from the iced bounty before them.

When we visited around mid-March service was still in shakedown mode. Runners were not always sure who had ordered what. The staff works in teams, with more than one waiter assigned to a table. Though they were friendly, their efforts were often duplicated — one came to ask if we wanted dessert, for instance, when his counterpart had already taken our order.

The best appetizer sampled was a special of bacon-wrapped sea scallops served atop a delicious sauté of artichoke hearts and nubbins of crisp asparagus. The shrimp cocktail of four firm jumbos was classic and good, as was the large meaty crab cake with its topknot of microgreens. Clams oreganata, though, were ordinary, and contained too many crumbs.

Salads are huge and a bargain ($7 to $9) compared with seafood openers. The wedge of iceberg lettuce (the size of a whole head) was covered with a creamy dressing loaded with blue cheese and flanked by wedges of ripe tomato. The classic Caesar was another behemoth with a slightly spicy dressing, crunchy croutons and shards of cheese.

The steaks here all had a nice char. The rib-eye, cooked precisely to order, was running with juices; the petit filet mignon was butter-tender. We even loved the lowly chopped sirloin, a huge oval covered in sautéed onions and rich brown gravy. A similar brown sauce was less welcome on a special veal chop, described by our waiter only as “broiled with a mushroom risotto.”

Do try the delectable double-cut lamb chops and the prime rib. The latter was a tender on-the-bone hunk of meat that would have been right at home on the Flintstones’ table. It could easily have fed a family of four.

All the sides delivered. Tops in my book were the wispy, crisp onion strings and the creamy mashed potatoes.

Desserts arrive under mounds — no mere dabs here — of freshly whipped cream. Mixed berries, which filled a balloon wine glass, had enough cream to coat every morsel. The crème brûlée was a silken version of the classic. Other worthy temptations were the creamy cheesecake, chocolate cake with layers of chocolate mousse and apple strudel à la mode.

Brooks & Porter
16 Merrick Avenue
Merrick
(516) 379-9400

VERY GOOD

THE SPACE Stylish steakhouse. Completely wheelchair accessible.

THE CROWD Very loud. Mainly couples and small groups. Few children.

THE BAR A long granite beauty with lots of seating and a few high tables for two. The wine list of about 200 bottles ($24 to $342) is heavy on big reds, as it should be at a steakhouse. There are 26 wines by the glass ($8 to $15).

THE BILL Entrees range from $18 (chopped sirloin) to $41 (porterhouse); lobster is higher. American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover are accepted.

WHAT WE LIKE Scallops wrapped in bacon, shrimp cocktail, crab cake, Caesar, iceberg wedge, filet mignon, rib-eye, lamb chops, chopped sirloin, prime rib, creamed spinach, hash browns, mashed potatoes, onion strings, all desserts.

IF YOU GO Dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are recommended at all times and are essential on weekends.

Reviewed April 13, 2008