Riverhead Patch Review by Linda Slezak

Restaurant Review: Luce and Hawkins

Jamesport chef Keith Luce proves that a quality restaurant does not have to be pricey.

by Linda Slezak

Jamesport’s native son, Keith Luce took on the mantle of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in January 2010. Since that time, the Inn and its restaurant, Luce and Hawkins, have never been better. Chef Luce, who has some very successful restaurant experience behind him, including the added distinction of having been sous chef at the Clinton White House, has created another superior restaurant in his old home town.

Maybe it’s because he’s from the North Fork that he cares so much about the local environment and local agriculture and maybe it’s just because that’s who he is. Whatever the reason, the restaurant is a well-thought out melding of local food, local beverages and respect for the local environment. He was the first chef on the North Fork to offer purified water, both flat and sparkling in reusable glass bottles as well as keg wines, all to save excessive usage of bottling materials. Luce even grows vegetables and herbs in a garden out back.

The Jedediah Hawkins Inn is an authentically restored 19th century captain’s mansion. The interior décor is tasteful with soft colors and beautiful local art. You’ll hear some lilting bossa nova as you walk into the small bar with only six seats and a few other seatsat high tables. Beyond the bar is the kitchen – clean, organized and open to view. A lovely glass enclosed porch provides a dining area with a casual outdoor feel. The more formal main dining room carries through the 19th century restoration style.

The competence and solid training of the staff is evident from the moment you walk in. The hostess, the wait staff and the dining room manager were professional and accommodating. The bartender was so poised, calm and efficient that the small crowded bar area ran smoothly. She even created a variation on one of the five highly unusual cocktails for me without getting ruffled (if duche de longueville cider, vodka, lemon juice and

tuaca is not an unusual cocktail, nothing is). Another mark of excellent service is that the kitchen ran without a snag, putting out dishes of excellent quality despite the fact that head chef Luce was not there that night. Kudos to Taylor, the talented sous chef, for holding down the fort so well.

Something to know about Luce Hawkins is the new menu. There have been at least three different iterations of the menu since Luce took over. The newest one is by far the most pared down yet it hits all the right notes. Many of the dishes show a “fusion” influence credited to Minoru, their new traditional Japanese chef. In fact, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, it’s Minoru’s kitchen and the menu takes on a decidedly Japanese flavor. A typical fusion first course is the miso broth corn and lobster chowder. Delicious.

The new menu selections include a whole roasted organic chicken with gravy that serves two. This is a winner at $38. A first course of roasted Turkish figs with smoked bacon, lavender honey and house-made chevre combined creative with yummy. The beverage menu includes wines from the keg, by the glass and The Flight of the Week. This week’s flight consisted of four rieslings, each from a different winery and very well-selected. There are also those highly unusual cocktails, ciders and beers. The emphasis is on local. A blackboard fish special from the A La Carte menu was a local cod with purslane and corn – couldn’t be more fresh and delicate. This went beautifully with the flight of rieslings. A fixed price selection, the Crescent Farm duck breast with sage biscuits, beets and cherry/rose marmalade was rich and flavorful. The dining room manager, Paul, recommended a Becker Estate pinot noir with this and he was right on.

There are only three or four desserts to choose from, but when each one is this outstanding it hardly matters. The donut dessert is made to order and arrives still warm with fresh whipped cream.

The Bottom Line:

First course selections: $7 -$15

A La Carte entrees: $13 – $38 (this for a whole roast chicken that serves 2)

Fixed Price: $58 for 3 courses.

Worth it? Absolutely. Luce and Hawkins manages to prove that a quality restaurant does not have to be pricey.

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