A Gem, Hidden No Longer

Jason Gut, Eileen Connors and Matt Connors • courtesy photo

Every local has one of those secret places in their town, a special hidden gem of a restaurant that they love with a deep passion that they wish they could keep to themselves, but at the same time, can’t help but shout their devotion from the rooftops. In Bay Shore, the Lake House was one of mine.

A cottage on the south side of Montauk Highway, set below the grade of the road, it attracted no attention; your eye was drawn to the banners of the car dealership across the street. The lake for which it was named was even more invisible, tucked behind marsh grass and cattails and best enjoyed from the elegantly rustic dining room and small outdoor patio. Its signage was subtle and understated, with a more professional than culinary feel. It was, indeed, a buried treasure in every sense of the word, a diamond in the rough for New American excellence on a nondescript strip of Main Street.

The genteel Lake House was never an ugly duckling, but this summer, it has burst into a full and glorious plumage that is set to let everyone in on my little secret. A sophisticated swan has taken its place on the ferry docks of Maple Street in Bay Shore, and it has grown up in every possible way.

No longer content to play blushing maiden to bolder neighbors, the beautifully uplit, cedar-hued exterior commands attention. Available valet parking and ample town (for-fee) parking eliminates the old street parking motif, to start your visit on a much more mainstream note, proclaiming that the Lake House has arrived and is ready to play in the big leagues with other coastal powerhouse restaurants on Long Island. And rally it does, with vistas that have expanded from a peaceful duck pond to the yawning Great South Bay, where a sprawling patio opens up to close encounters of the ferry, small marina, and an unrestricted view of the boat-sprinkled horizon.

Within, the bar has gone from a corner of the restaurant to a sound-restricted, posh lounge with its own entrance, to offer a slightly more casual environment while also preserving the tranquil sanctity of the upscale dining rooms.

Yes, dining rooms—three, as a matter of fact; all flow smoothly into one another in an open floor plan that is a modernist’s dream, under high ceilings that increase the airy feel. You can head right, toward the Fireplace East room or the Blue Sunroom, painted in a hue richer than the water before you. Or, you might be seated in the smaller 40-top semi-framed room near the lounge and piano, where another fireplace makes it even more cozy and perfect for private events like the one taking place the evening I visited. For an even more intimate affair, there’s now the Boardroom, the only dining room without views of the bay … but with unique views of the kitchen, with limousine-blind controls to offer guests as much or as little insight into the goings-on in the heart of the Lake House as they like.

So in all physical aspects, the Lake House has changed significantly. But equally important are the things that remain the same. An emphasis on service, for example, and a commitment to keeping it as high as owner and executive chef Matt Connors and co-owners Eileen Connors and Jason Gut have come to expect of their dedicated staff. Of that staff, many faces are familiar, but with triple the space, the family has grown as well, also to ensure service quality.

Same goes for technology. Wires were run through the ceiling, Gut said, in the event of a storm, and a significant quantity of computer stations were installed to make sure that diners were never at the mercy of the server queue for order input.

Salad • photo by Doug Young

Lake House Salad • photo by Doug Young

Last, but perhaps the most important aspect of the Lake House that has made it so beloved, is the food. It starts with the Tom Cat Bakery rolls they’ve been serving for a decade; the rosemary and green olive is not to be missed. Connor has preserved the traditional menu, which offers favorites such as the much-Yelped about Lake House Salad—creamed chanterelle mushrooms over grilled asparagus served alongside baby arugula topped with Humboldt Fog goat cheese and separated by a perfectly poached egg and milky white toast—and humongous Berkshire pork chop, covered in a maple-bacon vinaigrette and served with a small tower of green apple, sweet potato, caramelized onion, blue cheese gratin.

The New Zealand venison is also still on the menu, its gaminess tempered by a parsnip puree and heartiness embraced by crispy mustard spaetzle and raspberry beer-braised cabbage, as is the Long Island duck breast and leg confit, a treat with apricot wheatberry pilaf and pomegranate-pistachio glaze. And, of course, there’s excellent fresh fish—salmon, scallops, halibut, cod, yellowfin—as well as classics like steak and roasted chicken, made outstanding with a brioche, mushroom, and prosciutto stuffing cup that was more akin to savory bread pudding than typical Thanksgiving fare.

As if those offerings weren’t already enough to have you salivating, daily specials are still anyone’s guess and vary according to season … which is just how we at Edible like it! In addition, a new bar menu has been introduced, bringing a high-end touch to lobster rolls, steak frites, grilled salmon, rotating flatbreads, and burgers. For smaller appetites, there’s always the raw bar and snacks that include deviled eggs and meat plates to share. For the sophisticated palate, try the truffled chicken liver pate, traditional escargot, and the charcuterie and cheese sharing plate.

All of these features and its now much more prominent location by the Bay Shore ferries make it only a matter of time before one of my favorite spots becomes one of the hottest ones on the island; this secret is mine to keep no longer. Owner Jay used to refer to the Lake House as a “diamond in the rough,” but it’s clear to see that this jewel has been cut, polished, and is set to sparkle like never before.