Walking into S.T.A.G.S Tap House on Main Street in Huntington is like walking into a cozy ski chalet in Aspen. High tables, brick walls, lots of wood and some metalwork have transformed the space, which once housed Ideal Cheese, into an inviting and warm gathering place where good food and a cold beer can be enjoyed on a chilly fall night.
Construction on S.T.A.G.S—whose letters are the initials of the owners’ children—took a total of 12 months to complete. It officially opened on July 1, 2016, and was the dream of partners Jeffrey States and Joe Forgione—IT guys gone restaurateurs. No detail was overlooked during the renovation, and the needs of the customers were clearly in focus. Knowing that many customers have trouble reading the menu in dim lighting, each table has its own hanging light with a dimmer switch. Turn it up to read the menu, then turn it down to set the mood. Also at the tables are built in sockets for charging cell phones. Acoustic sound tiles were used on the ceiling so the neighbors living above the restaurant can enjoy peace and quiet on the weekends when the restaurant is especially busy. A lot of items have been added to the walls as well, to help soak up the sound so patrons can have a conversation without screaming over one another.
S.T.A.G.S is a happy place where customers are treated like family. By definition, it is a gastropub, but according to executive chef Koji Kakimoto, it is more than just a plain old burger and fries, chicken fingers, wings and beer. The food is a little more eclectic than a regular pub, and craft beers are served. Although they have some old-fashioned dishes like steak Diane, they also top burgers with pork belly or wild boar, and their ribs are ibérico ribs from Spain. The ribs are a little more fatty, but are so good, according to chef Koji.
Local products are used whenever possible, including fresh produce from local farms and olive oil from The Crushed Olive right down the street. For a while they were even using trout from the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery for a homemade trout spread. For the fall, the menu has been changed, but some popular dishes from the first menu remain.
The original menu was created by consulting chef Adam Goldgell, who was runner-up on Food Network’s Restaurant Express with Robert Irvine. Once S.T.A.G.S was up and running, he trained Chef Koji who took over the executive chef position. Koji then added his own interesting twists to the dishes.
Because of his interesting cultural background, Chef Koji has a lot of flavors and techniques to bring to the table, which makes his food quite unique and different from other gastropubs out there.
“My style of cooking is very open, because I come from a half Japanese, half Irish-Italian background. So I have dealt with different cultures and foods and tastes since I’m a little kid. I was the one bringing sushi to school as a child,” said Chef Koji. “My food is very fusion driven. For example, I’ll make an American dish using French techniques and Italian taste. I just really grab what I like from each culture and make it into a nice combined dish in the end.”
Chef Koji started cooking when he was in middle school and high school. He worked in restaurants delivering pizza and washing dishes, and he always watched his mother cook. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be an auto mechanic or a chef. After high school he went to college for a year and decided it just wasn’t for him. He couldn’t see himself working in an office. He abandoned the idea of being an auto mechanic as well, and he enrolled at what was, at the time, the Culinary Academy in Syosset.
After he graduated about eight years ago, he started working at Nisen in Woodbury (now closed), and then went to Shiro of Japan in Carle Place where he trained as a sous chef. That is when he met Chef Adam Goldgell. They worked together for a while, but eventually they went their separate ways. It wasn’t until a year ago that Koji got a phone call from Adam who told him there was a good opportunity to be an executive chef at a new place in Huntington. He told him they would create a menu together, and Koji accepted the position.
Chef Koji’s enthusiasm for his work is contagious, and he was excited for me to try his dishes. He started me off with duck breast pastrami mini reubens with sproutkraut and weinkase lagrein cheese on gougères, and it was served with a brock beer mustard in a little cup. This was a fun and delicious small plates dish, and I really enjoyed the flavors. The gougères were light and the duck, which is smoked and made in house, melted in my mouth. It paired well with a KBA – Kentucky Bourbon Ale, which is a light ale aged in bourbon barrels. The KBA is one of forty rotating beers S.T.A.G.S has on tap.
Next up was a Korean barbecue burger, which consisted of a 10-ounce beef burger topped with Korean bulgosi, which is similar to pulled pork, and a fried egg. Carrots and pickles were underneath the burger which sat in the middle of a brioche bun. The burger was seasoned with togarashi, a Japanese spice blend. Pulled pork, fried egg and Japanese spices? You would think this wouldn’t work, but somehow it did, and it was remarkably refined. I half expected a messy, overloaded burger, and this was not at all the case. The layer of pork was thin, and the burger not overly spiced. The egg was cooked perfectly and the carrots and pickles added a nice crunch. To my surprise, it really worked. It was served with some house-made fries and homemade zucchini pickles.
I’m not usually a rib person, but Chef Koji was right: the slow-smoked iberico pork baby back ribs with guava glaze, roasted hazelnuts and homemade “tator tots” was a winner if you’re a fan of ribs. It was sticky and rich and cooked perfectly, and I liked the addition of the finely chopped hazelnuts. Then there was dessert. I try to make a point to not finish the desserts when I’m on assignment (for obvious reasons), but I have to say, the banana foster crème brûlée was out of this world. Probably one of the best desserts I’ve had this year, and how it was presented was outrageous. It was made with caramelized banana, dark rum and roasted peanuts. I finished the whole thing, and I’m still dreaming about it. A sure winner there.
“We offer a lot of flavors here for people who want to try to something new,” said Chef Koji. “I want to keep surprising them and keep challenging them to try something new.”
Every Thursday a new burger special comes out, and now that it is getting cold, the chef is also offering a homemade soup special which comes out on Thursdays as well.
S.T.A.G.S Tap House is open seven days a week starting at 4:00 p.m. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.