Talking Cocktails, Bar Food and James Beard with Jema

Jema’s head bartender John Guglielmo prepares two Barna Bee Buzz cocktails. • Photo by Kerriann Flanagan Brosky

It’s been almost six months since I attended the grand opening of Jema, Huntington’s most exclusive new restaurant. I had written a piece on Jema for my column Kerriann Eats, and I was recently invited back to talk with them about their new bar menu, signature cocktails and their recent dinner at the James Beard House.

Jema, as many have come to know by now, is the brainchild of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano and Chef Franco Sampogna, the young and energetic Brazilian-born chef who has spent his career working for top Michelin Star-winning chefs. If you haven’t been to Jema, you really must go. It is a true experience in dining, and although expensive, it is worth every penny.

But what if you don’t feel like a fancy sit down meal that could potentially span more than a couple of hours? What if you just want a small meal and a cocktail after seeing a movie in town? You’re in luck. Jema now offers both a formal dining experience and a sophisticated-but-fun bar menu to meet the needs of all its clientele. The bar is set upstairs and away from the restaurant, and is both elegant and comfortable.

General manager and maître d’ Bernardo Carolo said that during the first several months of operation the goal was to obtain consistency in the restaurant. Even though the restaurant works as a whole with the bar, they didn’t have the time to really focus on what their vision for the bar would be until now.

“We want to give customers a different experience at the bar,” said Carolo. “We want to give them cocktails they can’t get at other places. We give them choices. We incorporate local products, which is a big part of the restaurant. Now we are incorporating it in the drinks as well.”

Jema has added two more fantastic signature cocktails – 50 Shades of Pom and Barna Bee Buzz. 50 Shades of Pom incorporates Beefeater Gin, Sombra Mezcal, Pokpok Som vinegar, and citrus with a cider grape infusion garnish on the rim. This drink is absolutely fabulous! For me it was a close tie with the Barna Bee Buzz cocktail which is made with New York Distilling Company Dorothy Parker Gin, St. Germain, lemon, and local Barna Bee Raw Honey. It is finished with a bee pollen rim and fresh rosemary from HOG Farm (Hamlet Organic Garden) in Brookhaven. I am not a gin drinker by any means, but this drink really blew me away with flavor.

Along with these two conceptualized cocktails, the Joy de Vivre named for Joy Mangano, remains a popular favorite as does the Pamplemousse and Pepper, which is a delicious citrusy drink made with habanero pepper when in season. There are also classic cocktails such as cosmopolitans, Manhattan, and John’s winter spice-infused version of a dark and stormy. For dessert, I recommend the espresso martini made with Giorgio’s Coffee Roasters in Farmingdale. It is truly wonderful. Like the restaurant, the bar is seasonally updated.

As their cocktail menu states: “Our seasonally crafted cocktails focus on house-made ingredients sourced from local growers and distillers while reflecting on the diverse stories of the Jema family and Long Island.” They have truly captured this in each cocktail. Head bartender John Guglielmo is a true mixologist by every definition.

And that’s not all. As Bernardo Carolo explains, there are always one or two cocktails on “reserve.”

“John has this level of creativity and passion about bartending that allows him to keep a couple of drinks up his sleeve,” states Carolo. “John will come up with an idea and say, ‘I have a new cocktail.’ He will make customers a cocktail which is not on the list. He always has cocktails on reserve. It keeps it interesting that way, and makes it special for the customer. As a manager and maître d’ I feel it’s important to bring the guest a feeling of exclusivity. It becomes a personal experience. It think that’s a very important part of hospitality.”

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With all the experiences that we have in life, and (in this case) all the foods that we eat – it's rare to find a place that makes such a lasting impression. I had the opportunity to visit @jemarestaurant last night and it was without a doubt one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. Their craft is one of a kind here. . 📷: Atlantic Scallops on top of a Cauliflower Puree with Smoked Cabbage – one of the many phenomenal dishes in the chef's tasting. #jemarestaurant . Thank you Jema, for a meal I'll never forget. And to @stuffbeneats for joining me! #tastesofny #huntington . . . . . #feedfeed #tryitordiet #likefoodnewyork #huffposttaste #putaforkinit #satisfeed #thrillist #yougottaeatthis #feedyoursoull #foodislife #eatmunchies #feastagram #foodilysm #seafood #finedining #farmtotable #chefstasting #locallysourced #suffolkcounty #🍴

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As for the bar food, there is really something for everyone. The focus is on tapas—small plates which can be shared—but you can also order a generous portion of halibut fish and chips, Texas-style fried chicken made with a saltine cracker crust, or a juicy Kobe beef burger. The tapas include incredible duck croquettes, Blue Point oysters, shrimp with chorizo, a pulled pork taco, fried calamari, a tomato bread with Parma ham, or a selection of charcuterie. I absolutely loved everything, but the duck croquettes were my favorite. And who can go wrong with oysters? If you’re in the mood for dessert, be sure to have the Apple Tart Tatin, which is a bar food menu item as well.

“Our new bar menu has something for everyone,” said Carolo. “We wanted to give a casual option where people can come often and have a good time.”

Chef Franco came out from the kitchen to say hello and offer us some foie gras. I congratulated him on the recent five-course pairing dinner he prepared for the James Beard House. For Jema, being selected to cook at this prestigious place was a dream come true. Jema applied and it took three months to find that they were accepted. The idea behind the dinner is to showcase the chef’s techniques and experience.

On February 28, 2017, Chef Franco Sampgna prepared a locally inspired meal which featured duck from Crescent Duck Farm, Margene Farms sunchoke and salsify, Barna Bee Honey, Shinnecock Atlantic scallops, bread from Duck Island bakery, cauliflower from HOG farm, Clipper Ship Tea Company products, wines from Paumanok and Macari Vineyards, Giorgio’s Coffee Roaster and North Fork Sea Salt. Jema created a beautifully illustrated presentation menu which included a map of Long Island showing exactly where all the products came from.

Chef Franco cooked for a full house of eighty people who were not familiar with Long Island products. They were so impressed that many said they would come out to Long Island to experience Jema and more of the local products.

“At the end of the day, that was the goal, to show New York State that you have a great region here with wonderful products,” said Carolo. “I think to be regarded as such is not only going to help us, but it will help the farmers and other restaurants who are trying to do something nice and make a difference.”

The Bar at Jema is open Wednesdays to Sundays starting at 5:30 p.m. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., is Joyful Hour at the bar, during which a fine selection of spirits, draft beers and wine by the glass are offered at “Joyful” prices.