From the outside, Riverhead’s Jerry & the Mermaid looks like a typical seaside bar/grill. We went inside fully expecting to have a decent cheeseburger and French fries, but, like the mythical mermaid, looks proved to be deceiving in the best way.
The decor is nautically themed, and a television behind the bar and above the dining room mean customers can catch the game no matter where they sit. During the warmer months, there’s also seating on the heated patio. Hotel guests at the adjacent Hyatt can get takeout or delivery to their rooms. Owned by executive chef Jerry Dicecco, Jerry & the Mermaid is a storied North Fork gem, with delectable dishes for everyone.
Jerry & the Mermaid’s extensive appetizer offerings are both sophisticated and varied. The yellowfin tuna tartare is not to be missed. The tartare is prepared with micro spinach from Satur Farms in Cutchogue, wasabi, aioli reduction and almonds, as well as sweet potato chips made in-house for scooping up the fresh and flavorful dish. Next, we tried The Mermaid Salad, with calamari and scungilli, olives, celery and red onion over mixed greens. Squeeze on some charred lemon to complete this sharp salad. On certain nights, as a special, the salad comes with Spanish octopus. When it comes to shellfish, every item on the menu is preceded by the word “local.” The steamers are dug at Mt. Sinai and the muscles come from Shinnecock Bay. Local scallops had just come into season.
Clams casino, with mushroom, bacon, caramelized onions and thyme, makes a great start to any meal. Alternatively—or perhaps in addition, depending on appetite—the wild-caught oysters Rockefeller, with caramelized onion, chopped spinach, oyster liquor and béchamel, come four to a plate and are rich and saucy. Then there’s the soup. According to Dicecco, the most popular soup on the menu is seafood bisque, which has an unparalleled creamy taste. But Dicecco’s personal favorite is the New England clam chowder. It’s clear why—every bite of potato and clam shares the flavor of the bacon.
Our final appetizer before the main course was a real treat. Jerry’s Famous Buffalo Wings took Gold honors in the 2013 Dan’s Best of the Best, North Fork. The wings, which are more dry than saucy, balance heat with BBQ sweetness.
There are entrees for seafood lovers and also a “Far From the Dock” selection. For a seafood dish, which is served with a choice of starch, vegetable fricassee and side salad, diners can’t go wrong with the pignoli-crusted grouper. The crust gives the tender and mild fish a little texture and crunch and the beurre blanc lends a subtle buttery flavor. Rice pilaf with mushrooms and caramelized Bermuda onions on the side are a perfect pairing. For landlubbers, the black angus Gorgonzola ribeye with Jerry’s own marinade can’t be beat. The marinade draws out the natural flavor of the beef–which is unbelievable.
We were both stuffed after those two excellent entrees, but it’s very hard to resist dessert. Jerry & the Mermaid’s signature dessert is vanilla ice cream in a crepe with—the best part—hot fudge. It’s like a deconstructed ice cream cone. For a real treat, get the apple tart. Because this takes some time to prepare, order 15 minutes ahead of finishing dinner.
Dicecco is Johnson & Wales-trained and has experience working in Italy. His father, the first “Jerry,” founded the restaurant 20 years ago and has retired. It’s clear that he left the place in good hands. We were curious about who the “Mermaid” in the restaurant’s name was supposed to be. Dicecco smiled and explained that his late mother was the “original” mermaid, but that his newborn daughter now holds the title.
Jerry & the Mermaid is located at 469 East Main Street in Riverhead, 631-727-8489, jerryandthemermaid.com.