By Brian Rafferty/ firstname.lastname@example.org
To some, it would seem that the closer you
get to the North Shore, the further you get from home style
Southern cooking – that’s just not the North Shore’s
Well, anybody who has been living with that misconception
has no idea what is in store for them when they take a ride
along New York Avenue in Huntington to get to The Cooke’s
In, which serves a delightful blend of Southern, Creole, Caribbean
and Italian food – basically everything south of the
Mason Dixon line with a touch of Italy to boot.
Located in a renovated diner, The Cooke’s In wisely
ditched the booths, Formica and chrome, replacing them with
small tables draped with cotton and vinyl tablecloths. The
walls are painter white with a sky above and grass below,
and are completely lined with white picket fences. Stuffed
into the top rails of the fences are children books, creating
an inviting, family friendly ambience.
As we were seated, Joann, one of at least three waitresses
who helped us that night, took our drink orders and explained
the night’s specials to us. The one that sticks out
in my mind now, which I’ll have to go back for at some
point, was the pecan-crusted grouper with salmon over spinach
with a sun-dried tomato butter.
I should note right here that dinner at the Cooke’s
In on the weekend is more of an experience than meal. The
food is no different than any other night, but there is the
added presence of Gene Selesner on the piano. Gene is a consummate
lounge man, whose fingers tickle the ivories as he goads the
visitors into sing-alongs and plays music trivia with them,
trying to get them to name that tune.
With a melody from “West Side Story” dancing through
my head, I ordered the Ravioli Pie as an appetizer as my wife
was content to just enjoy the salad that comes with all the
entrees. The pie itself is a great creation, and typical of
Southern cooking. It takes simple ingredients and puts them
together in a unique way to create something new out of what
people have lying around the house.
The concept is simple. You start with a standard soft pie
shell, add in a layer of zucchini and eggplant sliced super
thin, then pile on large rounds of cheese ravioli with a touch
of marinara and top the whole thing with a wad of melted mozzarella.
Delightful in its simplicity and taste, it truly set the tone
for what was yet to come.
While we worked on the pie, one of our servers came out with
a large salad plate, smaller plates for each or us and a basket
with a couple of rolls and the best cornbread I have had since
my six years living in Virginia. It was light and fluffy with
almost an angel cake feel, but with the richness of corn that
a good cornbread should have.
The salad was a mix of greens combined with diced carrot,
celery, pepper and onion, as well as tomatoes and olives.
There were two or three different kinds of croutons and the
dressing as a simple, tangy vinaigrette.
We sat and listened as customers came up to sing while Gene
played. One family of two adults and three kids was in the
corner having a night out; a few older couples sat across
from each other and stared into one another’s eyes.
Just in time for us to finish our first courses, the staff
buzzed around and began preparing the table for the main course.
With empty plates cleared away we were presented with the
side dishes before the main courses were brought out. Each
was certainly meant to serve at least two people. There were
crisp roasted potatoes, sweet potato fries, a bowl of corn
pudding and a cup of collard greens.
The fries had a dusting of powdered sugar, the potatoes were
just the right blend of crisp outer shell mixed with a soft,
warm interior, the pudding was the opposite of its cornbread
cousin – thick, dense, piping hot and filled with crumbs
and kernels, and the greens mixed well with my dish’s
Speaking of the main dishes, I strayed far from my regular
meat and potatoes routine to try something I had loved in
Virginia but would not dare order in New York – catfish.
I asked the waitress for the broiled catfish, and shook her
head, and told me that I didn’t want that. “Trust
me, you want poached,” she said, talking about the Farm-Raised
Catfish poached with wine, mustard and mixed vegetables ($17).
She was right. An enormous piece of fish was fork tender,
coming apart in this creamy mustard, wine and lemon sauce.
The carrots, peppers, squash, onion and zucchini were roasted
to perfection, and the whole thing was served over a bed of
rice. I was sure to add some of the hot sauce – the
third condiment next to salt and pepper at any respectable
Southern joint – onto some of the fish at the end just
to give myself a kick.
My wife couldn’t pick between the Stuffed Chicken with
Tart Apples and Raisins ($18) or the Herb Crusted Boneless
Loin of Pork with Apples, Walnuts, Currants and Sun-Dried
Cherries ($18), so she asked our server to pick. The pork
was delicious, and the mound of fresh and dried fruits on
top was soft and heavenly.
Of course picking our meals at the Cooke’s In was the
hardest part. It would have been easy to go with the Southern
Fried Chicken ($16), BBQ Pork Spare Ribs ($17), the Jamaica
Jerk Stewed Ribs ($18), the Caribbean Bouillabaisse, with
mussels, clams, shrimp, shellfish, and coconut milk ($21)
or plain old Penne A La Vodka ($15) with chicken ($16) or
shrimp ($17), but I wanted something that was both new and
exciting, and which I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere
We closed out our meals with a couple of great desserts. My
wife got the most popular on the menu, the Coconut Cake ($15),
and I went with a Southern gem – the chocolate Pecan
“I made a carrot cake today, but I overcooked it by
15 minutes,” said Juanita, the owner and head chef at
the Cooke’s In. “It was still pretty good,”
It had been a long day for Juanita. She though she could spend
a day off her medication, figuring she wouldn’t feel
any different, but she said she was in a lot of pain. She
sat next to Gene as we finished our desserts and coffee, crooning
a song of heartbreak and despair, not sounding too far off
in tone or style from Billie Holiday, the years on her face
and the pain in her bones coming through in her voice.
An older couple came in to the restaurant that used to be
a diner, sat down, looked at the menu, and left. “They
were probably looking for a cup of coffee and didn’t
know what was going on here when they came in,” Juanita
They have no idea what they were missing.
The Cooke’s In has a full bar, great food, a warm atmosphere
and too many things on the menu to handle in just one review.
You’re just going to have to see it for yourself. Enjoy!
The Cooke’s In
767 New York Avenue
Atmosphere: Southern International
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues-Thurs,
11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat.; 8 a.m.–1 p.m.
Price Range: Moderate, $16-$21
entrees, $6-$8 appetizers.