Surprise Is The Word At Ay Caramba!
By Rosie, Pete and Will /
A Spanish phrase that expresses surprise, Ay Caramba could
well be the perfect name for the restaurant at the site of
the former Viva Juan restaurant in Centerport. Since it was
taken over by Mark and Marty Weiner – who most recently
owned Northport’s Bayview Bistro – Ay Caramba
is full of surprises.
Visitors to the restaurant overlooking Centerport’s
Mill Pond are jolted into the realization that a different
dining experience awaits when they enter into a carmine red
lobby leading to a sunny yellow interior. The surprises continue
on the menu where an international fusion approach spices
up the somewhat sophisticated Mexican offerings. The owners
call it “eclec-Mex,” with the explanation that
it’s what sets Ay Caramba! apart from other Mexican
“We can accommodate big parties and often get six, 10,
13 people who walk in. There’s always somebody who says,
‘I don’t want Mexican.’ They had it for
lunch, they just had it yesterday,” said Mark. So the
menu was expanded to include a number of other offerings.
A brand new menu introduced at the end of November includes
a wine-glazed rib eye steak, a stacked pork loin dish and
red snapper dishes alongside the Mexican favorites.
The meal starts with a bowl of multi-colored tortillas and
a spicy chipotle dip that keep the edge of your hunger while
you peruse the menu. A mini menu on each table lists a selection
of specialty drinks. Variations on the obligatory margarita
($8-10) include the frozen margarita, an enticing pomegranate
margarita and the premium margarita with Cuervo.
We started with the Savory Mexican Corn Soup ($6), a thick,
tummy-warmer that will take the chill off of a cold winter
Appetizers lean toward Mexican specialties but the global
influence is at work as well. Guacamole ($9) is fresh made
and as good as any, and Mexican Corn ($3) is a treat of sweet
corn on the cob, grilled, brushed with mayo and fire-finished
with a torch before a final sprinkle of Mexican cheese, queso
fresco. This sweet starter went like candy at our table.
Another house specialty and a favorite among regulars are
Caramba Kisses ($6), a trio of jumbo shrimp stuffed with jalapeno
peppers and wrapped in bacon. The bacon brings a smoky flavor,
the peppers have heat. Heat seekers will also enjoy the Duck
Wontons ($10), crispy fried wontons with a spicy filling and
a chili-spiced, sweet dipping sauce. And sure to become a
best seller, the Kobe Duo ($12) is a pair of kobe beef burgers,
grilled to order and topped with cheese on a mini-bun. In
the increasingly popular world of sliders and mini-burgers,
these are standouts.
More than two dozen entrees include the Mexican standards:
Fajita platters ($19-21) for chicken, steak or shrimp lovers
— or the house specialty, Tuna Fajitas with pineapple
— are served still sizzling with sauteed onions, peppers,
pico de gallo , sour cream and guacamole; Tacos ($14) filled
with beef, chicken, duck or fish; Chimichanga Caramba ($18),
with shrimp, spinach, cheese, guacamole and sour cream and
the Caramba Special ($22), skirt steak with sautéed
chicken and shrimp, tampiquena sauce and a tortilla basket.
The non-Mexican offerings have been expanded with the new
menu. Chef Maureen O’Neill, brought from Northport’s
famed Maroni’s, has replaced the filet mignon with a
wine-glazed Rib Eye Steak ($26), cooked to order and served
with chorizo mashed potatoes. Grilled Pork Loin ($19) shows
off the restaurant’s ability to add a Mexican twist
to an American standard. A premium cut of pork loin is served
amid a tower of sweet Yucca fries and the some of the better
onion rings we’ve ever had. The hot-and-sweet of the
honey glaze complements the pork beautifully.
Given the restaurant’s spectacular view of Mill Pond,
many diners get a hankering for seafood, and Ay Caramba offers
several selections from Grande Seared Sea Scallions ($22)
with roast corn and tomato salsa; and a simple Red Snapper
($22) with tomato, onion and cilantro salsa. But the star
on our visit was the Mariscada, a gumbo-like seafood stew
with tender calamari, tiny, sweet scallops, mussels, clams,
shrimp and a half lobster tail in a spicy, green tomatillo
sauce. It’s a satisfying way to enjoy a sampling of
We followed up with coffee and desserts. The firm, custardy
Flan is not too sweet and an Apple Empanada with vanilla ice
cream gave a Mexican twist to an all American ingredient list.
The fusion menu is a result of Mark and Marty’s years
in the restaurant business. Mark describes himself as the
visionary and the schmoozer whose job it is to work the room,
greet customers and make them feel comfortable. His 45 years
in the business include nine years as a manager for New York
City’s Regine, and a stint running the dining room at
Leona Helmsley’s Park Plaza hotel.
“I just believe in good food,” said Mark.
He’s also a restless and impulsive soul, so we expect
the pleasant surprises will continue at Ay Caramba!
441 Route 25A, Centerport
Atmosphere: Bright, cheery and casual with
Karaoke on weekends.
Cuisine: Eclec-Mex fusion
Price range: Moderate
Hours: Open seven days for
lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m.