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Our Very Own Big Easy

Mara Levi sits at the bar of her restaurant, her feet hanging over the black and white checkered floor, enjoying a sandwich and a glass of white wine. She laughs as her son, and restaurant chef, Josh, on the other side of the bar, yells at her for swearing.

“When the kids were little,” Levi laughed, “they had a curse jar that they’d make me put a dollar in every time I swore. They’d take the money and go to the movies.” That lighthearted, kitchen-table spirit imbues Mara’s Homemade, her family-run Southern cuisine restaurant in Syosset. Known for its crawfish boil, Cajun flavor and Arkansas-styled barbeque, Mara’s is The Real Thing. “I eat here every day,” she said with her slight Southern drawl. “We all do.”

Walk into Mara’s, and it’s as though you’ve been transported from the New York suburbs to The Big Easy. The sounds of trumpets and saxophones travel through the restaurant as the soundtrack of the South plays throughout the day. There’s live jazz every Wednesday from 8 to 10 p.m.

The aromas of smoked oysters and hot charcoal infuse the air. The big stove and oven are set directly behind the bar so customers can see the flames shoot up from the grill and hear the cracking sound of oysters cooking. Jars of Texas- and Arkansas-style barbeque sauce sit at the corner of the bar ready for purchase. Nets filled with shells hang from the ceiling while Mardi Gras beads draped over the lights give a warm glow to the room.

A patron walks in from outside and sits next to Levi at the bar. “How you doing?”  Levi asks the man. “I’m ready for a beer,” he laughs. Without asking, Levi tells her son to get him a Corona. It’s that kind of place.

Texas natives, the Levi family headed north and set up shop in Manhattan 13 years ago with a restaurant called Java N Jazz, in Union Square. A neighborhood hangout with live jazz and a menu built around home-style recipes, Java N Jazz also sold its own line of food.

“We wanted to be different,” Levi said. After seven years, the Levis took their business east to Syosset. Even as the new kids in the area, Mara’s Homemade quickly established rapport with its new neighbors. Some Manhattan customers even followed them to Long Island.

The operation relies on all members of the family. Hanna, Mara’s daughter, works the front of the house, Levi and Josh collaborate on recipes, and her husband, David, deals with the managerial aspects, such as picking up the live crawfish several times a week, which is flown in directly from the Louisiana gulf. “If it’s not from the gulf, we don’t serve it,” Levi said.

 And when they serve it, it’s quirky, spicy, delicious and fun. Levi describes the barbequed black peppered shrimp as “lick-your-fingers phenomenal.” The meal comes with a warm towelette, as much a necessity and a touch of Southern hospitality. “You’re allowed to get messy here because we help you clean up,” said Levi.  “We encourage getting messy.”

An authentic way to cool your mouth from the spicy shrimp and crawfish is with a cold glass of an Andy Gater craft beer. Mara’s is the only restaurant on Long Island serving the Louisiana barley brew.

Similarly genuine are the ties the family shares with its patrons. The Levis have customers they’ve known since they were single and are now married with children. “We’re really a part of people’s lives,” Levi said.     

Underscoring this are the walls of the restaurant, with one especially packed with faces of customers, friends and symbols of New Orleans, such as Saints posters, Mardi Gras beads and famous jazz musicians. “This is their wall,” Levi said. “People bring me stuff, I put it up.” It’s a visual expression of Crescent City culture, which is all about food, music and spirit. “We’re just trying to keep it alive,” Levi said.

Mara’s Homemade is at 236 W. Jericho Turnpike in Syosset. For more information, please call 682-9200 or visit www.marashomemade.com.

News

One local playwright and his company — The Plainview Project — seem to be headed to the big leagues.

Claude Solnik of Plainview, the Plainview Project’s writer, is married with two children. While he has a master’s degree in dramatic writing from New York University, after graduating he ended up going into journalism, which currently remains his day job. But in his free time he indulged in his true passion, hammering out numerous play scripts until the day they he realized that he needed to stop sitting on these works he was creating and put them in the hands of actors that could give them life.

Even as they hoped the parties would reach a last-minute settlement, commuters across Long Island were scrambling last week to devise alternate plans for getting to work if Long Island Rail Road’s 5,400 workers go on strike July 20. And they were vocal in their anger with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The strike, it seems, has roused commuter ire over a wide range of LIRR issues, from timeliness to cleanliness to costs.

“I’ll have to figure out a new way home from work,” said Marco Allicastro, a 20-year-old Queens resident waiting for a train home at the Bethpage station after a day’s work at the local King Kullen. “Long Island doesn’t really have a lot of options in terms of transportation. Maybe I should get a new job.”


Calendar

Sonny And Perley

Saturday, July 26

Women Artists You Should Know

Thursday, July 31

Adult Summer Reading Club

Through Aug. 7



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com