3 Brothers Again: Italian Vegan on Long Island
I have been blogging about 3 Brothers for many years now… since the unstyled and less fabulous Jay Astafa first created the vegan menu for their original Rockville Centre location in 2009. And since then, I’ve tried most of his casual food endeavors… his dinner and brunch menus at the Rockville Centre and then Farmingdale locations, Thanksgiving prix fixe, and the vegan cafe in Copaique, skipping his dish as guest chef at the grossly overpriced and seemingly horrendous Surf Lodge in Montauk and never having cause to try his catering. I liked having more vegan food options nearby and, as a Long Island native, appreciated his growth in popularity to an extent. But there was a point I became a bit turned off by the persona I saw developing behind his name… the number of pursed lipped pictures of him when I wanted to see his food… the canoodling with other local vegan scenesters, which involved more pursed lipped pictures. But no biggie. Because I just care about the food. So what if his success began to morph into some kind of (public) latent adolescent transformation of identity? If the food was good, I’ll eat it.
So now, when there is another transformation of identity (He is not vegan anymore.), I am still not interested… kind of. I’ll admit to briefly falling into a Facebook hole reading his posts and the reactions on his page. [Shudder.] But what I really want to know is, how does it all impact the most important part, the food? And, relatedly, how does this all impact the service at eateries perpetuating his menu?
Leona and 3 Brothers, in Lynbrook, is the latest incarnation. Besides “3 Brothers” being in the name, you may also identify it by the same window paint that marks up all of the Astafa eateries. The menu at this new space contains some of the items on featured on the menu at 3 Brothers Vegan Cafe in Copaique, as well as non-vegan Italian dishes. The prices are a bit higher here at the new location as has been the trend with each new venture. But there are the important factors of service and quality which, in the end, are the true determinators of value. So let’s start with service. Though service was just fine at this new Lynbrook location, service at Astafa eateries can range from this (fine) to shockingly bad to the point of confusion. I didn’t notice any service issues until they moved into the Farmingdale location where I saw our horribly inept server (It’s not for everyone. I was a terrible waitress for two weeks at Ruby Tuesdays before I walked out one night.) reprimanded harshly by the senior Astafa. She needed training, yes, but I was put off by how he treated her. Yelp’s reviews proves this to be more than an isolated incident. When the vegan cafe in Copaique opened, I was hopeful for improved service and more inspired options that relied less on the packaged, processed Daiya cheese. But unfortunately service was even worse. And honestly, I would have welcomed senior Astafa berating this service staff. It was possibly the worst service I have ever had, from start to finish. It was so bad in every way that we left confused. Was it a joke somehow? I did wound up returning with a friend when the details of that terrible visit blurred with time. But that time I decided would be the last time. Not because of the service, but because of the food. It was burnt and lifeless.
Here’s the problem. Vegan menus from trained or experienced vegan chefs are taught to a kitchen staff. Quality gets lost along the line, mostly because there are not chefs on the line. Important flavor balances and subtleties are lost (Cooking is an art after all.) and texture and temperature fail as much becomes a matter of reheating things. Quality control is minimal. So you get what tastes like leftovers. But you are paying over $20 for a dish. Briefly and in general, the price of the dish dictates the expectation on its quality. When there is a mismatch here, the customer is not satisfied–unless they don’t know any better. Add inconsistent service, and you lose a customer. Sure, the availability of vegan options can be exciting. But I want good food. That’s why I am never excited about vegan eateries branching out and tossing aside quality control for world domination.
Overall, the food at the new 3 Brothers suffered from that reheated leftovers feeling. It wasn’t bad, but it was definitely not delicious. (Definitely Not Delicious is a great band name.) The food–buffalo cauliflower. Deep-fried is enjoyable because of its crispy texture. But this was kind of soggy and too spicy.
The Seitan Marsala. Seitan was succulent and tender. I’m really missing texture here. And freshness. Not excited about salty and mushy.