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Cookies and cream pancakes at Sonoma Grill in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Restaurateurs Matt DeMar and John Cestare have heeded the call of hungry Riverhead area residents in search of a downtown brunch spot for after church services or weekend youth soccer games.

Sonoma Grill Riverhead, which opened in late August, is serving up wraps, pastas and brick-oven pizza inside the former East Main Street bank building that most recently housed the upscale restaurant the Riverhead Project.

But on a recent visit, the real stars were the eatery’s brunch offerings, which include cookies and cream pancakes ($12, made with Oreo chunks) and Nutella crepes with a house-made filling ($9). These are decadent dishes sure to sate your sweet tooth.

Chef Tara Weaver, who created many of the brunch dishes at Parlay Gastropub in Rockville Centre, has been brought in to oversee the brunch menu at Sonoma.

“I think I have a simple touch. I use simple ingredients,” Weaver said. “I would say it’s very crowd-pleasing. There’s a little bit for everybody.”

Nutella crepes at Sonoma Grill in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Nutella crepes at Sonoma Grill in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The portions are huge and the menu focuses on comfort food like fried chicken and waffles in an appetizing sriracha syrup ($15, also available on the dinner menu) and berry brioche french toast stuffed with mascarpone, Philadelphia cream cheese and vanilla ($12).

Cestare, a veteran restaurateur with projects all over the country and beyond, said it was the building’s owner, Christopher Pia, who first turned him onto Riverhead.

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“I love Riverhead. I think there is so much opportunity here,” Cestare said. “It was a market that I thought was underserved.”

The dining room has been re-sided with exposed brick and now features several TVs for anyone looking to watch a game. A large glass fireplace in the center of the room — one of the highlights of TRP’s ambiance — has remained.

The lower level will be available for private parties.

No Long Island wines were listed on the beverage menu, but there were several local beers, including two selections from Crooked Ladder Brewing Company. In addition to martinis and margaritas, the cocktail list includes mixed drinks made with dry ice.

“We put dry ice tablets in the drinks,” explained Timmy Pintauro, one of the managers. “It creates a smoking visual.”

Bill Ritzman, a veteran chef who most recently worked for Sonoma in Holtsville, will oversee the rest of the menu, which features everything from burgers and chicken wings to grilled Atlantic salmon to Cajun spicy chicken alfredo pasta.

“There are a lot of Italian dishes, but at the same time it tries to capture that American bistro café,” Ritzman said. “It’s such a well-rounded menu and it all sells really well.”

Chef Bill Ritzman and brunch chef Tara Weaver of Sonoma Grill Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Chef Bill Ritzman and brunch chef Tara Weaver of Sonoma Grill Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

While the menu might be reminiscent of a casual chain restaurant, Pintauro stressed that unlike many national brands, the items at Sonoma are mostly made in-house and are all made-to-order.

“It takes a little longer for the food to come out this way,” he said.

The Riverhead Project, an ambitious eatery that was lauded for bringing high-end fare to a downtown struggling with revitalization, closed in September 2014 after a three-year run.

But perhaps Sonoma, which opened a few weeks after nearby PeraBell Food Bar came to Riverhead and Mazi opened on East Main Street, will hit a sweeter spot for the area. With entrées in the $15 to $25 range, it offers a place for local families, Long Island Aquarium visitors or day-trippers to grab a wholesome meal without breaking the bank. And it will allow them to visit regularly and not make it just a special occasion place.

And maybe those new eateries mentioned above will draw some needed foot traffic downtown, which will pave the way for future TRPs.

“It was not Riverhead style,” a Riverhead woman who identified herself as Joan said of The Riverhead Project. She was leaving brunch at Sonoma on a recent Sunday after enjoying the berry brioche stuffed french toast.

“I think [Sonoma] is a great idea,” she said. “It was very good. I enjoyed it.”

Sonoma Grill is located at 300 East Main Street in Riverhead. A Grand Opening is planned for October 13.

Top Photo: Cookies and cream pancakes at Sonoma Grill in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Vera Chinese