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David Benthal, editorial, portrait,

If you’ve ever wondered what chefs cook in the comfort of their own homes, just pop into Barrow Food House when it opens in the coming weeks.

At this cozy Aquebogue restaurant, you won’t just be eating meals created by American Beech executive chef Kyle Romeo and his wife, Amanda Falcone, who used to work at North Fork Table & Inn. You’ll be dining right in their living room.

Well, former living room. As their restaurant dream became reality, Romeo and Falcone bequeathed their home’s main floor to Barrow Food House, relocating their domestic space upstairs and turning their commute to work into a trip down a flight of stairs.

A restaurant was always part of the plan when they bought the well-worn 1850s farmhouse four years ago. They tore it down and rebuilt it themselves in the same style, retaining a few original wooden beams upstairs for decoration. They added a giant chef’s kitchen, pressed tin tiles, a beautiful wraparound mahogany bar (built by Romeo with help from his woodworking uncle) and a basement with a custom walk-in refrigerator. The original porch was recreated so customers can eat outside, facing the flowers and trees of Verderber Nursery across the street, or on a side patio. Vintage metal trays with painted flowers add a homey feel.

This hearty sandwich is just one of the things you might find on the menu at Barrow Food House. (Credit: David Benthal)

A love of food definitely runs in the family. In addition to the chef couple themselves, Falcone’s grandfather was an acclaimed cookbook author in his day, and her parents still run Aquebogue’s six-acre Cedar Grove Farm literally 1,000 feet away. In fact, Falcone’s dad, Les, converted the farm’s greenhouse wholesale business to edible produce with the restaurant in mind. It now features 200 fig trees and numerous raised beds for kohlrabi, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, cucumbers and more. Les Falcone also taps his property’s maple trees and makes his own syrup, and is working on a large roaster/smoker that Barrow House will use to roast New Mexican chilis.

“We want to share our food passions with our customers,” said his daughter, noting they have a small cider press that they’ll use in the fall and will also be curing and smoking their own bacon and making sausage. “When time allows, we plan to have events around our food.”

With the farm so close, Romeo plans to bring produce over himself so it’s always as fresh as can be. Meat is thoughtfully sourced upstate or from the duck farm down the road, but the restaurant will be rich on veggies and grains. And with farm-to-table such a buzzy topic on the North Fork, the open format lets the owners explain the provenance of the food in detail. In fact, the name Barrow Food House implies a farm-fresh wheelbarrow and the restaurant sign features a farmer’s spade and chef’s knife.

The work on the house has been ongoing for several years. (Credit: David Benthal)

“Given the community feel on the North Fork, we created the giant open kitchen so the customer is part of the experience,” explains Romeo, who grew up in Southold. “I want customers to see us prep the food, cook the food, and give them the chance to talk to the chef. This is the food we love to eat anyway, so it’s truly home cooking!”

Overall, the brunch- and lunch-focused menu is healthy casual, with lots of sandwiches (roast pork with fig chutney mayo, bean/mushroom burger), a seared duck breast plate or dishes like grain salad with quinoa, mungbean, green mango, scallion, tamari sunflower seeds and cashew avocado crema. Local fish will be featured, with smoked fish for brunch/lunch. For dinner, there will be daily specials that are a mashup of Romeo and Falcone’s cooking styles: Think striped bass crudo with green coriander seeds, red chili, passion fruit and lime or seared pork chop with tomato and peach panzanella salad. A liquor license means customers can enjoy local wines, beer and cocktails.

The counter-service space is zoned for 16, but takeout will be a major focus. “The concept is to be very mobile,” says Falcone, for people driving by or heading to the beach or a picnic. And all to-go lunches will use earth-friendly packaging.

Produce the family grows will be used in the food served at the highly anticipated eatery. (Credit: David Benthal)

While the couple makes it all look easy, complete with hardcore-yet-smiley DIY restoration photos on the Barrow Food House Facebook page, they don’t advise trying this at home, no matter how well you build and/or cook.

“We had no idea how difficult it would be,” says Falcone, who admits that “not knowing what they didn’t know” probably helped them embark on the project in the first place. Because the restaurant is on a state road, they had to contend with state, county and Riverhead permits, plus obtaining residential to commercial “change of use” authorizations.

But it’s clear that it’s all been a labor of love. If transforming a 170-year-old farmhouse into a modern-day restaurant on their own weren’t work enough, the couple also had a baby during the process, moving into the completed house three days after their son was born. Today, baby Bennet is 2, and the couple envisions him eating breakfast at the restaurant’s counter before school while they set up. And customers can be sure they’ll get plenty of glimpses of him while hanging out with the couple’s newest baby: Barrow Food House.