The lemonade is sugary sweet at these longtime North Fork businesses

Fresh squeezed lemon is always the first ingredient. (Credit: David Benthal)

It doesn’t get much more refreshing than a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a summer day. The combination of simple ingredients — squeezed lemon, sugar and water served over ice — offers a taste of all-American nostalgia in each sip. 

From grandma’s kitchen to lemonade stands across the country, family recipes are passed down through generations, and the North Fork is no exception. 

Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion, Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck and Star Confectionery in Riverhead each have a top-secret, family recipe dating back more than 30 years. And while none would divulge their golden ratios of ingredients, all agreed no shortcuts should be taken when it comes to the drink’s namesake. Pre-squeezed, store bought lemon juice is simply too concentrated and acidic to strike the perfect tart and sweet. 

“The key is always fresh-squeezed lemon,” said Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant owner George Giannaris. “It is so important for it to be fresh.” 

Since opening in 1976 as a four-table, six-stool snack bar, Hellenic has been serving up its fresh-squeezed lemon along side Greek dishes. It was George Giannaris’ father and the restaurant’s founder, John Giannaris, who mastered the recipe in the small kitchen 43 years ago. And while Hellenic has evolved over the years, becoming a full-service restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating and adding to its original menu, the made-to-order lemonade hasn’t changed. 

George Giannaris still uses his father’s lemonade recipe at Hellenic Snack Bar in East Marion. (Credit: David Benthal)

“It is dad’s recipe and we’ll always use it,” Giannaris said. “He knew it would sell and he was right. People will drive all the way to the North Fork for it, or if they do come to the North Fork, they go out of their way to get it.” 

The lemonade at Harbes Family Farm invokes similar fanfare in Mattituck. Ed and Monica Harbes established the farm stand in 1989, selling roasted sweet corn roadside on Route 48. 

“The roasted corn was a big thing because it was one of the first things people could come to the farm and consume on-premises,” Mr. Harbes said. “It was very well received, and we thought what could they drink with it that could be produced right on the farm? Bottled soda didn’t seem to be the right combination.”

The answer was as simple as lemon, water and plain sugar. At the suggestion of an acquaintance, the Harbes’ purchased juicing equipment and started making their own lemonade at the farm stand their second year in business. Mrs. Harbes, known in the family for her creative brush strokes, painted the signs to alert customers of the new product, which was another instant hit. 

Monic Harbes, Shannon Harbes and baby Ed at the family farm in Mattituck. (Credit: David Benthal)

The Harbes’ began experimenting, expanding its lemonade offerings over the years to incorporate the farm’s seasonal fruits into its varieties. The secret, Mrs. Harbes said, is to introduce freshly squeezed fruit juice to the lemonade as the very last step. 

“We try to customize it for the season so around strawberry time we’ll feature strawberry lemonade,” Mr. Harbes said. “We do a few things to keep it exciting.” 

Now celebrating its 30th year and operated by the Harbes’ son, Ed Harbes Jr., the farm’s lemonade recipe is unchanged and continues to be made fresh daily and served up along with the corn during the season. (We also love it with their apple cider doughnuts!) 

As a kid, Anthony Meras Jr., the third-generation owner of Star Confectionery — locally known as Papa Nick’s, recalled making the simple syrup for the iconic Riverhead restaurant’s homemade lemonade. His late grandfather, Nick Meras, who opened the restaurant in 1920, created the lemonade recipe, which has been served at the old-time shop for nearly 100 years. 

“My grandfather did everything by hand,” he said. “I used to make the simple syrup. We’d boil the water in a huge candy burner downstairs and turn up the sugar to get it to the right consistency. That was bad ass back then.”

Though now made with store-bought simple syrup, Papa Nick’s keeps with the simple recipe for its signature frothy lemonade. Meras Jr. starts by pouring the juice of two lemons into the same shaker used to make the restaurant’s homemade ice cream milkshakes, then adds ice, water and a couple shots of simple syrup. The shaker is put atop a mechanical mixing machine and blended into an almost creamy texture. 

“The froth is so good,” Meras said. “It is a way to jazz it up.”