Food has been Christian Mir’s destiny since he was born.
Mir is the executive chef and co-owner — along with his wife, Elaine DiGiacomo — of Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue, where the food is upscale and exquisite, and the ambiance is sophisticated, but cozy and without pretension.
Mir’s resume is impressive. He attended culinary school in his native France and has worked in many prestigious restaurants around the world, from some of the top names in France to legendary establishments like New York City’s Tavern on the Green. But he credits his upbringing in Villemur, a small town half an hour north of Toulouse, with inspiring his love of food and cooking. Mir said he “grew up” in the grocery store his parents owned, which he compared to the gourmet food market and butcher shop, Sonny’s, in East Quogue. His grandparents owned a farm nearby as well, deepening his family ties to food and cooking.
“I was always around food,” he said, sipping an espresso while sitting at the bar at Stone Creek on a late morning in mid November. The mood was calm and quiet, broken up only occasionally by the distant ring of the telephone, and the only guest so far that day was a large swan that had come waddling up from the nearby creeks at the back of the five-acre piece of property, looking for some bread, which Mir tossed out from the back door with a smile.
It was a calm before a storm, of sorts; Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest days of the year at Stone Creek, and it’s a popular destination during the holiday season as well, with the cozy bar setting and a crackling fire adding extra motivation for guests looking to escape the cold and enjoy dinner out.
The Stone Creek Inn is off the beaten path, on a stretch of Montauk Highway in East Quogue just east of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it main street of that hamlet. The relative obscurity of the location did not deter Mir and Digiacomo when they were scouting locations for their own restaurant more than 20 years ago. The couple had met at Tavern on the Green, where Mir had taken a job as a sous-chef in 1991 while in his late 20s, and Digiacomo, also a culinary school graduate, was working alongside the restaurant’s Italian chef. Mir’s introduction to the New York City restaurant world was truly a trial by fire. He arrived in the states on December 29 of 1991, unable to speak English, and his first day on the job was New Year’s Eve.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he recalled, with a laugh. “It was a little crazy.”
He survived that harrowing first night and spent four more years at the famed restaurant, before working briefly at two other prestigious New York City restaurants; Café Centro and Grand Tier at the Metropolitan Opera. After that, opening a restaurant with his wife was a natural choice, he said, given their backgrounds, but the couple had a tough time finding the right location in New York. So they began to scout locations out east, gravitating to the Westhampton Beach area because Digiacomo’s parents had long owned a summer home there. A friend suggested they take a drive past a three-story Victorian house that was built in 1910 as a residence, and was a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, and later became the Ambassador Inn, which had opened in the 1950s and was run by Delfina Curry for several years. There was no for sale sign out front, but Mir said he knew the restaurant had been closed for several years. So they made the somewhat bold move of knocking on the door of the cottage in the back, where Curry still lived, and asked her if she was interested in selling the restaurant.
“She was a great lady, and we made a deal, basically on that first day,” he said. “It was just the right time.”
The building required extensive renovations before they could open and were not well known in the area as neither of them grew up on the east end. It was a risk, and Mir said many people at the time expressed that sentiment.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “I think some people were like, that’s a little crazy?”
But Mir and his wife had a vision, and, 24 seasons later, it’s clear they were able to bring it to life. Much of the food on the menu is French inspired, including classics like seasonal vegetable cassoulet, bouillabaisse, and beef bourguignon, but the menu also represents his wife’s tastes— Digiacomo is half Irish and half Sicilian and spent two years in Rome, where she honed her love of pasta and Italian cuisine. Her influence is on the menu as well, and she has been responsible for running the front of the restaurant and has been instrumental in the catering side of the business as well. Mir said he also likes to experiment with other styles, citing his love of Thai cuisine and also pointing out that sushi can be found on the menu from time to time. The offerings at Stone Creek are a strong mix of classic favorites–such as Long Island duck meatballs, crispy calamari salad with local calamari and locally grown frisee—and other dishes that may come and go. Using seasonal ingredients is a big priority for Mir, and he likes the chance to make his customers happy by both adding new elements and keeping the classics that some regular guests have not strayed from for more than 20 years.
“We’re known to be a French restaurant, but we’re more than that,” he said. He even pointed out that they chose the name Stone Creek Inn—one of two creeks behind the property, along with Weesuck Creek—specifically because he and his wife felt a specifically French name would perhaps deter some potential customers.
That said, Mir’s classic French dishes are inspired by his upbringing, and remain some of the favorites on the menu. Growing up in southwest France, and working in restaurants in the south of France of course influenced his choices.
“I love olive oil and fresh herbs and tomatoes,” he said. “And I try to stick with seasonal ingredients as best I can.”
In addition to having signature tastes when it comes to menu items, Mir has also been dedicated to a specific managerial style, which he says is partly a function of his personality and partly informed by his experience as an employee is large, high-end restaurants.
“I like to treat everybody the same,” he said. “Whether it’s the person cleaning pots and pans or my sous chef.”
He also tries to take a democratic approach with the diners.
“We try to accommodate our customers,” he added. “I think this is why we’ve been successful as well.”
That approach has worked, both in terms of securing repeat business and having consistency when it comes to his staff. His general manager, Gabrielle Walsh, has been with Stone Creek for more than a decade, and his bartender, Phil, has worked for there for many years as well. Several members of the waitstaff have been around for a long time too.
As the restaurant has grown over the years, the business has expanded in other ways. Stone Creek has a robust catering business as well, doing much of the catering for Wolffer Estate Vineyards, particularly when they host weddings and private parties. Stone Creek has also operated a food truck in the summer for the last two years, with more casual fare such as lobster rolls, tacos, and seasonal salads.
With a successful, well-established business, Mir said he has from time to time considered expanding or opening another location, and has sometimes fielded questions from people wondering if he’d prefer to be in a bigger town in the Hamptons, one with perhaps more name recognition than East Quogue. He’s considered expanding the restaurant a bit, perhaps to include an outdoor terrace, but aside from that, Mir said he doesn’t have any plans to re-invent what has clearly been a well-functioning wheel.
“Sometimes people say, ‘don’t you wish you were in Southampton? Or somewhere bigger?’ and I say, I don’t think so.” When presented with the notion that the more obscure location has become part of Stone Creek’s appeal, with the lack of other building or establishments nearby lending it an air of romance, even, Mir agreed.
“This time of year we have the fireplace going, and there are plenty of people who get engaged here. They’ll say, can you put the ring in the cake? Or something like that.”
“So I think we’re pretty happy right now,” he continued, smiling. “And we’ll keep on going for another, I don’t know how many years. But, so far, so good.”