Suffolk Theater has always been a unique destination on Long Island, combining high-energy concerts and shows with a high-end North Fork dining experience. When the Riverhead theater reopened on Aug. 27 with a performance by the Lords of 52nd Street, guests got their first taste of the theater’s new menu by Chef Jennie Werts and the team from Ellen’s on Front in Greenport.
Over the years, leading North Fork chefs have brought their beloved fare to this gem of a theater’s kitchen. Most recently Noah Schwartz’s from Noah’s offered guests cheese plates, barbecue duck and a prix fixe meal. But he left during lockdown. When the theater decided to reopen last month, its director Daniel Binderman began talking with Ellen’s on Front co-owner Andrew Werts.
“It was a long courtship,” Werts said. “We explored who we were, and the types of food that [would work].”
Chef Jennie envisioned a supper club, which they’re calling the One Eighteen Club, inspired by the Suffolk Theater’s art deco design and a menu featuring her signature comfort food but tailored for the theater-going crowd. To wit, expect an eclectic mix ranging from steak frites to adobo chicken tacos, from falafel to large pretzels, a Suffolk Theater favorite that’s been on multiple iterations of the menu.
“We realized early on we should never take the big pretzel off the menu,” explained Ellen’s on Front general manager Bunnii Buglione. “It’s stupid how many big pretzels we’ve sold.”
Having worked at the theater in 2014 and 2015, Buglione has inside knowledge of its clientele and their appetites.
“Back then, the menu was very traditional and borderline fancy,” she said, adding that the revamped menu’s emphasis on casual dishes better serve its guests. In keeping with The One Eighteen’s speakeasy vibe, concertgoers can also order craft cocktails like the High Noon Vodka Seltzer, which can be ordered as a table bucket and comes in a variety of fruit juices, appletinis and a curated menu of wines and beers.
“The food is great, they really know what they’re doing,” said Binderman, who has been with the theater since 2014. “Jennie has the right concept for what the audiences are looking for, and it’s all tremendously gourmet and high quality.”
So far, their guests concur and are equally pleased with the service, which can be tricky in a dinner-theater setting. Chef Cookie Pleitez from Greenport Harbor Brewing was brought on to oversee the kitchen staff and keep things running smoothly and efficiently.
“It’s exceeding our expectations,” Werts said. “The name of the game is getting the food out fast and without disrupting the show. If people are sitting at 7:00 and the show starts at 8:00, you’ve got a lot of people sitting at once.”
The One Eighteen Club is the third North Fork project from the Werts team, complementing Ellen’s on Front and the seasonal Jennie’s at Drossos snack bar. Buglione says her patrons will become instant converts to chef Jennie’s cuisine after sampling her fare at Suffolk Theater. “I think we’ve really put together a food program that highlights the beauty of the theater, the talent of Jennie’s cooking and how fun they can be together.”