Approaching Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue it’s hard not to notice the restaurant’s iconic neon sign. Even in daylight, the now 64-year-old vintage holdover stands out as an image from a bygone era.
The sign, which was installed by the former Niemeyer Sign Company of Patchogue and has been used in a Toyota commercial, signals that Modern Snack Bar has been here a very, very long time.
Modern Snack Bar is not exactly the oldest restaurant on the North Fork – we believe that distinction goes to Claudio’s in Greenport — but it’s certainly a highly visible reminder of a dining scene that once was on the North Fork.
There are still a handful of holdovers who have kept their original name and, in the rare case of Modern Snack Bar, same-family ownership from the days of little more than farm fields surrounding them.
Here’s a half-dozen of our favorite stops for an old-school dining experience on the North Fork and six more contenders to try.
Modern Snack Bar
John and Wanda Wittmeier took over what was a six-seat snack bar with a pass-through window in 1950 when their son Otto was just 10 years old. For more tham 30 years John has owned the since expanded restaurant with his brother John. For many, the seasonal reopening of the comfort food spot is the most reliable sign spring has arrived on the North Fork.
Grant’s suggestion: Wash your soft shell crab sandwich down with a slice of their killer lemon meringue pie.
628 Main Rd, Aquebogue, 722-3655, modernsnackbar.com
Cliff’s Elbow Too
The Saunders family has owned its series of restaurants for decades, beginning with Cliff’s Elbow Too in Laurel, which Cliff Saunders Sr. and his wife Helen opened as the Laurel Inn more than 70 years ago. Now it’s their grandson, Cliff III, who owns the restaurants, which also includes the better known Cliff’s Elbow Room on Main Road in Jamesport and the most vintage of them all, Cliff’s Rendezvous in downtown Riverhead. (They sold Elbow East in Southold years ago, but the current owners have kept up with what has always made the place special).
Grant’s suggestion: You gotta order a marinated steak at any of the Cliff’s spots. Their chargrilled technique is a bit of an acquired taste, but I’m proud to say I acquired it.
1085 Franklinville Rd, Laurel, 631-298-3262, cliffselbowroom.com
When the Claudio’s restaurants sold in 2018, Papa Nick’s, as most people call it, became the longest continuously owned single-family restaurant on the North Fork. The Meras family purchased the downtown Riverhead eatery exactly a century ago and today it’s run by the always affable Tony Meras. It’s truly like stepping in a time machine when you visit and worth a stop for the nostalgia and a satisfying family meal.
Grant’s suggestion: They have 11 flavors of homemade ice cream on the menu and you can sample a handful of them with the Star Sundae, four scoops of ice cream with three toppings, whip cream, a cherry and sprinkles for the family to share.
4 East Main St, Riverhead, 631-727-9873, star-confectionery.com
The Cutchogue Diner
What’s a tour of old-school eats without an old Kullman diner car? That’s exactly what you get at The Cutchogue Diner, which is housed in a building that dates back to 1941. This is a simple American breakfast and lunch diner where the ambience alone is worth stopping in for a meal.
Grant’s suggestion: Keep it simple with a fried chicken basket.
2700 Main Rd., Cutchogue, 631-734-7016, cutchoguediner.com
Now in its 29th year, Lolly’s Hut doesn’t exactly have the lengthy history of the other restaurants on this list, but few places can match the throwback charm of this Route 58 mainstay. Owner Lolly Turbush has a really cool history herself as Riverhead Raceway’s first competitive female driver. This is a coffee, eggs, toast and bacon joint and a good one at that.
Grant’s suggestion: Try the kielbasa egg sandwich, a simple Riverhead-style treat.
1290 Old Country Rd, Riverhead, 631-727-7020
Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant
Looking at it today, it’s hard to visualize Hellenic as the small snack bar it once was. Now in its 46th season in East Marion, leaving this Greek-infused gem of a restaurant off this list would be penalizing it for its success. Second-generation owner George Giannaris added a photo of what the restaurant once looked like on its website and it’s a must see. He also included the quote: “Snack Bar is still in our name so we may never forget our humble beginnings.” Amen.
Grant’s suggestion: I just love their homemade lemonade, which I’d put up against anyone else’s. A great summertime beverage for the perfect summer spot.
5145 Main Rd, East Marion, 631-477-0138, thehellenic.com
These coulda been a contenda
Phil’s Restaurant: Once Judge’s Hotel, Phil’s has already been around for three decades. A top choice for wings and game day apps specials.
Claudio’s Restaurant: OK, so the vibe is not exactly old-school these days, but it still boasts a killer old-fashioned bar in an iconic location.
Country Corner: Excellent All-American family spot where breakfast is served all day and kids get a huge scoop of ice cream with their meal.
Spicy’s BBQ: Spicy’s has been at it for more than 40 years, serving up amazing friend chicken.
O’Mally’s: Once Ross’s Restaurant and under new ownership in recent years, this is a great spot for a bar burger. There are 23 burger varieties on the menu, but we recommend keeping it (you guessed it) old school.
A version of this post was first published in September 2020.