Sign up for our Newsletter

Jim Liszanckie made his return to Digger’s Ales N’ Eats this past December

Making his return to Digger’s Ales N’ Eats after an 18-year hiatus, chef Jim Liszanckie wants to reinstate Digger’s as the classic Riverhead staple locals know and love.

In order to achieve this goal, he needed to make some fundamental changes.

“This is a place of the community,” said Liszanckie. “My generation was raised coming here. It’s where we spent all of our time as young adults. I even met my wife here. Digger’s is important to me — to all of us.”

Liszanckie is a familiar face in the community. He’s worked in kitchens across the North Fork since he was 14 and was a line cook at Digger’s from 1999 until 2005. 

In 2017 Liszanckie and his wife became the proud owners of Sunny’s Riverhead Diner and Grill, another Riverhead staple. Although Sunny’s became a victim of the pandemic in 2020, his involvement in the restaurant industry was far from over.

He took on a consulting position at Kenny’s on the Green at the Indian Island Golf Course as they began plans to open their doors in 2021. The consulting position quickly became a head chef position, where Liszanckie was able to construct the restaurant’s menu into something more outstanding than the typical golf course fare. 

“The menu at Kenny’s, as well as Digger’s, is what I like to call ‘eclectic American,’” said Liszanckie. “Hamburgers are right next to seared ahi tuna on the menu. These places are important to the Riverhead community – we don’t want to count them out but we do want to give them the opportunity to try something new.”

Chef Jim Liszanckie reworked many classic Digger’s staples, including the jerk chicken to elevate the flavor.

Liszanckie’s deep appreciation for Digger’s and the community is apparent in the changes he’s made thus far. Taking on the role of head chef this past December, Liszanckie was committed to the classics such as the Chicken O’Brien, jerk chicken and steak tidbits, his goal is to elevate the recipes, making sure to source high-quality ingredients in every dish he puts out. 

Although he has revamped the menu, adding items not typically seen on a pub menu such as pan-seared scallops with lobster beurre blanc and lemon artichoke risotto, a grilled octopus over a white bean salad and a smoked duck carbonara, Liszanckie’s goal is not to make the pub into an unrecognizable dining establishment, unattainable to the regulars who’ve been eating at Digger’s for the past three decades. 

“It’s the ingredients that matter,” Liszanckie said. “We’ve elevated the type of products we’re using without changing the classic recipes people have come to love at Digger’s. By changing the quality of the ingredients, we’ve been able to take our dishes to the next level.” 

In addition to his emphasis on high-quality, locally sourced ingredients, Liszanckie is adamant about maintaining a respectful kitchen. 

Pan seared sea scallops with lobster beurre blanc and lemon artichoke risotto is a new addition to the menu at Digger’s.

“I’ve spent my life working for the angry chef,” said Liszanckie. “I treat my employees with respect and they’re expected to do the same. So many restaurant workers are treated like machinery and if they aren’t doing things exactly right, they’ll be replaced by better parts. But in my kitchen, there’s an emphasis that we’re all humans – we need that day off and we need time with our families. We need to be creative and to feel like we’re a part of something. I allow them to do just that.”

This culture shift is something recently seen in restaurants around the world. For decades, kitchens – especially those that specialize in fine dining cuisine — were plagued by a toxic cocktail of bullying and substance abuse. Now many chefs, including those at some of the world’s most coveted establishments such as Noma in Copenhagen, are on a mission to change the way everyone from line cooks to dishwashers and busboys are treated. 

“We have a friendship beyond the kitchen because he treats us like people,” said Tony Julian, the line chef at Digger’s as well as a longtime colleague and friend of Liszanckie. “He’s created a place where you want to come to work and you feel respected.” 

For Liszanckie, good food cannot be served if there is no respect in his kitchen. At the end of the day, serving food is Liszanckie’s ultimate goal.

“Since my first job in the kitchen, I’ve known that food is in our blood,” said Liszanckie. “All of our lives are oriented around food. We eat food on first dates, for business meetings and for birthdays. I want to make Digger’s a pinnacle of good food and gathering once again for younger generations to enjoy.”