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Smoked duck carbonara from Digger’s Ales N’ Eats is the best thing we ate this month. (Photo credit: Lilly Parnell)

Like any sane person, I love pasta and have a particular soft spot for carbonara. It was the first pasta dish I made myself from scratch. So, you can understand my excitement when I ordered the smoked duck carbonara at Digger’s Ales N’ Eats in Riverhead while I was on a recent assignment.

I will admit, I am not a food traditionalist. While I have a deep appreciation for any story behind a dish, I do not believe that there is one correct way to prepare a meal. I think food expresses creativity and am most inspired when a chef lets their creativity shine with unique flavors and unexpected ingredients. 

Chef Jim Liszanckie at Digger’s turns carbonara on its head, making it somehow familiar and unique at the same time. He begins by cooking shallots and garlic in a bit of oil — the key to making any dish taste good. Right before that’s browned, he adds a touch of chicken stock and heavy cream and then slowly folds in an egg yolk. 

“The egg yolk is where the creaminess comes from,” said Liszanckie. “It’s this not-so-secret ingredient that really gives the dish its signature color and flavor.” 

As the sauce starts to thicken, he adds fettuccine and plenty of Parmesan and Gruyere. He’s replaced the traditional pancetta with smoked duck, adding it to the dish right before plating. This unexpected ingredient gives the dish a tender and juicy element with the perfect amount of rich fattiness.

The idea to add smoked duck to a pasta dish was inspired by his mentor and former boss Tom Schaudel, back in the early 2000s. 

“It’s something I’d never seen done before,” Liszanckie said. “As a chef, you’re always looking for ways to step outside of the box.” 

This may be a controversial opinion, but I enjoy peas in my carbonara. For me, the peas in chef Liszanckie’s carbonara not only add to the overall creaminess, but it makes for a beautiful pop of color in an otherwise beige dish. 

This dish was all about blending the old with the new. As the newest chef at Digger’s, Liszanckie came to the restaurants with plenty of big ideas on how to enhance the food at the locally loved establishment. He improved upon the classics the restaurant is known for while simultaneously bringing an elevated element to his own recipes, expertly mixing standard pub fare with recipes typically only seen in fine-dining establishments. 

To try this delicious carbonara for yourself, check out Digger’s Ales N’ Eats at 58 West Main St. in Riverhead.