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Nookies tuna melt. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

The phrase “what’s old is new again” can be applied to anything, from a new interpretation of a vintage car, like the late 1960s Ford Bronco to the current fashion trend return of high-waisted Mom jeans — though the jury’s still out on that one. Putting the word “classic” before a menu item will evoke opinions and comparisons, whether it’s a martini or quiche Lorraine.

The classic American diner is at the top of the nostalgic ladder. The booth-lined, counter-stool restaurant is a part of our culture, like an old friend we can count on to be there for breakfast in the morning or late at night after having a bit too much fun.

Diners began appearing in the 1920s, similar to today’s food trucks, conveniently located along American highways as stationary dining cars. By the 1950s, their popularity had increased due to low prices, an extensive menu and 24-hour service. Counter- or bar-style dining is still quite popular at many new establishments, and is even available as a booking option when making reservations.

But the diner vibe was not something that Alexander Perros, proprietor and creative director of the recently revamped Silver Sands Motel, necessarily set out to recreate when undertaking renovations to the property.

“The space was a snack bar in the late 1950s, and it just made sense to bring that back to life, but in a new way,” says Perros of Nookies, the property’s reimagined eatery. “We didn’t want to return to 1950 and make a retro motel. We reinterpreted it,” explains Perros, “and the diner also reflects that.”

The Nookies menu, though, is filled with nostalgia.

“We consider Nookies the heart and soul of the property,” says Ali Tuthill, executive director of Silver Sands. “And while we want to offer the kind of modern luxuries to today’s travelers, we strive to create approachability. The diner, in particular, offers that nostalgic comfort.”

It’s hard to think of a more comforting snack than a toasty, cheesy, classic tuna melt, one of the more popular menu items offered at Nookies.

Rumor has it this American classic of flaky fish and gooey, melted cheese was born out of an accident at a Woolworths counter, where a busy chef accidentally spilled a mound of tuna salad on top of a grilled cheese. The iconic combination was born, and the technique of building the sandwich in this “home version” recipe remains the same.

A classic American sandwich. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

A few tips will guarantee success:

Grilling the bread first on one side will help the cheese melt faster and assist you when placing the cheese and tuna salad on top of the textured surface.

Blanching the onions in boiling water will help reduce their strong bite, making them more palatable for sensitive taste buds.

There is no need to run out and buy a professional kitchen cloche; instead, a large stock pot lid can be placed over the sandwich to assist with the melting.

Don’t forget the pickle! If you’re not up for brining your own, Horman’s Best Pickles, available at the East End Food Market in Riverhead, are a good choice.

This recipe calls for an aioli, which we took a bit of liberty in recreating. Classic mayo will do just fine. Just add a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor.

Silver Sands is equally excited about new offerings this summer as we all look forward to welcoming back warmer days and creating new memories. With the arrival of executive chef Cheo Avila, who has taken over the helm at the property’s beach bar and restaurant, Eddie’s, the possibilities are endless.

“I feel very excited and happy to work with like-minded people,” says the seasoned chef, who hails from Venezuela. While respecting what is already in place, Avila looks forward to “bringing an element of what the locals are looking for, as well as what guests from far away, come here to experience.”

What are his thoughts about the tuna melt, something probably not found in Venezuela? “We did not have those,” the seasoned chef muses. “We had tuna salad, but not in a sandwich with melted cheese…My mind was changed today. I got to see how the flavors all come together. I think it’s a perfect bite.”

We recommend eating this at the kitchen counter for the ultimate diner-esque experience.

Nookies (at home) Tuna Melt

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Serves 4 sandwiches


Garlic Mayonnaise Aioli

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Tuna salad

  • 2 5 oz. canned tuna in oil, drained
  • 1/4 cup aioli/garlic mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped onion (blanched in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes) removed with slotted spoon to ice bath, then drained
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 3/4 tsp red wine vinegar
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 8 slices American cheese
  • 8 slices rye bread
  • softened butter


Garlic Mayonnaise Aioli

  • Mix mayonnaise, mustard, and salt together in a bowl.
  • Stir in garlic and lemon juice.
  • Cover and refrigerate until preparing tuna mixture.

Tuna salad

  • In a bowl, mix the tuna, aioli, celery, onion, sugar and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat melt a nob of butter.
  • Add 2 bread slices on first side until nicely browned and crisp, about 3 minutes; using a cooking weight or spatula, gently press down on bread slices while toasting to ensure even heating and browning. Remove bread from pan to a cutting board.

Build Your Sandwich!

  • Place one slice of cheese on top of each toasted side bread slice.
  • Mound tuna salad on top of cheese, spreading it in an even layer, then top each with remaining slice of cheese.
  • Top with bread slice, toasted side down. Add an additional nob of butter to pan and return your sandwiches. Press with burger press and cook for about 3-minutes, being careful not to burn.
  • Flip tuna melt, cloche (a stock pot lid will do) with a spritz of water and cook until second side is well toasted and cheese is melted.
  • Slice in half and serve with a pickle.
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