The Gristmill arrives in East Rockaway with not one but two heavy hitters in the kitchen. Manning the pizza oven is Jerry Miele, who made a splash at Milan’s Brick Oven in Hewlett, which closed in January. On fresh pasta is John Orphanos, formerly the pasta-maker at Grotta di Fuoco, still going strong in Long Beach.
Orphanos said that the restaurant namechecked East Rockaway’s 18th-century gristmill, which burned in 1990 but was subsequently restored and turned into a museum. “The mill was used to grind wheat, and the story goes that the miller began using his flour to bake bread for all the local fishermen who were tired of eating fish. Now, Jerry’s art is turning flour into pizza, mine is turning flour into pasta. We thought the name tied it all together, and gave a nod to the town’s history.”
All the pasta at The Gristmill is handmade by Orphanos. Selections, $18 to $26, include fettuccine carbonara with speck, pork belly and peas; spaghetti with clams (red white or spicy) and macaroni with lobster, andouille sausage, roasted corn and béchamel.
From the custom-built Pavesi brick oven issue pizzas ($12 to $17) that range from classic Margherita and bianca (with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan) to grilled chicken with hot sauce, fresh mozzarella and buttermilk-ranch dressing.
But pasta and pizza make less than half of what Miele and Orphanos have cooking at The Gristmill. From the oven comes eggplant Napoleon and lamb meatballs with goat cheese and ricotta (two fan favorites from Milan’s) and crispy braised pork belly with roasted pineapple chutney and redeye gravy. The Gristmill burger features spicy coppa, roasted tomato, fried onion, Fontina and horseradish aioli on a homemade brick-oven roll. The fried chicken sandwich, with pimento cheese and vinegar slaw, comes on a homemade buttermilk biscuit. Most starters and sandwiches hover around $15.
Mains, $22 to $31, include herb-grilled salmon with pea-mint puree and saffron potatoes; smoked Cornish hen with blueberry gastrique, grilled watermelon and corn pudding; pan-roasted sirloin with Parmesan-herb fries and snap peas.
The menu’s ambition is all the more noteworthy given the modesty of the venue. The former Francesca’s pizzeria has been given a sprucing up, but it’s still a friendly, low-key spot. From the bar you can see both Miele and Orphanos hard at work turning flour into gold.
The Gristmill is at 144 Main Street, East Rockaway, 516-792-6104.