Chef Will Pendergast conceived his eatery in a fashion that some restaurateurs might consider backward: If he wanted to make virtually everything himself, and if he wanted to buy produce mostly from local farmers, and if he wanted to be able to spend time with his three young children, what kind of restaurant could he open?
The answer was: a tiny cafe close to home that only served breakfast and lunch five days a week. When he and his wife, Johanna, opened in Speonk’s decommissioned LIRR station late last year, that’s exactly what Little Gull Café was.
Pendergast, who has cooked at Pearl Oyster Bar in Manhattan and Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn, among other vaunted restaurants, lives only minutes away; the first time I visited, the restaurant’s mixer had broken and he was at home making a cake.
“Charming” hardly does justice to the setup here. The open kitchen is in full view of a dining room that accommodates fewer than 20 seats and most customers greet the Pendergasts, server Toni Bakker and sous chef Vann Radmann by name when they enter. The décor is a mix of vintage furniture and tableware, old railroad paraphernalia and an oil painting of a Las Vegas-era Elvis Presley. There are also weathered wood tables outside on the old station’s “concourse.”
For all his fancy culinary experience, Pendergast avoids flourishes. This is a tweezer-less, microgreen-free zone. His buttermilk biscuits are tender, golden bruisers, threatening to flake apart at the gentlest application of his homemade jam — for spring, made from rhubarb from a neighbor’s garden. He makes the rolls for his egg sandwiches, the thick-cut sourdough bread that is toasted to form the base of the “country ham toast,” topped with Benton’s country ham from Tennessee, Comté cheese, pepper jelly and local greens. Sourdough pancakes are naturally leavened and can be accompanied by Benton’s thick-cut bacon or homemade sausage.
The entire menu is always available, but lunch-appropriate items include the “Remsenburger” with “a very special sauce, the lobster roll with homemade potato chips and a tuna melt made with a suave, celery-less tuna salad and Cheddar cheese. Pendergast makes all the rolls for these too, and greens come from local farms such as H.O.G. and Early Girl in Brookhaven hamlet and Sang Lee in Peconic. "If I'm just serving stuff that other people make, using produce from all over the country," he asked, rhetorically, "then what's the point?"
Pendergast’s cakes and pies are served in slabs, not in individual ring-molded rounds. His signature cake is a pistachio-olive oil Bundt with a tunnel of chocolate. You might also find homemade fruit buckles and pies, chocolate cream pie, beignets or even bagels. Coffee is from Ace in East Patchogue and there’s a small but well-chosen roster of wines and beers for day drinkers.
Little Gull Café's hours fluctuate but are currently 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at 54 N. Phillips Ave., Speonk, 631-801-2176, littlegullcafe.com.