When fire destroyed the Pantry Diner in 2011, owner Tommy Mavroudis’ first thought was to rebuild the Rockville Centre landmark as quickly as possible. But then he slowed the process down.
“This place opened in 1949 and I grew up here,” he said. “It was my grandparents’ and then my parents’ business. For the last 25 years I always thought about what I would do differently if I could. After the fire, I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to build what I had been dreaming about.”
Mavroudis rethought the menu, the design and the service. It took seven years, but last week the Pantry Diner reopened in a sleek, contemporary building, with a smaller menu and with a policy of no tips.
The idea of paying servers a higher wage and increasing menu prices to cover those wages has been gaining popularity, most notably at the restaurants in Danny Meyer’s Manhattan-based Union Square Hospitality Group. Mavroudis said that he had long observed that employees pay more attention to customers they believe will be better tippers, and that the pursuit of tips gets in the way of servers acting like a team. Customer reaction so far, he said, has been mixed. But he’s hopeful that diners will see the benefits of the new system.
The kitchen is now under the direction of Michael Heinlein, whose previous LI gigs include Nantuckets in Port Jefferson, Our Table in Northport, The Grill and Casa Mia, both in Hauppauge and the Twisted Vine in Huntington.
He and Mavroudis have more than halved the old menu, and have upgraded the quality of ingredients, using sunflower oil in the Fryolator, lump crabmeat in the crabcakes and real lobster in the lobster omelet.
That’s right, among the new Pantry’s egg dishes are a lobster omelet with asparagus and Gruyere ($21) as well as omelets both Western ($12) and farmer’s (with bacon, sausage and ham, $13). Lunch offerings include burgers such as the Stella Blue (blue cheese, bacon and mushrooms on an English muffin, $10) and such salads as Asian grilled chicken (mixed greens and vegetables with wonton noodles, cashews and orange-sesame vinaigrette, $16). A trendy Cali bowl features over-easy eggs, Monterey Jack cheese, quinoa, shaved Brussels sprouts, julienned carrots, grilled chicken and guacamole ($19), and the Tuscan wrap enfolds eggs, prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, tomato and Dijon mayonnaise ($13).
The interior doesn’t look like your typical diner. Flooring, tables and booths are all dark wood. There are round Edison light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and instead of a counter, there’s a regular bar — though you are welcome to pull up a stool there and order pancakes.
A week into its new run, the diner is still in soft-open mode. It’s only open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and customers are being seated in only two of the three dining rooms. Mavroudis said he hoped to start serving dinner within the week.
The Pantry Diner is at 525 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre, 516-766-8848, pantrydiner.com