At the new Port Bistro and Pub the other day, “Jack and Diane” was playing on the sound system.
“Oh yeah, life goes on …”
“It sure does, whether we want it to or not,” interrupted a woman at the bar, a lazy smile on her face.
It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Port Jefferson, and most of the 20 new bar stools and 140 new fire-engine red chairs in the 4,000-plus-square-foot dining room were empty. But Port Bistro, a lunch and dinner spot, already seemed like a place that had been on Main Street forever, instead of what it was — a place that opened July 24. Perhaps that’s because, up until two months ago, it was Brewology (2015 to 2019) and, before that, hosted the first floor of the Elks Hotel.
“While we were renovating, people who had been to the Elks would come in and say, ‘this is where we used to come for Sunday dinner,’ and that’s kind of what we are aiming for,” said Christine Nyholm, who owns Port Bistro along with her husband Bob and sister Palma DiVito. (The Nyholms also run a frozen yogurt shop, Yogo Delish, two doors down.) On the wall under the caged filament lamps near the bar is a large 1950s photograph of the Elks owner. Opposite that, the word “gather” appears in large capital letters. “We actually want people to sit at the tables a long time.”
There’s a throwback quality to the menu too, also intentional. “My sister and I come from Italy, and our mother had a lot of different old-time recipes,” Nyholm said, mentioning a pasta with peas dish (“it’s very plain but people love it”). The menu, not yet finalized, also includes such contemporary favorites as build-your-own burgers ($12), chicken sandwiches ($14) and penne with chicken meatballs (“a big seller” at $18), and is inspired by the chefs’ and owners’ ancestors, who hailed, the Port website informs us, “from Greece, Germany, southern Italy and other European regions.”
We had the Elks Reuben ($14), a very good version of that classic, and only wish the marbled rye bread had been toasted, as advertised. Equally tasty were the chicken Parmesan sliders served on garlic knots ($12). We also couldn’t help noticing the impressive selection of 20 beers on tap, several of them locally produced by the marquee brewers of Port Jeff, Oyster Bay, Blue Point and Great South Bay, as well as Riverhead’s Long Ireland Beer Company.
Friday and Saturday evenings bring crowds to Port Bistro, especially when there’s live music, but not to fear, vowed Nyholm. No matter how long patrons linger at the tables lining the wall of open windows, “nobody gets chased out,” she said, at least not by the management.
Port Bistro and Pub is at 201 Main St. in Port Jefferson, 631-828-2550, portbistroandpub.com. Hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight, closed Monday.