Drive by Robke's in Northport on a weekend night, and it induces a double take: Clusters of aspiring diners blanket the parking lot, waiting an hour or more for a table at the cash-only, no-reservations spot. Flickering gas torches cast a gothic winter vibe as servers disappear into a white tent with platters of steak and pasta. "What am I missing?" you'd be forgiven for thinking.
Well, possibly New York Met Robinson Canó finishing off linguine chop-chop (his favorite dish, according to co-owner Louis Selvaggio Jr.). Or actor Kevin James, or model and actress Kate Upton, or Brooklyn Net Lance Thomas, or Victoria Gotti, who have all dined here recently. Ditto for Sid Fernandez, Dwight "Doc" Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, making Robke's a hands-down favorite of the World-Series-winning 1986 team.
Is it the buzzy vibes? The blackened prime steaks? A flurry of text-messages between sports greats about the pork chop martini?
"I think it's a combination of us hitting our stride, and we get a lot of trainers and managers and friends of the guys [in here]. I guess in the off season, they get a chance to come by and eat," said Selvaggio Jr. "Teammates talk to each other."
With its hearty Italian plates and ample daily specials, Robke's has long been a cult favorite among locals. Even so, Selvaggio Jr. — whose father, Louis Selvaggio, took over this spot in 1961 — said notables drop in almost every day, and certainly at least a few times a week, so that Selvaggio Jr.'s Instagram feed now resembles a local Page Six.
This fall and winter, he has logged visits from former basketball player Craig Elliot "Speedy" Claxton, football player Ifeanyi Momah, former hockey player Clark Gillies, wrestling manager Jimmy Hart and former baseball player Tino Martinez. . Last summer, Gina Kirschenheiter of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" praised the restaurant on Instagram. Local chefs and restaurant and bar owners often drop by, often on Monday nights.
Before his recent suspension from the Mets, Robinson Canó held his 38th birthday party here. New York Ranger goalie Keith Kinkaid dropped by to celebrate with his new fiance after they became engaged, and the deeply bronzed actor Wayne Diamond (of "Uncut Gems") dined here recently.
COVID-related restrictions seem not to have dampened the enthusiasm of the masses, and Robke's made up for lost seating inside by raising a tent this summer in their already tight parking lot. That tent will remain through the winter — it's currently decked out for Christmas — and the Selvaggios have renovated restaurant's facade to make it more open-air while continuing their robust takeout and catering trade.
Though Robkes' mostly Italian menu is heavy on the daily specials, Selvaggio Jr. said players most often go for blackened prime New York strip and ribeye steaks, with the keto-friendly pork chop martini (a parmesan-crusted chop with blistered cherry peppers) running close behind.
For Selvaggio Jr., who once played baseball and basketball and often dons basketball jerseys (but is more often snapped in Robke's shirt with American and Italian flags sewn on the front), having so many sports figures come through his place is "unbelievable," he said. "To have these guys texting me about food, and that they miss the place, is almost surreal."
One of his steadiest patrons is Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, whose smile beams from Robke's dining room on the regular. Does she ever give him messages from the other side?
"Everyone asks that. I never want to bother her, but I'm sure she would," he said. "She has a lot of fun here."
Robke's, 427 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport. 631-754-9663. robkesnorthport.com.