“Changing the paradigm of the diner for a modern audience” has been the stated goal of a number of operators over the last decade, as local diners contend with shrinking audiences and rising costs. (Read all about it in this in-depth Newsday story.) The goal has been met with varying results, but the latest soul to try has a better than average chance of succeeding: Tom Schaudel, arguably Long Island’s most prominent chef.
On Tuesday, Schaudel opens 24 North: A Finer Diner on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike (Route 24) in Bethpage.
The idea sprang from personal desire. “Sometimes when I go out to eat,” he said. “I don’t feel like spending $100 but I also want to do better than fried zucchini sticks and wine out of a jug.”
And so he devised a restaurant, bright and casual, where you could have a bowl of chili, a burger, a milkshake, meat loaf or seared salmon and where only a handful of items top $20. But there’s also a list of 35 wines under $35 (with nine by the glass, the costliest, $8) plus craft cocktails and beers. “It’s all casual and fun,” he said, “but I think people will notice the quality of the food.”
The 140-seat place certainly looks like a diner, albeit a snazzy one, with the requisite booths, counter and backroom that can be used for parties. The décor is a blend of ochre and chestnut, brass and steel. The only hint that you’re in a Schaudel joint is the Grey Poupon mustard sharing the caddy with the ketchup, salt and pepper.
The menu follows the diner categories — soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches and large plates — along with 10 small plates (avocado toast, fish tacos, Korean BBQ spare ribs) and three vegetarian entrees. But whereas the typical diner menu weighs in at an encyclopedic 200 items, 24 North's has about 50.
Schaudel wrote the menu (there can be no doubt when you read that the hand-cut fries come with complimentary Heinz ketchup) but it is executed by chef Marvin Licona, who started working with Schaudel, when he was only 15 years old, at 107 Forest in Locust Valley and rose through the ranks of the organization. Most recently he was executive chef at the Lessing’s Mansion at Oyster Bay in Woodbury, but he is thrilled to be back “working with my guru, Tom.”
Start off with “soup of the moment” ($5.50) or the “kitchen sink” Caesar salad with baby kale, romaine and your choice of protein ($11 to $18.) Then proceed to marinated steak salad with smoked blue cheese and mustard vinaigrette ($19.50); five 8-ounce Angus burgers ($11 to $16.50), any of which can be topped with an egg for $2, a slice of foie gras for $12; “the world’s best grilled cheese” with avocado, roasted tomato and three cheeses ($9) as well as the “world’s second-best grilled cheese” with mushrooms, Fontina and arugula ($10).
“Large plates” are served after 5 p.m. with soup or salad and include chicken potpie ($17), grilled marinated pork chop with braised red cabbage and marble potatoes ($22). Among pastas: ricotta gnocchi cacio e pepe ($16) and spaghetti and meatballs ($17). There are crazy shakes and desserts in a jar from Sweet Fancy LI, a company owned by Schaudel’s daughter, Courtney.
24 North does not serve breakfast. “Whenever I’m in a diner at breakfast,” Schaudel observed, “there’s almost nobody there. In the morning I think most people are in too much of a hurry to sit down, eat and tip.” But a weekend brunch menu, served from 8 a.m., has eggs, omelets, pancakes, French toast and Benedicts.
The diner at 4011 Hempstead Tpke. operated for more than three decades as the Bethpage Townhouse, but after a thorough renovation by the Singh Hospitality Group, it reopened in 2014 as the retro-hip Chow Down Diner. Singh Hospitality Group was the company run by Harendra Singh who, in 2016, pleaded guilty to bribing former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and others. Schaudel initially consulted on the project, but he dropped out shortly after it opened. In 2015, Chow Down closed, and was replaced by Diner Luxe, which closed in May.
24 North is owned by Harpinder Singh, a first-time restaurateur whose also owns a construction company. “Singh” is the most common surname in India (36 million and counting); he has no relationship to Harendra Singh.
Schaudel, a consulting partner, has opened, owned and operated scores of Long Island restaurants over the last 35-plus years. He has a little more time on his hands now that he is running only three: Kingfish in Westbury, A Mano in Mattituck and A Lure in Southold. In September, he sold his Melville venue, Jewel, to Anthony Scotto. (The name of 24 North may or may not be a nod to Scotto’s Jericho behemoth, One North.)
24 North is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Hours may change. For the next few weeks, until the restaurant’s liquor license shows up, customers will get a 20% discount on their checks.
24 North is at 4011 Hempstead Tpke., Bethpage, 516-595-7823.