Covered with photos dating back to the 1800s, the walls of Tim’s Shipwreck Diner is filled with Northport’s history. But the restaurant, housed in a steel rail dining car which arrived on a flatbed on the Long Island Rail Road in 1912, is just as much a part of village lore.
Holding a steaming cup of coffee up to his mouth, a customer on Tuesday noted the reliable basket of lollipops filled to the rim and stacked jars of homemade jam on the counter.
It’s the usual flavor of the place — waiters calling customers by name and delivering complementary pieces of homemade cheesecake or carrot cake following lunch.
Born and raised in East Northport, Tim Hess grew up at the diner watching his father Otto build a reputation for the place, which at the time was called Otto’s Shipwreck Diner.
Tim Hess said his father bought the diner where it sits in 1973 after walking by and seeing a “For Sale” sign up on the window, the diner vacant inside. He purchased it for $10,000. It was called Northport Diner when its previous owner ran the diner after the dining car was delivered from Massachusetts. Neither Tim Hess nor the Northport Historical Society know exactly when the diner originally opened.
After 23 years of ownership, his father passed the business down to him in 1996 -- hence the name change. Since then the diner’s history has only gained in stature. The 1997 film “In & Out,” starring Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck and Matt Dillon, was shot inside the diner for seven days, with producers paying Tim Hess $10,000 a day, he said.
“You can’t get this anywhere else,” said Hess, 54. “The whole village knows where to get a good home-cooked meal and to catch up with their neighbors. There’s nowhere like it.”
Its most popular dish? Marion’s blintzes, a crepe-like dessert named after Hess’ mom, filled with cheese and topped with strawberries, oranges and bananas, plus a dollop of sour cream. Otto Hess is now retired, but Marion Hess still makes her signature item at the diner.
Debi Triola said the diner has always reminded her of a Norman Rockwell painting, much like quaint Main Street.
“The diner is just so typical of Northport,” said Triola, president of the Northport Chamber of Commerce, who admits her addiction to the diner’s pancakes. “It’s a neat old place that’s kept its flavor over the years.”
Two of its biggest fans, Vin and Jeanette Riley, married for 55 years, have been eating at the diner for 25 years, since they moved to the area. At least twice a week, Vin orders breakfast for lunch and Jeanette has a shrimp salad followed by dessert.
“They’re like family,” said Jeanette Riley, 76, of East Northport. Her husband Vin, 78, nodded with agreement. “I wish they stayed open longer. I could stay here all day.”
Her eyes lit up, savoring the sweet carrot cake and licking the whipped cream from her lips.