By Amy Patton
It’s a slice of Americana meets a scoop of contemporary chic.
I’m talking about the Highway Diner & Bar, a one month-running labor of love conceived by restauranteurs Gunnar Myers and David Kuperschmid.
The space on Montauk Highway that sits right on the border of Wainscott and East Hampton formerly housed Rugosa, a fine dining new American-themed eatery. Now, a complete renovation of the building by the partners has yielded a fun, slightly kitschy but thoroughly modern place to dine.
Sure, you can score an old-fashioned chocolate authentic egg cream at the soda fountain that sports chrome and vinyl-padded swivel stools; but the sophisticated alter-ego of this self-described “diner” also serves up tuna tartare as a starter, wild mushroom ravioli as an entree and roasted beet and goat cheese tossed with a zesty sherry vinaigrette as part of the salad selections.
A huge draw to the place, say some loyal habitués, is that breakfast can be lunch, dinner can be breakfast and a serving of chef Robert Gurvich’s brioche French toast as well as other breakfast yummies, can be ordered on weekends up to 3 p.m.
“Our menu is timeless in the sense that when you come in, customers can get pancakes at either 11:30 in the morning or 8:30 at night,” explained Myers. “You can get a beautiful piece of fish anytime.”
Another attractive feature of the restaurant, which opened in November of this year, is “the juxtaposition of old and new,” says Myers. The soda fountain counter exudes nostalgia with its offerings of egg creams and Boylan’s bottled black cherry and cream sodas at $3 a pop. The counter’s nod to modernity, however, is a selection of healthy juices made to order like the “Green Dream”- a blend of pineapple, kale, lemon, cucumber and celery – and the “Bright and Sunny” with its amalgam of yellow beet, apple, ginger and cucumber.
One bit of soda fountain trivia was offered up at our table by the diner’s affable manager, Seth Grossman. Turns out, as many fans of the egg cream beverage may already know, the ingredients don’t include, well, eggs. “The word originates from ‘A’ cream,” he explained, “which was the highest grade of cream used back in the days when the drink was served at drugstores and fountains in Brooklyn and the Bronx.” Grossman says the “A” eventually evolved into “egg” and stuck there.
Moving from soft drinks to the harder side of libations offered here, customers can enjoy the restaurant’s spacious bar at the northwest corner of the space, where ordering a glass of wine to accompany lunch or dinner or maybe a bloody Mary for brunch is a popular option.
The watering hole, says Myers, draws its own crowd, mostly locals who enjoy hanging out for cocktail hour and often, beyond. The oak bar itself was constructed on-site, “built from scratch by a local company that milled the wood for us.”
The Highway Diner & Bar’s gentle prices are also welcome in an area of the East End where dropping a pretty penny for an average three-course meal is the norm. A “classic” breakfast of two eggs any style, toast, home fries and bacon or sausage will only set you back seven bucks, buttermilk pancakes, $8. Pricier, but still on a par with competing restaurants is a serving of skate for $18, which is accompanied by broccolini and sauced with lemon butter. Linguine with clams and shrimp is $19.
Kids will feel at home here too. The “Junior Menu,” priced at a modest $7, is packed with fun entrees like silver-dollar pancakes and “chicken ‘n cheese” quesadillas.
“One of our selling points is that parents can come in with their children and order a steak or maybe a bowl of chicken sausage gumbo anytime,” says Myers. Kids, he added, can get French toast, pancakes, or whatever they feel like filling up on, regardless of the time of day.
“This restaurant is what we call our ‘ode’ to a diner: The word relates to the idea of good food being accessible at any time.”
Highway Diner & Bar is located at 290 Montauk Highway in East Hampton and is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the winter season. For more information, call 324-0130.