“Try the new rosé,” coos the rep in the lace dress from Wölffer Estate Vineyards. Starr Boggs stands tall behind the long bar of his restaurant as he sniffs and swirls and sips the crystal tumbler of pink-hued wine.
“Nice!” he enthuses, as the rep pours four more samples at 10 a.m. on a sunny Friday morning. “An owner’s work is never done,” he says with a straight face.
Known for three decades as a high end, high-class eatery in Westhampton Beach, Starr Boggs—yes that is his real Irish Welsh family name—is at his namesake restaurant at 7 a.m. daily to get that work done. “I grew up on a 1,000-acre farm in Virginia,” he says. “We grew, raised and fished for everything we ate. That instilled a real passion in me for local sourcing and I continue that tradition.” Starr was on a path to be a football player at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA when a knee injury ended that goal. Returning to his love of cooking, he first landed in Florida for six months then was offered a job at The Inn at Quogue in 1981. He stayed there for several years, finally striking out on his own in 1986 with his first restaurant. He has now been in business for almost 30 years.
“I think the reason we’ve done so well is we care,” he says. That care is evident in every facet of the restaurant, from the elegant rooms with dark woods, white walls and blue ceilings, to the small fortune of Warhol silkscreen prints that line the walls. From Greta Garbo to Judy Garland to Ingrid Bergman, the gorgeous gang is all here. The interior’s pull handles are shaped liked starfish, a large metal sculpture version of his star logo hangs above the back bar.
Also at the bar there are photos of Starr with his buddies at the Kentucky Derby—he owns part of a horse named Bogey Boggs that ran in the Derby a few years back. He spends much of his off time at the training track in Kentucky, and hosts an annual Derby viewing party at the restaurant. There’s a great cartoon rendering of Starr on the golf course, another off-season passion.
Out back is a lovely garden that he tends. “Wait til these crepe myrtles bloom, you won’t believe it!” he says.
“We were using pesticides, but as someone who cares about the environment it started to bother me,” he says. “I realized ladybugs could take care of the aphid problem so I released 17,000 of them back here yesterday.”
Next to the garden is an unassuming shed that holds one of the secrets to the eatery’s success. Opening the heavy insulated door, a blast of ice-cold air gives way to floor-to-ceiling shelves of racks of meat and fish. Giant chops, rib racks, and packages labeled PRIME sit next to 4-foot-long fish on ice.
“We age and butcher our own meats here,” he says proudly. “I think that’s key to the quality.”
The specialty menu from the night before had at least three unusual fish on there—Blowfish, Tautog and Weakfish. “I like to have something different,” Starr explains. “The blowfish is also called ‘puffer,’ it’s seriously good and not the poisonous kind that they serve on a dare in Japan! Weakfish gets it’s orangey color from what it feeds on, like some mussels do. I remember having it a lot as a kid in Delaware. Our loyal diners will order it, we sold out of all we had last night.”
“Eastern Long Island is a very special place,” he muses. “The farms, vineyards and ocean are the best in the world. I don’t plan to retire anytime soon, with my schedule of six months here and six months in Florida I feel really fortunate. Time truly flies as you get older, and I didn’t think I’d still be working this hard now. But I grew up with that ethic, and it’s an absolute privilege to serve people and get that instant gratification from them.”
With that, the manager interrupts to discuss a seafood pickup, the phone is already ringing with reservations and the head chef pokes his head out the kitchen with some questions.
“Back to work,” Starr says graciously.
Starr Boggs, 6 Parlato Dr, Westhampton Beach,