It was an absolute pleasure sitting down to talk with Anthony Meras, owner and chef at Star Confectionery in Riverhead, affectionately called “Papa Nick’s” by the locals.
Of course, only one of us was sitting; I perched on one of the old-fashioned stools at the counter with my father in tow, and Meras, as he’s known to do, made lunch.
It seemed appropriate that I brought my father to Star Confectionery since the institution housed in a brick building on the corner of Riverhead’s Main Street and Roanoke Avenue is very much a family, and community, establishment. If “Cheers” were a luncheonette, it would be this place. But even “Cheers” has a backstory (the Bull & Finch Pub in Boston on which the show was based, but that’s for another day) and so does Papa Nick’s.
“The story goes, the original owner was a gambler,” said Meras. “And he owed someone a debt. Word got to my grandfather — he had a little money, he paid off the debt, and asked if he could stay and work. And then about a year or so later, sometime in 1920, he bought it, and the rest is history.”
Regulars popped in and said hello to Meras during the interview, thanking him for their meals that were cooked by him personally.
The tin ceilings, the original marble floor, and the soda fountain all lend a comforting and familiar ambience, even for someone who has never been there before. It almost felt as if you were eating right at his kitchen table with his family.
“I’m here every day,” said Meras. “I love the people. I get to see kids who came in here as babies and now they’re adults and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going on, I’m turning into my father!’”
Nostalgia is everywhere: from the ceilings to the Tiffany glass windows that give the luncheonette an amber glow, to the interesting collection of ephemera in the storefront windows, including mixers from the 1950s. It takes you back to another time, a time when kids laughed over milkshakes and wore their letterman jackets on a date.
“It’s been in my family, this year, for 100 years,” Meras said with pride. “Since 1920. We don’t have an exact date but sometime in the summer.”
“My father came here and worked for his cousin,” he continued. “The building is from 1875. Its origination was a general store. In 1911 the owner turned the parlor into what it is today. The floor, the ceiling, the doors, the glass, are all original from 1911.”
Meras showed menus from the 1920s, and not much on them has changed. My dad ordered a turkey plate and I had a roast beef sandwich, both simple meals but prepared with a homemade love that you wouldn’t get in a corporate diner. Meras cooked our meals with ease and comfort as he held a conversation, like a grandfather would make the same dish he had always made for the family. And it tasted like it. From omelets to burgers, the menu is filled with American fare.
And there’s no shortage of homemade ice cream and milkshakes, something that has been a staple of the establishment since the very beginning.
“I make the ice cream still,” said Meras. “During Easter we do the chocolates and the big chocolate eggs, but my father is 88 now and can’t get down there. I’m OK at it, I’m not as proficient yet even though I’ve been around it for 30 years.”
If you’re in the neighborhood and looking for a quick bite, a great milkshake, and a friendly welcome, Star Confectionery is the place to be.