Iconic Long Island eatery breathes new life into diner fare
Rockville Centre’s Pantry Diner burned to the ground in 2011. With the family business completely destroyed, owner Tommy Mavroudis’ gut reaction was to immediately rebuild the eatery in the exact same style it had comfortably existed in since 1949.
Then, sometime during the aftermath of the fire, Mavroudis decided that it was time to discover something new and fresh. Rather than mirror what the Pantry had been for decades, Mavroudis would move the diner in a more modern direction—using the flames as an impetus for rebirth.
“For years I had been thinking about what I would do differently here if I had the chance,” said Mavroudis. “I grew up here. It was my grandparents’ place and then it was my parents’ place. But when the fire happened, I realized it was time for change.”
So Mavroudis rearranged the Pantry. Actually, saying the Pantry was merely “rearranged” undercooks the sheer volume of change that has taken place at this once-typical Long Island diner. What Mavroudis did was a complete renovation—a process that took so long, locals had a hard time believing the restaurant would ever come back.
But come back it did. And walking into the Pantry for the first time, it’s immediately obvious that, more than renovate, Mavroudis revitalized, rejuvenated, and revolutionized the entire menu and overall aesthetic. The Pantry now stands with a contemporary facade and a sleek interior that’s more reminiscent of a chic city bistro than standard Long Island diner. As for the atmosphere at the Pantry, the beauty is in the details, with one feature being lights that slightly dim every hour, transforming the eatery from bright diner during the day into stylish restaurant at night.
It’s not just the look that’s changed at the Pantry, as the menu was also completely overhauled with the reopening. While there are plenty of diner favorites still being served, each dish is scratch-made with a newfound culinary flair that’s enhanced with fresh ingredients and an undeniably talented kitchen crew, led by executive chef Louis Mitrovich.
The menu includes a collection of appetizers, mussel pots, wings, tacos, flatbreads, and a variety of poutine preparations, along with burgers, sandwiches, a staggering array of mac n’ cheese variations, as well as plenty of full-plate entrées.
Starting the meal, there are two appetizers in particular that are emblematic of the kind of experience eaters are in for when they dine at the Pantry. While both are comforting in their own unique way, neither are appetizers one would typically get at a diner.
First, there’s the Tuna Poke, with sushi-grade ahi tuna thoughtfully arranged under cabbage slaw and guacamole, all atop a sesame-cashew crunch. All of the fish at Pantry is wild-caught, and that includes the soft, supple ahi tuna in this dish, which gets a textural boost from the crunchy slaw and cashews. The other noteworthy starter is Tom Tom’s Wicked Shrimp, a glossy preparation with beer battered shrimp, parsley, scallions, lemon, spicy mayo, and Tom Tom sauce, a spicy Szechuan garlic sauce. A textbook way to start a meal, these truly Wicked Shrimp are fiery and addictive.
The first stop in Pantry’s entrées keeps us in the sea, with Lemon Sole stuffed with real lump crabmeat and served with a side of roasted potatoes and market veggies. Like any good sole, the Pantry’s selection—again, wild-caught—consists of delicate, mild flesh that just about melts in your mouth. The addition of crab meat lends a touch of that unmistakable shellfish sweetness. Not to be overlooked is the side of roasted potatoes—bite-sized morsels that combine crunchy, creamy, buttery and salty.
Up next is the crown jewel on the Pantry’s steaks and chops menu, the double-cut, dry-aged Duroc pork chop. Duroc is a breed of pig renowned for incredible juiciness and relatively mild flavor. The Pantry treats this impressive swine with honey-roasted cipollini onions and an apple-raisin agrodolce sauce, which is a sweet-and-sour condiment that exquisitely complements the pork with a sticky, tart and sweet bite. Fellow eaters, this is no ordinary diner-style pork chop—it’s easily one of the most remarkable in recent memory.
Finally, in the Mac’s section of the menu you’ll find options like Classic Mac & Cheese, eye-popping Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese, and the chef’s favorite, Meatloaf Mac & Cheese, just to name a few. The Meatloaf Mac & Cheese is loaded with the Pantry’s four-cheese blend and adorned with chunks of house-made meatloaf and a BBQ sauce drizzle. It’s a decadently meaty and cheesy meal that elicits groans of delight from everyone at the table.
Washing all that luscious food down is the Pantry’s unequaled bar menu. Everyone is familiar with those place mats of outdated drinks at classic diners—well, the Pantry takes classic cocktails out of the old and into the new, paying serious attention to detail in its spirits. The Pantry also offers plenty of time-honored nonalcoholic diner drinks as well, including egg creams, ice cream sodas and floats.
Breakfast and brunch are also exceedingly popular at the Pantry, with omelets, Benny’s, egg sandwiches, pancakes, waffles and more.
The all-new Pantry is a must-stop morning, day or night out in Rockville Centre. And with its own parking lot—a rarity in that town—you’ll have no problem becoming a regular at this not-so-regular restaurant.
The Pantry, 525 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre; 516-766-8848; pantrydiner.com