Highway Diner & Bar
(631) 324-0130, East Hampton
The words diner and East Hampton are rarely encountered in the same sentence. But they have been joined at the cheerful, white, Highway Diner & Bar on Route 27, a three-meal-a-day, seven-day-a-week, inviting everyman spot. It is indeed news when a one-of-a-kind establishment opens in the high-priced Hamptons, especially one like this that offers a few creative surprises.
Many a restaurant has opened and closed at this site with its instantly recognizable Army tank outside. Inside it is plain and pleasant with bright bare tables and floors, a line of white booths along the outside wall, an oak-topped bar, an outdoor deck, candles and Hudson glass bottles on every table.
Both the up-to-date soda fountain and the menu offer mostly predictable diner mainstays. The drinks cover the waterfront from milkshakes, floats, smoothies, sodas and juices to egg creams. Familiar comfort food favorites like burgers, Reubens, meatloaf, roast chicken, steaks and banana splits dominate the menu.
Although Robert Gurvich is a serious chef who was the kitchen commander at upscale eating places like Alison by the Beach (on the Island) and Alison Eighteen (in the City), most of the food he’s preparing here is standard diner fare. The exceptions can be traced to Mr. Gurvich’s New Orleans roots (gumbo, oyster po’ boy, crawfish étouffée) and to a pretzel-style croissant egg sandwich ($10) at breakfast, which is served all day.
It’s necessary to pick and choose carefully to order a satisfying meal here. There are culinary peaks and valleys aplenty. Among the starters we sampled were three tangy, moderately spicy braised beef tacos ($12); a fresh, substantial bowl of Greek salad ($12); a bland, tasteless artichoke-centered soup ($19) and two ordinary minced crab cakes with a smidgen of remoulade sauce ($14). Both of the fish entrées, grilled salmon ($22) and a diminutive black sea bass ($25) were moist, fresh and fine. But the fried oyster po’ boy with little of its promised spicy mayo was lukewarm and slightly hardish ($16) and the sizable meatloaf was a drab, filler-heavy disappointment ($18).
At dessert time pass on the dry housemade chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich containing little ice cream ($6) and target the absolutely colossal banana split ($10), the respectable chocolate hazelnut mousse ($7) and the small, but special old-fashioned strawberry shortcake ($9).
When it comes to the waitstaff, relax. Remember this is a diner so don’t expect white glove service. There may well be gaps between courses and the likeable servers rarely know who ordered the dishes they are delivering so they resort to auctioning them off, as in “who ordered the ravioli?”
Photos by Tom Fitzgerlad / T.H.E. Fitzgerald Photography