Polish Town in Riverhead was so packed with happy people this past Saturday night that you’d think the carnival was in town. But that wasn’t what was happening at all. The Birchwood restaurant, which shut down in June after its former owner, James Loo died, was open again for business.
The menu is still jam-packed with all of the Birchwood’s classic dishes — from their pierogies to their potato pancakes to their penne allaa vodka, poo poo platter and their long sandwich list, but there are now a whole bunch of delicious-looking Italian specials on the menu, thanks to inspiration provided by new owner Danielle Sessa and her parents, Frank and Jacqueline.
Chef Laurie Siebert is still in the kitchen, and you’ll see many familiar faces among the front-of-the-house staff as well, all looking pretty happy to be back at work at a place that a lot of people love.
The decor hasn’t changed much — a model airplane is still diving toward the dining room and the booths still have their own individual stained glass light fixtures, but everything seems spiffied and sparkly, with a touch of extra care and some better lighting throughout.
If you’ve never been to The Birchwood, you’ve been missing out on an awful lot of life. Their Tap Room, now renamed the Montepulciano Room, was always a great place to go for a wedding reception or a big bash. My marine science class at Suffolk Community College celebrated our graduation in that room. It was a real place where real memories were made, and now it will be a real place again.
We’ve been taking my son to the Birchwood every year for his June birthday for as long as I can remember. We always left feeling happy and well-cared-for.
I’d been planning this June to make The Birchwood the subject of one of the first “Good Eats” columns here, but just two weeks later, when we returned to The Birchwood to celebrate my son’s high school graduation, brown paper covered the doors and windows and this landmark place seemed to be a goner.
We sat on the bench out front and wondered where we could have an equally good family dining experience in Riverhead. Joe’s Crab Shack? Buffalo Wild Wings? Our stomachs sank. We all knew we were going to miss The Birchwood.
Saturday night, we walked back in through the front door and smiled. The hulking cast iron Perfect oven was still right inside the front door. Frank Sessa greeted us at the door, helped us get settled at the last free table in the whole, and just made us feel glad to be back.
We opened the menus. Our mouths watered. There was margherita pizza and lobster ravioli, calamari and chicken florentine soup. It all looked absolutely delicious.
But most often, when we come here, one person in our party eats a cajun chicken sandwich. One has the pierogies. And the teenager in our midst has the hot wings. We had to order our favorites. We didn’t realize how much we’d missed them. We’ll be back for the new stuff, guaranteed.
The food was super fresh and tasty, presented with extra care. It was just like before, only better, down to the last bit of potato salad on the pierogie platter.
When we walked out, Frank and Jacqueline Sessa were at the door, shaking our hands, wishing us a good evening and hoping we’d come back. We promised we would.
Welcome back, Birchwood. We hope you never close again.