THE BITE: One of Sheepshead Bay’s oldest diners is also one of the most difficult to spot.
Many of the neighborhood’s other casual dining restaurants are housed in their own buildings — with banners stretched over the sidewalk — and offer private parking spaces. However, sneeze and you might miss the humble storefront of Three Star Restaurant, which has been in business since 1969 and is located near East 17th Street on Avenue U’s bustling commercial strip.
I found the place this week while making my way through the slush piles on the sidewalk. Hungry, cold and tired, I peeked through the windows at the patrons settled in the cushy booths inside. After walking through the doors, I found myself in a surprisingly expansive restaurant: Three dining rooms — offering both table and booth seating — a bar with a TV set, and several little aquariums set in the walls.
Considering the cold weather, I took a booth. The restaurant was pretty quiet, but it was just after the snowstorm and it was late on a Monday night. The waiter fixed me up with some hot coffee while I perused the menu. Three Star offers pretty standard diner fare: Burgers, fries, soup and sandwiches. It also has quite a few seafood options, including lobster tail ($29) and a filet of lemon sole ($22) that looked pretty good.
However, given my grumbling tummy and chattering teeth, I wanted comfort food and decided to go with the pastrami Rueben sandwich ($10) and a side of potato salad ($3.75).
While waiting for my meal to arrive I struck up a conversation with another diner who identified himself as Joe from Bergen Beach. Actually, we didn’t really strike up a conversation. Joe turned around in his seat at the bar and said: “Hey, who do you like for president?” (The Iowa town hall was playing on the television.) Within five minutes, Joe knew where I worked, where I lived, where I went to high school, and my political affiliation. Joe now almost knows more about me than my own mother. Soon the other guests seated in the restaurant joined in our conversation and we were debating neighborhood boundaries and other historical details about the borough.
I guess what I’m getting at is: If you’re looking for your friends, they’re camped out at Three Star Restaurant, even if you don’t know it.
Our conversation eased up a little after my food arrived. I had to take pictures of the meal and, of course, eat it. The sandwich was served open faced and piping hot. I folded the bread on top, cut it in half, and took a bite. The sandwich perfectly satisfied my appetite that evening. The pastrami and rye bread settled in my stomach like a warm hearth. The sauerkraut was mildly flavored and didn’t overpower the rest of the sandwich. And the chewy, melted swiss cheese brought the whole thing together.
The potato salad was also perfectly comforting: heavy on the carbs with lots of celery and onions, there was plenty of fuel in the dish. And it was served in pretty little scoops like ice cream.
After I finished eating, I shook hands with co-owner Georges Koutros, a mild-mannered man with a warm smile who took over running the place after his father-in-law retired in 1978. Another customer walked me over to the front of the restaurant to show me a proclamation from former Borough President Marty Markowitz that celebrated the business’ 40-year anniversary. There were also a few other recognitions framed on the walls thanking Three Star Restaurant for its contributions to the community. It seemed that everyone there was eager make sure I understood why the place was so special and they continue coming back.
I think I do: Great food and great company.
Three Star Restaurant, 1611 Avenue U, between East 16th Street and East 17th Street, 718-336, 4195. Open Monday – Saturday, 6am – 12am, Sunday, 7am – 12am.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ column exploring the foodstuffs of the Sheepshead Bay area. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.