Baby Blues Luncheonette, a new modern Greek diner, opens at 97 Montrose, between Leonard Street and Manhattan Avenue, in East Williamsburg, tomorrow, Saturday, November 5. The charming new hangout comes from first-time restaurant owners Costa Damaskos and Jake Marsiglia, who have several years in New York City food service between them.
The menu features dilly egg sandwiches, an H.L.T. (halloumi, lettuce, and heirloom tomatoes), Greek salad, watermelon-feta salads, the “Zorba plate” (halloumi, tzatziki, Greek potatoes), Greek yogurt bowls, and baklava banana bread. Among drinks, there are banana date shakes and Greek frappes, in addition to tea and coffee. Notably, there’s plenty to find among vegetarian or gluten-free options. Everything is made in-house where possible, while the halloumi and feta are imported, and other ingredients, even down to the maple syrup, are sourced locally.
“We really wanted to use this as a chance to connect with New York state in terms of produce,” says Damaskos. Something you won’t find at most luncheonettes? Bright orange yolks. “Happy hens,” he says.
The luncheonette’s name is a reference to retro jazz and blues clubs and the owners hope to evoke a similar nostalgia. Damaskos’s girlfriend, Leigh Altshuler, is the owner of the Lower East Side’s used bookstore and pickle shop Sweet Pickle Books (he helped design her graphics, and her pickles are proudly featured on the Baby Blues menu). Through Altshuler, Baby Blues connected with Hank O’Neal, an acclaimed photographer and music producer of jazz and blues, who gave the luncheonette several posters that hang around the space, as well as VHS lining the metal blue shelves. Keeping on theme, Baby Blues has a dedicated audio player for playing some old blues and jazz tapes.
Nostalgia carries throughout the room in details like thrifted salt and pepper shakers on each table, as well as the new mugs and t-shirts Damaskos (who operates a design firm) created for the space. Ultimately, the owners wanted to create a dining room that felt “friendly,” provided good service, and high-quality food, with a vibe that doesn’t feel fussy.
“So many old-school spots have been disappearing from the landscape, and we wanted to pay homage to that,” says Damaskos, who is Greek and Australian. He was fascinated to learn about his culture’s ties to diners when he moved to New York City. A love of diners and coffee shops has been a thread throughout the duo’s friendship: “I’ve been working in delis since I was fourteen, I grew up on Long Island and I’ve been making bacon-egg-and-cheese basically my whole life,” says Marsiglia.
It’s no secret there are fewer New York City luncheonettes than ever: a “mass-extinction” event that has been “unfolding slowly around us for decades, in plain sight,” wrote then-New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt in 2017. And while that continues to be true a few years onwards, a new wave of operators like Agi’s Counter, Thai Diner, Golden Diner, Soho Diner, S&P, and MeMe’s Diner (the latter which COVID sadly stole from us), has, thankfully, helped fill the void. Their interpretations of the old-school comfort foods, particularly in the “dumpster fire” of the pandemic, took on new meaning.
Of course, these new diners will never be able to replicate the same feeling as those tried-and-true, decades-old spots — just in the same way that a new bar that wants be a dive, needs wear and tear before it becomes one. But it’s exciting to see an emphasis on casual lunch spots that serve nourishing food with no frills — not to mention, food that’s more inclusive of dietary restrictions than your average greasy spoon and is reflective of each owner’s experiences.