Named for a curious bit of kitchen lingo that helps prevent mistaken orders, the Whiskey Down Diner in Farmingdale, despite being only a few years old, has generations of diner experience behind it.
“The concept for the diner took a few years to brainstorm,” explains co-founder John Kanaras. “The name ‘Whiskey Down’ comes from diner shorthand for toast because white and rye bread could become confused when it’s busy. So, whiskey is short for rye as it’s a type of whiskey, and down just means put the bread down in the toaster. Whiskey down means put two pieces of rye in the toaster.”
Kanaras, who co-founded the diner with his dad Peter, says that he grew up in the restaurant business, working in his dad’s Olympic Diner in Deer Park for more than 13 years. Peter Kanaras is now semiretired, after having owned the Olympic Diner for nearly four decades.
“The restaurant business is in our blood. I worked with my siblings, learning all the ins and outs of the business,” John Kanaras says, adding that it was intended that the kids would branch out and “do their own thing.”
John Kanaras attended the University of Delaware and received a certificate from the International Culinary Center in New York City, where he learned various aspects of restaurant management and ownership.
Following a long apprenticeship at Olympic Diner, John did stints at Karvers Grille in Holbrook and at Parlay Gastropub in Rockville Centre before opening the Whiskey Down on June 6, 2019, his parents’ anniversary.
The Whiskey Down features a large bar as well as “warm and inviting decor,” Kanaras says, adding that he didn’t want people to think of the venue as a typical diner, but he also wanted to stay true to the family’s roots in the diner business.
“We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, as do most diners, but we have a more limited menu…we focus on different dishes with quality over quantity,” he says. “You won’t find an encyclopedia-type menu, as with other diners.”
He says the concept is loosely defined as “diner meets gastropub,” featuring good liquors and beer with quality food.
And, not coincidentally, they feature a large variety of whiskey, beer, and specialty cocktails such as a spicy margarita, spiced cider hot toddy, or classic cosmo.
Several dishes, says Kanaras, set Whiskey Down apart from other diners. Among them are the breakfast poutine, with two eggs, sweet potato tots, bacon, cheddar cheese and scallions, which Kanaras says “people go crazy for. It’s a big seller.” In addition, they serve fried mozzarella sticks with vodka sauce and their own signature high-quality 10-ounce burgers, served with a variety of toppings.
Some breakfast staples include his dad’s special sweeter-recipe Pete’s pancakes, taken from the Olympic Diner; their own creative versions such as apple crumb pancakes, made with fresh apple compote and cinnamon cream cheese glaze; and French toast, also taken from the Olympic Diner’s recipe, made from fresh challah bread baked daily.
“We also run lots of seasonal specials, such as a lobster roll that went viral on social media,” he says, adding that it was also a big seller.
Discussing the varied philosophies of restaurant people versus strict diner people, Kanaras says, “The crossover was interesting…some of the diner people focus on getting food out as fast as possible as opposed to some of the restaurant folks who like to try more creative dishes.”
“You can’t cater to everyone…but we try to serve many different types of people,” he says, adding that the diner seems to have a “good, mixed crowd” with lots of families, some seniors, and younger people.
Kanaras also says that the diner is “strictly a family business” with his dad, who is still involved with Olympic Diner, but also finds time to help with the Whiskey Down. His sisters Alyson and Kristina help with various duties while his mom, Patty, is a hostess.
“Working with family is a good thing…we all work well together, and so far, everything has been as good as could be.”
Right now, Kanaras basically does a little bit of everything at the diner, from waiting and clearing tables to running food and even washing dishes, if necessary.
“Despite the fact that my focus wasn’t on cooking, I know enough in the kitchen to help out where needed,” he says, while his sisters work with the chef on creating different dishes and posting them to Instagram and social media.
Asked about the effects of Covid, Kanaras says it was all about being nimble and able to adapt.
“We had to cut our hours, focus on takeout, and grow our delivery business, which we did and luckily got through it (the pandemic). We also have some outdoor seating for people who still prefer the outside and our plexiglass between tables is still up.”
But he says that business is just about back to normal.
“Food prices are still rising along with labor…the challenges are never ending,” he says.
“The key is to continue to be both proactive and innovative.”
The Whiskey Down Diner is located at 252 Main St. in Farmingdale. They can be reached at 516-927-8264. Visit at whiskeydowndiner.com.