In this series, the Reporter speaks with restaurant chefs around the Island.
STARs CAFE showcases the talents of its chef-owners, Pepe Martinez and his wife Lydia Martinez Majdišová. Lydia answered the Reporter’s questions.
Q: Tell us about your backgrounds, how you met, and what each of you brings to the STARs CAFE cuisine.
A: When I was still in college, my friend and I applied for a summer job at Hampton Coffee Company in Watermill which Pepe co-owned at the time. We instantly clicked as friends and over a couple of years, our friendship morphed into a relationship that has lasted for about 20 years now.
Pepe comes from Mexico and this influence is very prominent on the STARs menu. Aside from a traditional breakfast and lunch fare, we offer specialties like chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, tacos, burritos, etc.
I come from Slovakia, and while this cuisine is not represented on the menu, I bring in my mom’s traditional recipes when preparing Easter or Christmas pastries and cookies. Also, in the summer at the Farmer’s Market, you can find my popular apple, rhubarb or poppy strudels.
Q: How did you decide to open your own restaurant here?
A: Pepe was delivering his freshly roasted Hampton Coffee beans to Island businesses like STARs, and we always would stop at The Dory for their popular chicken wings. When the last owner of the business at STARs closed their doors, Pepe was offered to run the place by Linda and James Eklund.
Q: STARs has a number of popular dishes on the menu, from the pastries to the burgers on Thursday Burger Nights to the Cuban sandwiches to soups. Are there some that have become Island favorites?
A: Our burgers are very popular and although we do have our secrets about what makes them special, one key ingredient is obvious – freshness. We grind the meat in our kitchen and you can’t beat that. From our breakfast menu, the most famous one is Devil’s burrito, which tells you a lot about what people really love – spice!
Q: Any changes for the coming season?
A: Hopefully we will finally be able to do what we planned three years ago — open up a little shop/market downstairs with pre-made food, smoothies and juices, local products, souvenirs and some home goods to complement our café style. In addition to our regular daily menu, we’ll make use of our new smoker and offer smoked meats, like brisket, pork shoulders, short ribs and baby spare ribs.
Q: What’s your favorite part of hosting STARs?
A: The sense of community and camaraderie. There’s nothing like seeing our customers interact, although they don’t know each other, they create somewhat of a “community table.” Often times we even join our customers at a table and have formed friendships that will last a lifetime. We’ve been on Shelter Island since 2006 and witnessed young couples getting engaged, then married. Then we met their first, second, third child. That’s what we love. We’re also thrilled to receive orders from our local institutions for their fundraisers and events and it warms our hearts to know they can count on us, and consider us a stable part of the Island community.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
A: It’s been a rough couple of years for everybody and we’ve seen an increasing tension among our neighbors and friends — and around the world for that matter — over things we as individuals can’t really change. We tend to focus on the things that divide us, instead of what binds us. Let’s choose to focus on those things. This is what STARs is all about, to bring diversity to the table, sit down with people who may think differently and have a cup of coffee. You will soon realize you have more in common than you think.
Opening hours at the café will remain the same until summer season kicks in: Every day 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays closing at 3 p.m. In summer, extend that by an hour.
Between Memorial and Labor Day, STARs will also be at the Havens Farmer’s Market on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.