Three generations serve the East End’s most famous breakfast.
A family vibe infuses the Hampton Maid, a bed-and-breakfast off Old Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. Walk in the kitchen and hear the kind of good-natured ribbing that can make a workday fly by. At the front desk, ask to be put on the wait list for breakfast and sense a maternal presence. You just know there are kids around, and nieces and daughters-in-law and the kind of best friends that stand next to you in front of a hot griddle for hours and hours, year on end. All to turn out one of the best breakfasts on the East End.
“We use fresh ingredients, cooked to order at the proper temperature,” says Steve Poulakis, the second of three generations to know the difference between over easy, sunny-side up and over medium. “We think it should be like that everywhere, but that’s just not true.”
Because it’s true here, lines start to form for the morning meal soon after the restaurant opens at 7 a.m., as it does all summer. During the height of the season it’s open until 1 p.m., weekdays until 11 a.m. They don’t take reservations, so the parking lot and gift shop are filled with people holding buzzers to let them know when their table is ready.
It wasn’t always like this. In 1958, the Hampton Maid was the Sail Inn, a motel that “needed some love,” says Steve. His parents, John and Marion, saw it after taking a drive through the Hamptons. Later Marion, who was a graphic designer, would draw the iconic maid of the logo on a paper napkin and then move the family out to Shinnecock Hills where they lived in rooms 12 and 14 (there was no 13).
Renovations started, the family built their own home on the property and finally “because we’re Greeks and it’s in our blood,” says Steve, his father opened a coffee shop. Just some coffee and toast, then eggs and pancakes, French toast and blintzes, then expansion and now the breakfast platter with two thin pancakes, French toast with regular sandwich bread (as it should be), hickory smoked bacon, two eggs, real maple syrup from Wisconsin, not Vermont, because the family thinks it tastes better, and hash browns made from potatoes smashed on the griddle.
Breakfast is still evolving. Son Josh, who has been working in the kitchen since he had to stand on a milk crate to do the dishes, uses seasonal fruit from Schmidt’s to make specials like roasted plums with vanilla mascarpone and watermelon salad with a mojito syrup. When John started cooking, says Steve, there was never any thought of putting a tomato or egg whites on the menu. Now, he says, they sell tomato, mozzarella and basil omelets (with a little ham because Steve likes it that way, “and I’m the cook”) all day, and eggs whites are a staple.
Family is evolving, too. John still helps out in the kitchen, Steve’s wife, Sharon, runs the front of the house for breakfast and the rest of the house—the 29 guest rooms—the rest of the time. Sister Lesley Bellows is a partner, her daughter Jessica works in the kitchen and daughter Tara Curry is the bookkeeper and Webmaster. Marion died nine years ago, taking with her a “big piece of Dad,” who still has the napkin with the logo design, says Steve. And the friend standing next to Steve at the griddle is Albert Bennett, a partner who started working at the Maid when he was still delivering milk for his family’s long gone Sherry’s Dairy, once of Southampton. “He’s a 70-year-old kid,” says Steve.
The Hampton Maid closes for the winter, which the family spends upgrading the rooms and the five acres of grounds. “We take pride in it,” says Steve. “It takes a lot to do what we do every day. But when we’re really working together, it’s exhilarating. Other days, you want to go home and throw your shoe out the door.” •
Pat Marlowe writes from her home in Southold.