by Debbie Tuma
“Bird on the Roof” cafe has been an institution in Montauk, with a long history since the 1970’s. This is when Frances and Rich Daunt fell in love with Montauk and wanted a place to entertain all their family and friends. So they found a cute little inn, shop and restaurant near the ocean, called the “Albatross Inn and Cafe.” In 1977 they decided to just purchase the inn, instead of both properties, which were across the street from each other.
Shortly after, Frank and Helmar Cirillo bought the restaurant and decided to name it “Bird on the Roof.” For the next 40 years, they ran it and when Frank died, his son Anthony and wife Joanne ran it along with Helmar. They built an iconic restaurant that turned customers into family and held a special place in Montauk’s heart.
This family had it until they closed during the Covid pandemic. Then they gave Frances and Rich Daunt’s grandson, Leo Daunt, an opportunity to take over and continue the legacy. He reopened “Bird on the Roof,” redesigned it, and opened to the public in May of 2022. Up until then, Leo had been busy renovating his family’s “Daunt’s Albatross Motel” across the street.
“I always had a great relationship with Helmar and Rich Cirillo, and I wanted to reopen this special Montauk property with a new twist and a new menu,” Leo explained.”We did a redesign of the restaurant, with three eating areas.”
There is an outside eating area with small tables in the front, overlooking the street, and an inside area with seating between one wall of nature paintings by Montauk artist Mary Daunt, and another wall of a floral mural designed by Kylie Ogburn, who works there. In the back there are small tables and picnic tables in a beautiful garden setting, with huge potted plants and flowers. The vibe is airy and beachy, a great place to relax and start your day.
On the other side is a separate coffee bar, with assorted coffees, lattes, cappuccino, cold drinks and pastries. There is also a cute, beachy shop, selling sweathshirts, T-shirts, suntan products and sunglasses. You walk in through the shop to the adjacent cafe.
On a bright, sunny day in June, my friend Ellen and I walked in and decided to sit on the back garden patio, where it felt like being on a tropical island. “Bird on the Roof” is open daily from 8 am to 3 pm, so you can come for breakfast, brunch or lunch. The menu has some interesting and exotic dishes, which are the invention of Chef Markos Martinez, of Rincon, Puerto Rico. There are some interesting egg dishes, smoked salmon toast, local fish tacos, and a vegetarian mushroom melt of romanesco, mushrooms, and provolone on rye. There’s even homemade granola, with a drizzle of honey, macha powder, cocojune vegan yogurt and fresh fruit. For the meat lovers, also a “smashed burger with cheddar, carmelized onions, pickles, special sauce and fries.”
“I wanted to bring something different and creative to Montauk,” said Martinez, who came here after meeting so many Montauk people in Rincon, where they surf in the winter. “I like to use only the best spices and other fresh ingredients in my cooking.” He came first to the Gig Shack in Montauk, where he met Leo Daunt, and then came to work for him at his new venture.
Having been longtime locals in Montauk, Ellen and I were eager to try something different, so I opted for the “Shakshuka,” which is actually a Northern African dish. It comes piping hot in an iron skillet, with stewed peppers and tomatoes, goat cheese and a poached egg on top, and served with some toasted sourdough bread for dipping, since in Africa they sometimes eat with their fingers. The blend of toasted cumin and corriander seeds gave it a spicy zest and it was delicious!
Ellen was in the mood for pancakes, so she ordered the banana pancakes which were plentiful, light and fluffy and served with two big fat sausages. We got a side of home fries which were far and above any I have tried elsewhere—potatoes fried with carmelized onions, smoked paprika, butter, parsley and salt. My coffee was nice and rich, and her homemade raspberry iced tea was a refreshing treat. Our waitress, Kylie Ogburn, was friendly, efficient and helpful.
Chef Marcos said he may soon be adding a hash brisket special, some more seafood, and poke bowls. This summer, check out “Bird on the Roof,” located at 47 South Elmwood Avenue in Montauk, or call 631- 668-5833, or visit www.birdontheroof.com