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There is plenty to take in as you enter the new Silver Lining Diner, in the building that used to house the old Princess Diner where County Road 39 meets Montauk Highway in Southampton. Broad, spacious windows, fresh white walls and bright yellow booths attract the eye first, along with other pops of color, from neon lights behind the bar to the framed album covers—Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday and Elvis Costello, among others—hanging on the walls.
One of the smaller and seemingly inconsequential details is the lack of a diner staple: small trays with single-use packets of butter and jelly. That’s because one of the many features executive chef Eric Miller has added to his restaurant includes making homemade jam. He proudly shows off a small mason jar of peach jam, bottled when peaches were in peak season and now available at the diner.
It’s just one of many homemade, individual touches Miller touts as he gives a tour of the diner, which he hopes will provide customers with an experience that feels comfortable and familiar but also fresh and new.
Silver Lining Diner opened in the middle of July, and is owned by Miller, his brother, Marc Miller, who is in charge of operations and events, financier Richard Silver, marketing and branding expert MT Carney, and architect/designer Jeffrey Beers. Chef Miller is also the owner and operator of Food and Co. and Hampton Clambake, and will continue to run those catering operations out of Silver Lining Diner.
Miller admitted that opening a restaurant that can serve more than 700 people throughout the course of a busy weekend day is challenging. But he is hoping that the diner can become a coveted place for both locals and part-time visitors alike, and cater to those who want the classic diner experience but also value good food made from quality, locally sourced ingredients. The typical diner fare is still on the menu, but there are more modern, traditional takes as well, from Acai bowls and smoothies with turmeric or ginger shots, to Montauk sea scallops and roasted organic chicken.
Miller is an experienced chef and restaurateur, having run Bay Kitchen Bar in East Hampton for nearly a decade before selling it last year with a year left on his lease. Bay Kitchen Bar was one of the most highly respected restaurants in the Hamptons, but was only open for 15 weeks out of the year, during the busy summer season. Miller said his motivation to dive into a new project was born from a desire for more consistency, for both himself and the rest of his team.
“We wanted to cook in all four seasons, 52 weeks a year, and earn a living 52 weeks a year, and supply the people working for us a job all year,” he said, during a warm morning in mid-September, as broad sunlight filtered through large windows, bouncing off the bright white tables and enhancing the warm pop of the yellow booths. “We felt that if we could come here and serve the kind of quality food we were serving at Bay Kitchen, at a normal price point, we could attract people.”
Food might not arrive at the table in the instantaneous fashion people might expect from a traditional diner. But what they may lack in speed, the diner makes up for in terms of quality, he said.
“We spent a lot of money to make a place that bridges between a really nice, fast casual restaurant and a diner. It’s kind of a new breed of diner.”
The diner’s main seating area is spacious and bright, and there is also a separate room with a full service bar that will be available for private parties or gatherings. There is even a walled off outdoor seating area behind the diner, with strung lights above the surrounding fence and wooden picnic table seating.
Chef Miller said he and his staff are starting to get comfortable in the new space now. They are past the rush of the busy summer season, although they are doing a brisk business on weekends being just a stone’s throw from Pumpkintown. Miller brought many of his long-time employees from Bay Kitchen Bar to Silver Lining, and he said he also hired a few of the workers who were employed at the Princess Diner, including some who had their pay illegally withheld from the former owner, Richard Bivona, who was sentenced to six months in jail at the end of 2018 and forced to pay back the workers.
Failing to pay workers was not the only issue at Princess Diner, according to Miller. The building, he said, was “completely neglected” for 10 years.
“Everything we touched, we had to rebuild,” he said as he showed off new walk-in refrigerators and freezers and other infrastructure put in place to make the diner run smoothly.
Miller even addressed the less tangible elements when it came to refurbishing the space.
“We did a cleansing with a friend of ours who’s a shaman,” he said, smiling. “We all sat in a circle and she did her ritual. We burned sage, she was banging a drum, making me hit a bell. We were expelling all this stuff.”
Asked how he felt about that, Miller smiled, arms stretched out across the yellow booth in the corner, with a view of the bar as well as the front door, where more customers continued to filter in.
“I love it,” he said. “I think it’s great. I believe in all of it.”
Silver Lining Diner is located at 32 Montauk Hwy, Southampton