Nearly 15 years ago, husband and wife team Stephen and Cheri Wirth took over ownership of the now widely known Digger O’Dells Ales & Eats, Riverhead’s own Irish pub. All these years later, the restaurant/bar is still a huge hit. Digger’s opened in 1993.
Digger’s has made a name for itself by producing quality food and serving a wide array of — you guessed it! — beers. The bar and restaurant serve over 100 beers, in bottles and on tap. Next door, the Crooked Ladder Brewery, another project spearheaded by Stephen Wirth, brews a handful of craft beers, which are also available at Digger’s. Crooked Ladder is now in the hands of Wirth’s brother, David Wirth, but the brewery remains a family affair. The adjacent establishments work hand-in-hand when it comes to event space and beer offerings.
Open for both lunch and dinner, Digger’s serves the type of food one might expect at a pub: Buffalo wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, chili, and a variety of sandwiches take their rightful places on the menu. But there is also deference paid to local cuisine, as evidenced in such dishes as the Father Solan baked clams (chopped shrimp, clams, scallops, and lump crab meat, combined with herbs and spices and served broiled in a clam shell), or the beer-battered fish and chips (lightly fried cod, served with waffle fries and Irish soda bread).
But did you come for the food? It’s ok if you didn’t (although you’ll surely find something that satisfies, given the belly-pleasing nature of the menu). Digger’s does an admirable job of featuring local beers, from the Fire Island Beer Company draughts to the fleshy beers of the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. The majority of the beers available are on tap, but there is a stunning collection of bottled microbrews available, too, for those who prefer the bottle to the glass.
What really sets Digger’s apart, of course — aside from the wide array of beers, extraordinary by any measure — is the place’s approachability. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I found the restaurant packed with locals, a testament to its popularity with the contingent that matters the most. Digger’s has ingratiated itself in Riverhead, attracting a steady stream of eager, beer-loving regulars. Even with the many surrounding options (across the street, Dark Horse is impassioned about beer on tap, too, even though they have fewer selections), Digger’s remains a cut above the rest.
As for Crooked Ladder Brewing Company (if you’re next door, why not pay a visit?), typically six brews are on tap at a time. Brews are seasonally rotated, and popular ones of late include the “Outta My Vine” (a nearly six percent alcohol pumpkin ale), “Pipe Burst Winter Warmer” (an eight percent alcohol old ale), the “Crack O’Dawn” (a 5.5 percent alcohol coffee porter), and the “Dunkel” (a 5.5 percent alcohol dark German lager). In spring and summer, pale ales and saisons make their presence known, the lower alcohol brews pairing better with warmer weather. The brewery offers pints, beer flights, and growlers for the road.
Perhaps you do not expect a transformative experience in Riverhead — although the tides there do appear to be turning. But with establishments like Digger’s (and Crooked Ladder), it’s possible to travel far and deep while staying in Concord, so to speak. Any one of the beers on tap can transport a thinking drinker to a place far away, or one even right next door. It’s the alchemy of travel, telescoped in a glass. And we’re thankful for it.