Named after the mediocre thirteenth president, Millard Fillmore, Fillmore’s is far from mediocre. Sitting on the corner of 166th Street in a very residential area, the building has been a bar since 1912. Originally a speakeasy during the prohibition era, it was disguised as a deli. In those days, the bar was the halfway point between a bus that drove from Lake Success to LIC and would cool down in that location. One of the things to carry over from those days is how diners must walk through the back and not the front to enter the restaurant.
Rick Reichenbach, fresh out of college, took helm of the place 31 years ago. His partner, Maria Varrone, used to be a regular client at the restaurant 17 years ago, and then joined as a waitress and bartender before collaborating with Rick.
Walking in you are greeted with the barroom, lined with caricatures of their regulars. “When you have a neighborhood bar, it’s not our place, it’s the customers place,” Rick explained. “They tell you what they want, so two years ago we decided why don’t we decorate the bar with the customers instead of stuff from the liquor companies.”
“Casual is cool. It’s kind of like ‘Cheers,’ everyone knows your name,” Rick said about the atmosphere as Maria chimed in, “One of our customers, Howie, he’s been coming here since before it was Fillmore’s.” Rick nodded as he added, “I started working here in 1972 and Howie was here the first night I worked the bar.” Most of the clients are from a five-mile radius, making it a true neighborhood restaurant.
The food is classic Americana with a touch of Cajun. Rick considers it comfort food, items that are accessible to the locals. To start our meal we tried Saloon Sampler, which contained meaty Buffalo wings with a sweet and sticky sauce slathered on them, crisp onion rings and bite-sized popcorn shrimp.
To perk up our taste buds, we also enjoyed a strong cup of Tennessee Mud Coffee, made with Jack Daniels, Amaretto and coffee. Fillmore Coffee, a milder but equally tasty beverage made from Irish cream, brandy and Kalua, was sweet, topped with whipped cream that slowly melts into the drink.
Pork Osso Buco, a special of the night, was one of our first entrees from Fillmore’s. Served on the bone, the meat softly shredded off into a bed of mashed potatoes sponging the juices of the slowly cooked meat. Maria’s favorite item, The Shrimp Boat, was butterflied jumbo shrimp displayed atop a heap of flavorful clam and crabmeat stuffing. Rick’s favorite, the blackened steak, was a thick cut of sirloin, seared with Cajun spices and served sizzling on a silver tray. Finally, the Chicken Fillmore, a breast of chicken saut/ed with mushrooms, bacon, gravy and topped with melted mozzarella cheese, sounded like an unusual combo but ended up being my MVP of the night.
To cap off our meal, a slice of creamy cheesecake with a chocolate and graham cracker crust, drizzled with caramel, was a classic piece of New York. For chocoholics, dive in to the rich Rocky Mountain Chocolate Cake, and see if that doesn’t quench your sweet tooth!
166-02 65th Avenue
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365
Web site: www.fillmorestavern.com