Report: 1 in 4 local restaurants has health violations posted online

03/24/2011 6:07 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sakura restaurant had 16 violations, the most of any in Riverhead Town.

Some of Riverhead’s best-known restaurants are currently the worst health code violators among businesses within the town that serve food, according to inspections performed within the last year by the county Department of Health Services, which publishes the reports online.

Sakura Japanese Restaurant on Route 58 leads the pack with 16 alleged health code violations, according to the reports.
The alleged violations range from “no suitable utensil” at a bowl of self-serve lemon wedges, to a container of rice found sitting at 83 degrees, to an employee who was spotted deboning fish with his bare hands.

Inspectors found mold on several food items in refrigerators at downtown’s Dark Horse restaurant and the neighboring Tweed’s Buffalo Bar, which are both among the 10 eateries from Wading River to Laurel with the most alleged violations, according to the online reports.

Along with Dark Horse, the Hampton Deli on Flanders Road had 12 violations listed, many related to food found to be stored or sitting out at improper temperatures. The Peconic Bay Diner and Greek Island Restaurant rounded out the top five, with eight violations apiece.

Overall, 50 inspection reports containing critical violations are listed online from the 195 local businesses subject to inspections.

That means 25 percent of local eateries have violations listed publicly, but no reports show up for the rest. In neighboring Southold Town, 28 percent of restaurants were listed as having open violations.

According to one citation for the Dark Horse restaurant, mold was found in celery soup, chicken stock and two containers of sauerkraut, all of which were stored in a walk-in refrigerator. The Dark Horse opened in September on East Main Street and is owned by Dee Muma,  
Another citation states: “Two porterhouse steaks were found in the cookline 2 door low boy refrigerator and were adulterated with a green hue and foul odor.”

At Tweed’s, owned by Ms. Muma’s husband, Ed Tuccio, inspectors in June reported finding mold on smoked salmon, Swiss cheese, meatloaf, three bags of sausage meat, cooked duck and mashed potatoes in a walk-in refrigerator.

Most of Tweed’s seven total alleged violations related to improper storage or food temperatures.

County health inspectors refer to the violations in the reports as “critical” violations, which “relate directly to factors which lead to food-borne illness and must be corrected immediately,” said Christopher Sortino, who heads the county Bureau of Public Health Protection and oversees the county’s inspectors.

The county is pursuing administrative proceedings against Sakura for bare-hand contact with food, which county officials said is standard for that particular violation ­— even if it’s a first offense. For violations that are not referred to administrative proceedings, the restaurants are responsible for correcting problems on the day of inspection or before a county reinspection at a later date.

Sakura is the only restaurant in the top five with a violation that has been referred to an administrative hearing, which could result in a civil penalty, or the restaurant being cleared of any wrongdoing.

Sakura owners did not immediately return requests for comment.

Anthony Coates, a friend of Mr. Tuccio’s who serves as a Tweed’s spokesman, commented as follows on the moldy food found in the restaurant’s fridge: “Those products at no time were served to the public. I’m sure any homeowner can understand that things can turn in the refrigerator. That doesn’t mean it‘s coming to your dinner table.”

All of the items the county considered violations were discarded at the time of the inspection last year, and Tweed’s has since “been given a clean bill of health,” Mr. Coates said.

In an interview, Ms. Muma refuted or explained each of Dark Horse’s citations.

She said the inspector should have understood that the pieces of steak in question were dry-aged and that the meat is expected to grow mold — referred to in the industry as “crust” — which is shaved off before cooking. She said the meat had just been delivered by the restaurant’s vendor.
“It’s one of those things,” Ms. Muma said, adding that between them, she and her head chef have 60 years of food preparation experience, and “we’ve never gotten anyone sick. We’ve never had a complaint.”

“Only inspectors who have been in the field long enough … understand these differences,” she added in reference to mold on dry-aged meat. “They don’t cook. They’ve been trained as sanitarians. But how you interpret things is very much an art.”

Ms. Muma said the other moldy items referenced in the Dark Horse report had been forgotten about, and would have never been served to customers.
“If there was a soup that we were no longer using, that got left there by mistake,” she said. “It wasn’t that we were trying to feed somebody an old soup. We stopped serving it and somebody didn’t throw it away. I would raise my hand to that one, yeah. I probably should have thrown that out, but it was off the menu and it was forgotten about.”

The diner owners both insisted their respective violations were relatively minor. Peconic Bay Diner owner Angelo Stavro complained it was unfair that the reports were listed online because, he said, everything was corrected during the inspection.

“I did whatever they told me to at the time,” he said.

Andy Drepanis of Greek Island Restaurant in Wading River boasted that he has “one of the cleanest restaurants around.”

“I was told to label a bottle here, cover up some sewer line with some sheet rock,” he said when asked about the citations, which included two that listed food items found at improper temperatures. “Any food I threw it out. Or, like a dented can, I returned it. It was all minor stuff.

“My customers are welcome to come into my kitchen, I tell them all the time,” he added.

The owner of the Hampton Deli could not be reached for comment.

County health officials list the reports online only if inspectors find critical violations in two visits within a 12-month period, county officials said.
Mr. Sortino said the frequency of inspections — which come unannounced, though inspectors do have to immediately identify themselves — is determined in relation to the risk of food-borne illness.

“Most restaurants are considered high risk and are inspected twice a year; medium risk establishments are generally done once a year and low risk establishments —  an example might be a bar that does not prepare food but only provides packaged foods — are done every two years,” he said.
“The great majority of food establishments under permit to the department are deemed high risk,” Mr. Sortino added.

The department has 16 full-time food inspectors who train for six months and undergo field testing before they are allowed to inspect food establishments on their own, he said.

Restaurant owners do get a chance to explain themselves before a report is drawn up, Mr. Sortino said.

The 195 eateries listed on the health department’s website — 147 from the 11901 area code alone, which includes most of Riverhead and parts of Southampton Town — include school cafeterias and even ice cream stands at Splish Splash. No violations were listed in any of the school cafeterias or ice cream stands. The list does not include wineries.

Suffolk County health officials have been posting restaurant violations online since 2002 at http://www.co.suffolk.ny.us/health/Restaurant/Rest_Search.aspx.

mwhite@timesreview.com

A MESSAGE FROM TIMES/REVIEW EDITORS

312 Comment

  • Apparently, years of service to Sandmine Sean has honed the ability of his “poltical conscience” to opine on rancid refuse ready to be trashed.

  • it’s all about the headlines. Lies. Hampton deli, in Flanders is in Southhampton, not Riverhead. The Greek Island Restaurant in Wading River, in Brookhaven Town, isn’t it? There goes your 1 in 4.

  • it’s all about the headlines. Lies. Hampton deli, in Flanders is in Southhampton, not Riverhead. The Greek Island Restaurant in Wading River, in Brookhaven Town, isn’t it? There goes your 1 in 4.

  • You’re right about Flanders Deli. Greek Island is actually in Riverhead. We changed the headline, but even if you do the math on just Riverhead Town restaurants it comes out to 25 percent. — Grant Parpan, Web Editor

  • Scubaref,

    And Dark Horse and Tweeds are in what town?

    Again…GROSS

    FOCUS.

  • Apparently Mr. Tuccio has not gotten around to fixing that storage problem since June. Last Saturday we were served rancid duck, the order so foul we had to get it off the table immediately. Also found plastic wrap in my quiche. After wasting an hour of my time waiting for 3 meals, and having to return two of them, I expected something in the way of remose from the restaurant, something to make me want to come back again. Instead I was told, we took it off the bill, didn’t we? Yes you did, you took it off the last bill I will ever have at your restaurant. And believe me, everyone I know has been warned away from your place.

  • I was literally nauseated after eating the duck at tweeds—-both from the rancid food and from the way that my concerns were addressed. Mr Tuccio has obviously no concern for the residents of HIS hometown. We are all just dollar signs to him. I have mentioned to a few people my experience, but now after learning that Mr. Tuccio knew about these violations since June and continued to cognitively put my family and all of his customers at risk for a multitude of health issues, I will certainly tell everyone I come across. Mr. Tuccio also operates a large farm and real estate business which I will no longer support.

  • apparently comments are erased- my opinion and experience at Tweeds was not important

  • I guess it’s true that “its not what you know, it’s who you know”. And I guess I don’t “know” anyone, because my comments about rotten food at Tweeds were deleted from here. Go figure.

  • Getcoley,

    Our bad for erasing your comment. I deleted accidentally while erasing a different comment. It’s back up now.

    Sincerely,
    Grant Parpan, Web Editor

  • Getcoley,

    Our bad for erasing your comment. I deleted accidentally while erasing a different comment. It’s back up now.

    Sincerely,
    Grant Parpan, Web Editor

  • Daisy,

    Your comment featured an attack that was personal in nature. Our policy is to erase comments that contain personal attacks.
    Sincerely,
    Grant Parpan, Web Editor

  • Daisy,

    Your comment featured an attack that was personal in nature. Our policy is to erase comments that contain personal attacks.
    Sincerely,
    Grant Parpan, Web Editor

  • My comment was an observation on how important the locals are to a local businessman…. it was personal to me that my family was put at risk when he was already cited.

  • My comment was an observation on how important the locals are to a local businessman…. it was personal to me that my family was put at risk when he was already cited.

  • How about doing an article on all the restaurants that get glowing reviews? How about Suffolk County adopts the letter grade policy found in Manhattan? Putting a giant letter C in your window will make an owner change his priorities and clean up his act pretty quickly.

  • They should do surprise(not warned by an ex employee of the DOA Mr. Pachetta who is now on King Kullens payroll…nice huh?) inspections on King Kullen in various eastern L.I. towns , my husband was employed as management for years at this company and told of hundreds of disgusting ongoings at these stores(particularly the newer ones with kitchens in the cold cut and prepared food sections). Needless to say we will NEVER buy or eat anything that has come from this section of the stores.

  • BTW, The link you posted does not work, not on my pc anyway.

  • dark horse wasnt open in june

  • Funny how Sean Walter is friendly with the owners of both Tweeds and Dark Horse….. poetic justice!!!

  • ASK TO SEE THE KITCHEN OF ANY RESTAURANT YOU EAT IN

  • How would you like to be the advertising sales rep of the Times Review that has these restaurants as clients? They USED to advertise with this rag, not anymore! Way to go TR

  • I checked out my favorites from the Department of Health Services website, and I must say, my surprise was double-edged….places I thought were squeaky clean were not ; and the ones I thought were a tad funky were fine…Ah, me. Goes to show….

  • Sorry, Grant, did you forget about Freedom of Speech? We need more “personal attacks” on corrupt politicians and their Shadow Government employed by the garbage, sandmine and asphalt cartels. Act like a reporter, go back and read the First Amendment and do your homework about the our politicians’ plans to make Riverhead Crookhaven East.

    Shame on News-Review’s censorship.

  • Ron, We’re not exactly talking about a first amendment issue here. Nor is this really about censorship, or my credentials as a reporter. I think we’re pretty liberal with the banter that we allow on here, but we have to draw the line sometimes. If you or anyone else would like to discuss in more detail why we delete certain comments, you can always give me a buzz at (631) 354-8046. Thanks, Grant

  • I just found RestaurantGrades.com

    Great fun checking out all the restaurants in my area.

  • hey news review since your on the subject of food establisments heres some more investigative
    issues, how about the food establishemnt on west main st. that violates local & state law such as erecting
    a permanent canopie on his deck with out a fire sprinkler no handicapped access, no protective barrier on his parking lot which is directly on the riverfront, illegal parking and use of town park for his own benefit and lets his patrons bring in alcohol for consumption with out a liquor permit , but i guess thats not as important as something that might be forgotten in a refrigator that has spoiled,and will be trown out by the chef of that restaraunt.
    or how about a culinary school which operates a bistro or cafe with with paid employees and claims
    it is operated by students, so in retrospect it collects tax revenue, purchases its goods with that tax base and competes with food establisments in the near by area at zero cost nice ah!( public info)
    bottom line, all restarants get violations whats next week bad dentists & dead beat fathers.

  • Thank you Ron.

  • Sounds like Riverhead has some chefs thats gotta Go…
    Come on Riverhead! Let’s clean up our act.

  • Well it appears the Suffolk County Health Department is doing what they can to protect the consumers of food goods. Thats great. Sure they can be “picky” about the gloves and things but there are reasons I think we all can agree. Several places had no violations and several others were minor. But I saw some places that there were serious violations of the law: no tags on seafood products and another who had food outside the back door. Come on folks! The Suffolk Times is just presenting to you a place where if you are intrested to check out the public reports online To be angry with them is of what gain? They (the paper) knew they might get some backlash but to their credit they reported on the subject matter. If you are one of the businesses that did not like the review you received from the Health Dept. then when the next inspection comes around show them how much you care about your business.

  • Now if only the other schools on the north fork would do the same! Especially the adminstrators that make way too much money as it is!