Bird on the Roof
by Carter Randolph Carter
a Montauk Staple with Great Breakfast, Shopping…and History
In the summer of 1981, Frank and Helmar Cirillo came out from Brooklyn to purchase the iconic Bird on the Roof Restaurant in Montauk. With the majestic white bird painted on its sky-high roof for all to see from afar, “The Bird” is now the most recognizable – and certainly one of the tastiest – breakfast spots in Montauk.
If you read no further, go there and try the pancakes.
Matriarch Helmar herself has become as iconic as that very bird sitting atop the roof. On a recent visit, it was clear that a good many people came to the Bird not just for the food, but to see Helmar, her family, including son Anthony and his wife JoAnn, and the friendly staff who run the daily operations of the restaurant and adjacent fashion-forward shop, the Bird Boutique, which is one of Montauk’s best kept secrets.
Anthony and JoAnn, both retired school teachers, are at the restaurant daily and run the boutique. Their keen sense of what people want along with sensible pricing make the boutique a must-hit for Montauk shopping.
Helmar, who was an office manager at Metropolitan Insurance Company, turned 90 recently and is known around town as Granma. She has a young, gentle face for a nonagenarian that warms the kids as they come in for breakfast. Even the birds on the roof know when she arrives as she feeds them daily, much to the dismay of the surrounding business owners…who love her just the same.
In a time of rapid change fueled by Montauk’s growing popularity, Bird on the Roof remains a true family restaurant. Most of the employees have been on board for many years and know a great deal of the regulars who return year after year. Chefs Brian, Kiwmonie and son-in-law Jon create some of the most fabulous breakfast dishes you will ever experience, including a big board of changing daily specials. Other staff Janet, Al, Shireka, Terrance and Ardley return year after year to keep the Bird going strong.
The Bird family has watched with pride as many customers’ children grow up and return with their own families. Those same customers have watched Helmar’s granddaughters Jilian, Lisa and Julie grow to have their own children Sanai, Hank, Sam and Ava Gray, making the Bird a living four-generation Montauk institution.
Bird on the Roof is one of those timeless, unfazed, feel-good Montauk places that stays inviting and relevant by just keeping it real. Thank you, Helmar and the Cirillo clan. See you Saturday, as usual.