A little piece of Texas resides right in the heart of East Quogue at the New Moon Café, where owner Ron “Hot Rod Ronnie” Campsey is serving up Tex-Mex cuisine and old-fashioned home-cooked meals in just the same way that he has for the past 30 years.
When asked what might bring a man from the Lone Star State to New York, Mr. Campsey sniffed a deep breath and offered a reasonable explanation, “The scent of a woman.”
And although that earlier relationship did not pan out, Mr. Campsey stayed in New York. Today, after more than 45 years here, he still calls the Empire State home.
After his first marriage broke up, Ol’ Tex, as he is known to legions of friends and regulars, purchased the establishment in 1979, when it was just an empty building. Heartbroken and working through the psychological aftermath of serving in the Vietnam War, Mr. Campsey focused his energy on building his business. “I knew nothing of the restaurant industry when I got into it,” he said.
Today, the woman in Mr. Campsey’s life is his wife and longtime partner, Shana Campsey, who wears the chef coat in the New Moon Cafe’s kitchen. He can still remember the date, August 18, 1983, that Ms. Campsey walked in the door, sat at table 21, and changed his life forever. The pair have been together ever since and have raised four daughters together, Sarah, Phebe, Rebecca and Abby, while living above the establishment.
Ms. Campsey took over the kitchen some five and half years ago, after the former chef walked out right before a busy shift. But Mr. Campsey said that he did not mind the chef’s desertion.
“After 30 years, it’s finally ours,” he said of the restaurant’s kitchen.
Though Ms. Campsey is a self taught chef, she said she has been a lifelong baker and that people come from far and wide to try her banana creme pie ($7).
Mr. Campsey said that, over the years, his Southwestern hospitality has brought the same people into the restaurant time and time again. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” Ms. Campsey said.
He added that he has seen people who used to visit New Moon Café when they were young come in with children of their own.
“It’s been so wonderful to see so many families grow up,” Mr. Campsey said. “They say, ‘Ronnie, coming here is like coming home.’”
Mr. Campsey touts his business as a family restaurant. For a man who is the oldest of 12 children and the father of seven girls and one boy, the classification seems like a natural fit.
The inside of the New Moon Café is rustic, and the abundance of cacti and cowboy hat-wearing owner are sure to make patrons think for at least a moment that they are deep in the Southwest. Dozens of pictures of Ron and his family and friends, with one depicting him standing beside former President Bill Clinton, adorn the restaurant’s walls.
The restaurant has also seen a fair share of celebrity patrons over the years, including former New York State Governor George Pataki and Howard Cosell. Mr. Campsey recalled that some 20 years ago a man in tattered clothes sat by himself enjoying a quiet meal in the dining room. The man told Mr. Campsey that he enjoyed the New Moon Café because it was the least pretentious place he had ever visited and was one of the few places where he could just be himself.
Mr. Campsey thanked the man, who then went on his way. The restaurant owner later learned that the man was none other than legendary choreographer Bob Fosse.
Of the fare offered from New Moon’s kitchen, Mr. Campsey recommends the burgers, served with fries ($10.95) and the Texas style barbecued brisket of beef ($16.95).
Appetizers include stuffed mushrooms with sausage ($6.50); clams casino ($8.95); and Ol’ Tex’s cup of chili ($4.50).
Entrées include tostadas, Mexican pizza with a choice of beef, chicken or vegetables ($14.95); barbecued ribs, served with potato salad, pinto beans and a vegetable ($17.95); and marinated sliced steak ($18.95).
The restaurant also features a children’s menu with a choice of chicken fingers, fish sticks, quesadillas, burgers, soft tacos and frankfurters, all for $6.50.
Diners can end their meal with one of Shana’s homemade desserts, including Texas pecan pie ($8); chocolate derby pie ($6) and rice pudding ($6.50).
Customers also have the option of having a traditional Texas barbecue catered right next to the eatery. In fact, it is where Shana and Ron tied the knot in 2005.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Mr. Campsey said.