Once named "The Most Beautiful Village in America" by National Geographic magazine, East Hampton is a curious mix of old and new, of country charm and city sophistication.
With country lanes canopied by 100-year-old maple trees, a town pond complete with a pair of graceful swans, and a quaint Main Street chock-a-block with charming storefronts, East Hampton is a Manhattanite's dream come true: a getaway with all the scenery and charm of the country, but where you can still get a decent bagel, a newspaper, or a $3,000 cashmere wrap without having to drive an hour into town. Think of it as Country Lite.
East Hampton was founded almost 130 years before the American Revolution by a group of settlers from Lynn, Massachusetts. Apparently they heard about the bagels and made a beeline south.
The settlers must have enjoyed their new digs a little too much because, in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts declared the celebration of Christmas in East Hampton to be a criminal offense. The Court's aim was to suppress the excesses of the season, which, according to the town's historical society, included "rowdy public displays of eating and drinking, mockery of established authority, aggressive begging, and boisterous invasions."
Which must be exactly how East Hampton locals view us visitors from Manhattan.
Today, the best place in East Hampton to conduct a rowdy public display of eating and drinking is at the aptly named Rowdy Hall. Known for its oversized Rowdy Burgers, originally Rowdy Hall served as a boardinghouse for East Hampton's artist colony. The restaurant earned its name from the town's churchgoers who, seeing the place still full of reveling guests as they passed by on Sunday mornings, declared it to be a "rowdy hall." Isn't that what makes this country great? Some folks worship God; others worship keggers.
This is Rowdy Hall's tomato soup with toasted croutons made out of tiny grilled cheese sandwiches. The fact that someone didn't think of this sooner is proof positive that America really is in decline.
Do you really need to ask what I ate next?
I know what you're thinking, but a cheeseburger this good could turn anyone into a mesmerized zombie.
Obviously things were bound to get a bit messy, so Angel and I asked our waitress for some extra napkins. This is what she brought us.
That's right: The Great Napkin Shortage of 2011 has now spread to the northeast.
East Hampton is filled with many gorgeous homes owned by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jay-Z. One of the most iconic, though, is the "White House," which belongs to Italian-born real estate developer Fred Mengoni.
Mengoni, who was interviewed by the New York Times in 1997, told the newspaper that the house's bathroom fixtures are gold plated, as are most of the doorknobs and closet handles, and that the cobblestone driveway is heated from below ground to melt the ice in winter. He also told the Times that his motive for coming to America was Marilyn Monroe, whom he had seen in a movie. ''I like blondes,'' Mengoni, then a bachelor in his 70s, was quoted as saying. ''I have many.''
With a house like this, Freddie baby, consider me the latest addition to your harem.
Besides obscene amounts of wealth and loads of celebrities, perhaps the thing East Hampton is best known for is being home to Food Network personality Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa. With her self-satisfied chuckle and the catchphrase, "You're not gonna believe how easy this is," Ina makes whipping up bouillabaisse and chocolate souffles for 12 look about as difficult as hitting a millionaire with your shopping cart at the local Citarella.
On a recent visit to East Hampton, I stopped by Ina's house to snap some photos. Like many Hamptons homes, Ina's is protected by a tall hedge, a security gate, an alarm system, rabid pit bulls, barbed wire, and a large sign indicating that trespassers will be shot on sight and then fricasseed. Thus understandably wary of attracting unwanted attention, Angel left the car in drive and ducked down in the front seat in case we needed to make a quick getaway, while I jumped out and pretended to be looking for the correct address, calling out in my best blueblood accent, "Bunny? Muffie? Where are you, darlings??"
Although I'm sorry to report that I didn't see Ina, if I had, I imagine the conversation would have gone something like this:
Ina [irately]: What the hell are you doing on my property?
Me [nervously]: Um, taking pictures?
Ina [demandingly]: What are you, some kind of paparazzi?
Me [sheepishly]: Um, not really . . . I mean, sort of . . . um . . .
Ina [conclusively]: You're here to steal Jeffrey from me, aren't you? I knew it! That's it - I'm calling the police!
Me [beseechingly]: Well, can't you at least send me off with some homemade white-chocolate-chunk brownies for the ride to the station?
Ina [haughtily]: You're not gonna believe how easy they are.
Not far from Ina's house is one of the loveliest spots in town, East Hampton Point. East Hampton Point resort encompasses hotel suites, cottages, tennis courts, a marina, and . . . oh, who cares about any of that? There's a restaurant!
Luckily the food is good, since the view is so blah.
I mean, who can resist a calamari salad with homemade Fritos in it? Not me.
The resort is currently for sale for the bargain price of $30 million. Start saving your pennies thousand dollar bills!
This is the wooden racing sloop The Jade. The building that houses East Hampton Point's restaurant was constructed around it when the cost of docking and maintaining the boat became too much. The fact that it was cheaper to actually build a building around it probably tells you everything you need to know about dockage prices in the Hamptons.
Just down the road from East Hampton is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of Amagansett. "Amagansett" is an old Montaukett Indian word meaning "land of the wealthy granola-eaters" . . . roughly translated, of course.
Despite its small size, Amagansett packs a wide variety of shops into a postage-stamped size space.
After a stroll around the village, we popped into the local library to use the restroom, where we were glad to see that Yankee ingenuity is alive and well.
One of the most interesting shops in Amagansett is Cursive East End, an upscale stationery store in the square. Here you can purchase pens, pencils, and other implements that you can use to confirm that after a weekend in the Hamptons, your checkbook balance is now zero.
After a day of shopping in Amagansett, one of the best places to refuel is at Jack's Stir Brew.
This place serves something called the Mad Max, which is a regular coffee blended with a shot of espresso. Next time you want your hubby to clean the house, wash the car, alphabetize your DVD collection, count every single hair on your head, and participate in a triathalon, get him a Mad Max, then sit back and relax.
About halfway between Amagansett and Montauk is something called the Napeague Stretch. Although it sounds like some excruciating new yoga pose, the Napeague Stretch is actually a desolate stretch of highway between Amagansett and Montauk lined with dunes, pine trees, peekaboo ocean views, and a few roadside clam bars, including one owned by the most famous white guy in Anguilla, Cyril Fitzsimons.
Cyril's on a weekend afternoon resembles a scene from the movie "Roadhouse," if all the actors were Manhattan yuppies and wayward bikers, instead of Patrick Swayze, Sam "I Need a Shampoo" Elliott, and that blind guy.
Cyril himself holds court from the comfort of his padded wicker chair, deigning to speak to those he deems worthy and barking at (if you're lucky) or outright hollering at (if you're not) those whom he does not.
How does an Irish Anguillian end up presiding over a hopping clam bar in the Hamptons, you ask? Apparently you leave your native Dublin for a vacation in NYC, join the Marines while on a pub crawl through Times Square, get yourself shipped overseas to fight in the Vietnam War, get shot in the foot and return to Dublin, get caught up in a little matter involving some alleged explosives, open a popular gay bar in Barcelona, return to Manhattan and open a bar on the Upper East Side . . . then somehow end up splitting your time between a sleepy Caribbean island and the star-studded Hamptons. Of course.
Our first order of business was a round of rum punches, which come with a floater of dark rum on top.
While I am normally a big fan of extra booze, in this case the rum turned the punch an unappetizing rust color and added a caramely sweetness that I didn't care for. In addition, the punch was missing the most important ingredient besides the rum, which is a dash of freshly grated nutmeg on top. I'm sorry, but I am a stickler for this. A rum punch without nutmeg is like a meatloaf without gravy. It's like spaghetti without a few dozen meatballs. It's just wrong.
And so I was forced to order a BBC instead.
The BBC was fantastic. I love bananas, but I rarely order banana coladas or banana daiquiris because they are often sickeningly sweet. In this case, however, the bitter coffee flavor of the Bailey's really took the edge off the sweetness, and the rum really took the edge off . . . everything else.
For lunch we started with the teriyaki scallops, which were so plump and juicy they didn't even need the sauce. Which was good, since we were already a little sauced ourselves.
As good as the scallops were, they were no match for the garlic-crusted tilapia, which was redolent of deeply roasted garlic and swimming in perfectly browned butter.
In fact, I am still thinking about that damn fish, mostly because I ordered a salad and the crab cakes.
To be fair, the salad was very good, and the crab cakes were delicious, with absolutely no filler except for some fresh corn and a bit of shredded carrot for color. True, I don't normally order something so healthy, but have you forgotten about those grilled cheese croutons and the oversized cheeseburger chaser already? Even that tapeworm I probably have is no match for that kind of calorie-fest.
As we were leaving Cyril's, we ran into this guy enjoying a beer.
I recommended that he give the BBC a try - I think he'd really lap it up.
Over the next few months we're headed south, to Cape May, Charleston, and Anguilla. Hit the "Subscribe" button on the upper right and you'll be the first to know whether there's any food left after we leave town!