So, you've probably heard all about how the North Fork of Long Island is this picturesque vineyard- and farm-dotted peninsula, awash in quaint farm stands and vibrant sunflower fields and expansive bay views.
You may have even heard that the North Fork boasts several charming villages, over three dozen wineries, and a burgeoning Slow Food scene, and is home to celebrity chefs like Gerry Hayden, formerly of New York's famed Aureole, and Tom Colicchio, the Cueball-in-Chief on "Top Chef."
But what you may not know is that, beautiful as it may be, the North Fork of Long Island is also one of the most maddening places on Earth. Do you even know how annoying it is to be delayed on your way to a winery by some guy on a tractor? Have you any idea what it's like to listen to some chef brag about how the tomatoes and corn on your plate were picked just that morning from his own garden? Can you imagine the difficulty of deciding who's going to be the designated sucker driver for your day of wine tastings? I didn't think so.
Despite these annoyances, we love the North Fork precisely for what it doesn't have: Hamptons people.
That's why, at least a few times every summer and well into the fall, we make the 30-minute drive north from our cottage to Route 25, a two-lane country road that begins in Aquebogue and ends in our favorite village, Greenport, a former whaling and shipbuilding port that still retains its fishy, small-town charm.
Founded in 1640 as the town of Winter Harbor, Greenport was also a commercial fishing hub for the small, oily bunker fish prevalent in the surrounding waters, which were used to make fertilizer. Because regular fertilizer doesn't smell bad enough.
More recently, Greenport has welcomed a slew of new shops and restaurants, where you can slurp some oysters or buy a new pair of fancy shoes.
Or you could just stick with horse shoes.
Greenport is also a favorite of the boating set, given its proximity to both Sag Harbor and Shelter Island.
I've seen more sophisticated instrument panels on remote-controlled boats. "No promises" you'll actually be able to find your destination.
This little red schoolhouse was built in 1818 and once housed Greenport's kindergarteners.
You'd look grumpy, too, if your teacher made you dress up like The Flying Nun.
One of our favorite places to eat in Greenport is at Claudio's, which bills itself as the oldest, same-family run restaurant in the U.S.
Claudio's traces its history to 1854, when a Portuguese whaling ship called the Neva set sail from the Azores and docked in Greenport with a whaler on board named Manuel Claudio. For the next 16 years Manuel Claudio sailed the world on the Neva. Finally, in 1870, he'd saved up enough money to never have to sail again, and he did what any man who hadn't set foot on dry land in 16 years would do: He opened a brothel tavern.
Claudio's often adds an ethnic twist to its classic seafood, like this Cajun calamari with spicy banana peppers and chipotle aioli.
Or this, their flounder bruschetta.
I like to stick with a classic artery-clogger: Baked, stuffed jumbo shrimp with creamy lobster sauce.
No matter what you order, you'll be eating it off of a tiny pitchfork.
Although Claudio's clam chowder has had no fewer than 8 first-place finishes in the Maritime Festival Chowder Contest, it is still no match for the Louisiana corn-and-crab chowder that has inexplicably disappeared from the menu. See how this pales in comparison?
Because of its location at the very end of the North Fork, Greenport is a huge draw for bikers.
I imagine they start their day with spot of tea at the Greenport Tea Company, linger over oysters and Champagne at the Frisky Oyster, take a harbor tour on one of the town's tall ships, then lick the frosting off a few cupcakes from Butta Cakes before jumping on their hogs and riding off into the sunset.
After photographing the motorcycles, I asked one of the bikers if he'd be willing to pose for me. After he agreed, I teasingly warned him, "You know you're going to end up on the Internet, right?" "It wouldn't be the first time!" one of his buddies chortled. "Yeah, but at least this time, nobody will be looking for him," another chimed in.
I'm sure he was just referring to this guy's Facebook friends . . . right???
The North Fork's main road, Route 25, is dotted with farm stands large and small . . .
. . . and "Deliverance."
Route 25 and its northern parallel, Route 48, are also home to over 40 wineries. People often ask me which ones are my favorites, and the answer to that question is directly related to whether the winery's parking lot is filled with buses and limousines at the time I'd like to visit. No limos = great wine! Tour bus = probably swill.
There isn't actually a creek at Corey Creek, but there is good wine and a lovely, if creek-less, view.
As I always say, Why sip when you can chug?
Other wineries on Rt. 25 include Pellegrini, Peconic Bay, and Macari.
I guess this is one way to pay for college. If stripping isn't your thing, that is.
This bite-sized sandwich cost Angel $4, but it cost me twenty minutes of my life, spent listening to him rant about what a ripoff it was.
Although the wineries may look fancy, ya'll can also just relax with some sparklin' wine and locally-made potato chips.
Or you can grab a pizza, but not just any pizza. One of the newest players on the North Fork's Slow Food scene is Grana, which is already being touted as some of the best pizza in New York City . . . even though it's 75 miles away. New Yorkers, we're all about understatement.
The owner, David Plath, a native of Hampton Bays, took no chances before opening Grana: He took pizza-baking classes in Italy, studied dough and yeast making at the French Culinary Institute, and attended bread making classes at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Vermont before opening shop. You know how those Plaths love their ovens.
Grana uses only organic unbleached flour, house-made fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, Duroc heritage breed pork sausage, and local North Fork vegetables in season.
But are the pies any good? Do I like meatballs?
Although the margherita pie was delicious, Angel and I are both still dreaming about the Rosa Bianca, a white pizza topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano, red onion, olive oil, rosemary, and a slew of skin-on Long Island potatoes, sliced paper-thin and left in the oven just long enough to take the bite out of them.
After devouring a few heavenly slices of the Rosa Bianca, one thing is for sure: Next time I find myself stuck behind a potato farmer on a tractor, I'll be sure to give a little wave . . . instead of that other hand gesture.
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