A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Summer in the Hamptons: Stick a Fork In It

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.

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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."

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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.

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Despite these annoyances, we love the North Fork precisely for what it doesn't have: Hamptons people.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Or you could just stick with horse shoes.

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Greenport is also a favorite of the boating set, given its proximity to both Sag Harbor and Shelter Island.

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I've seen more sophisticated instrument panels on remote-controlled boats. "No promises" you'll actually be able to find your destination.

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This little red schoolhouse was built in 1818 and once housed Greenport's kindergarteners.

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You'd look grumpy, too, if your teacher made you dress up like The Flying Nun.

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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.

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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.

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Claudio's often adds an ethnic twist to its classic seafood, like this Cajun calamari with spicy banana peppers and chipotle aioli.

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Or this, their flounder bruschetta.

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I like to stick with a classic artery-clogger: Baked, stuffed jumbo shrimp with creamy lobster sauce.

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No matter what you order, you'll be eating it off of a tiny pitchfork.

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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?

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Because of its location at the very end of the North Fork, Greenport is a huge draw for bikers.

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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. . . and "Deliverance."

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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.

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As I always say, Why sip when you can chug?

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Other wineries on Rt. 25 include Pellegrini, Peconic Bay, and Macari.

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I guess this is one way to pay for college. If stripping isn't your thing, that is.

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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.

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Yes, you.

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Although the wineries may look fancy, ya'll can also just relax with some sparklin' wine and locally-made potato chips.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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Posted by TraceyG 16:04 Archived in USA Tagged grana hamptons north_fork claudios Comments (5)

Wherein I Crash Yet Another Highfalutin' Hamptons Event...

For a certain type of Hamptons resident, summer means a social calendar chock-full of elegant galas, balls, and soirees, all benefiting various local charities. With admission for some running into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, these events are wisely priced to take advantage of the influx of one-percenters during the summer season . . . and to ensure that the Forbes 400 don't have to rub elbows with the likes of me and Angel. But sometimes, the joke's on them: Perhaps you remember that time I crashed the $500-a-head Rock the Dock Bash in Sag Harbor? I'm sorry, but when the DJ plays "It's Raining Men," and 25 guys in pastel pants hit the dance floor simultaneously, I just can't help myself.

And so, when I found out that tickets to the Hamptons foodie event of the summer, Dan's Taste of Two Forks, were going for a hefty $225 per person, I immediately sent out some feelers (okay, begged) to see if I might be able to get in for free. Happily, a friend had some extra tickets, and she astutely surmised that if anybody was going to get their money's worth at an all-you-can-eat event featuring 40 restaurants and 20 wineries, it would be me.

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We decided to dress up a bit on the theory that it's always better to be overdressed when (1) the event is co-hosted by famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and fashion designer Nicole Miller, and (2) you're planning to behave like a Tasmanian devil set loose at a BBQ. That theory turned out to be correct: You know it's a chi-chi event when the Porsche is the one slumming it between the convertible Maserati and the Bentley.

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And both of those are slumming it next to this guy.

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And you know it's exclusive when Dan Rattiner of Dan's Papers -- who is both the founder and namesake of the event -- still needs a wristband to get in.

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Once we got inside, we realized that not only were we dressed appropriately, but potato sacks might have been preferable to some of the getups we encountered. It is a brave woman who dares sport long-sleeved gold lamé on a humid evening in July. At least burlap breathes.

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The memo about the white dresses and checkered shirts must have gotten lost in the mail along with my media pass.

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Once we entered the tent, it was exactly like those horrible dreams you have where there's a vast, limitless buffet of every single one of your favorite foods, only you wake up before you get to eat any of it. Oh, wait, you don't have those dreams? Anyhoo, I literally didn't know where to start. My head said to be orderly and work my way down one side of the aisle and up the other, but my heart suggested that I dive headfirst into the wine booths in the center aisle, Slip 'N Slide style, and start chugging. Decisions, decisions.

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Reason won out and we started on the left, where the first booth we encountered was for the excellent Amarelle. Tucked away north and west of the Hamptons in the small enclave of Wading River, Amarelle first came to our attention at the Long Island Food & Wine Festival back in 2010. That's where Amarelle's chef, the lovely Lia Fallon, managed to outcook every single person at the festival by making . . . a salad.

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Not just any salad, of course, but one made with butter lettuce, frisee, arugula, sun-dried cherries, toasted almonds, white balsamic with vanilla-bean essence . . . and cocoa-dusted goat cheese. The play of sweet and sour, bitter and tangy, chewy and crunchy made this salad a real knockout. And it was, until Lia somehow managed to outdo even herself by making this:

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That is a savory goat cheese cheesecake made with local Catapano Dairy Farm goat cheese, lemon oil, sea salt, and presumably some crack. Lia mentioned how difficult it was to make 1,700(!) of these come out perfectly, but I don't believe her: This ingenious creation's creamy, lemony goodness bested virtually everything else we had that evening.

Next we made our way over to Rumba, which will come as no surprise since we spend a good part of every weekend making our way over to Rumba. For Taste of Two Forks, owner David Hersh brought out the big guns: His Dominican ribs. You know these are good when they are a huge hit at an event where almost everyone got the memo about wearing white.

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Over at Sarabeth's, which is located in Manhattan but apparently summers in the Hamptons, I couldn't understand why these were labeled "Morning Cookies." Aren't all cookies morning cookies?

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These are Grana's miniature wagyu beef meatballs with organic stone-ground wheat buns, imported 24-month Parmigiano-Reggiano, and local arugula. Also known as the Mini Meatball Slider That Was Almost Too Cute to Eat But You Already Know How This Ends.

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Next up was Anke's Fit Bakery, which had the good sense to serve these gorgeous tomato and mozzarella toasts instead of something healthy.

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I am ashamed to admit that I originally dismissed Banzai Burger in Amagansett as one of those fusion places that tries to do several cuisines at once (in this case, burgers and sushi) and ends up succeeding at none of them. And I was partially right: When your burger is this good, you don't need sushi. Or even plates. I will still show up, and I will still banzai the hell out of your amazing burger.

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Next up was Plaza Cafe's seared local scallop over sweet corn polenta with organic shiitakes. The chef at Plaza Cafe, Doug Gulija, is one of those people that you want to hate because they're so insanely talented, but you can't because they're also so damn nice. As for that polenta, let's just say that I'm booked at Plaza Cafe next weekend and there's a plate full o' cornmeal there with my name on it.

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At one point I realized that I only had about 2 hours left to stuff down 30-odd dishes, so we had to move quickly. And so we had, in no particular order, Georgica's excellent soy-ginger tuna tartare...

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A refreshing chilled raw sweet corn and cashew bisque from Babette's in East Hampton...

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The Riverhead Project's Polish Town lobster pierogies with red wine and onion marmalade and sea beans, which managed to erase decades of this Pittsburgher's sauerkraut pierogie aversion in one fell swoop...

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Nobu's miso black cod on butter lettuce, which was so delicious that I might be willing to brave the 6-foot-tall models and the 5-foot-tall men who chase them at Nobu in order to get some more...

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Southampton Social Club's sesame-crusted ahi tuna on a lotus chip with wasabi caviar sweet soy reduction...say that three times fast...

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Navy Beach's delicious something-or-other, which I'm sure I'd remember if I hadn't been so busy plotting to steal admiring their beachy weathered "Montauk" sign...

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And Lunch's lobster and shrimp salads.

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Wait, there's a restaurant called, simply, "Lunch"? Sort of. It's actually called The Lobster Roll, but the huge blue "LUNCH" sign outside earned them the nickname, and it just stuck. I guess they should be glad no one ever noticed their "PARKING" sign.

And then there was the parade of ice cream cones. I'll let you guess which one contained Bay Burger's cool, creamy mint ice cream, and which ones contained fluke and steak tartares.

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Eventually the heat became too much and the overflow crowd moved outside for a bit.

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Back inside, we had so much wine that we were grateful for some help aiming the food at our mouths.

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In a sea of wine, Tito's Vodka dared to be different with a deliciously refreshing drink of vodka, lime, and ginger beer called Tito's Kickin' Mule.

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In case you're wondering if that name is hyperbolic, ask yourself this: When's the last time you had a drink that inspired you to stick out both your tongue and your leg (in a stumpy parody of Angelina Jolie) for all posterity?

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After that, it was time for a palate cleanser: Strawberry-cucumber margaritas, of course.

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It was also time for some sweets. We started off with these adorable Guinness stout cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream frosting.

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That's where we ran into this woman cheekily trying to make off with the entire tray. She gamely posed by flashing that beautiful smile, while tanning bed manufacturers everywhere gave each other high-fives.

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Another of our favorite stops of the evening was Love Lane Kitchen, which went in a completely different direction from every other booth and served up . . . breakfast! These are homemade griddle cakes with sausage.

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Yes, I know what those little sausages look like, and no, it doesn't help that they're on a paper plate. But trust me: These pancakes were decadently moist and sticky, and I can now confirm that when you're trying to balance a wine glass, a cup full of Tito's Vodka, a camera, a strawberry-cucumber margarita, and two camera lenses, etiquette dictates that you may eat pancakes and syrup by picking them up and folding them in half like a burrito.

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One of the few restaurants at Taste of Two Forks that we've never visited was Greek Bites, a new spot in Southampton that opened at the end of last year. I'm not a big fan of nuts and produce masquerading as dessert -- I'm talking to you, almond biscotti, carrot cake, and rhubarb pie -- but if Greek Bites' delicious baklava with rice pudding dipping sauce is any indication of the rest of their menu, I might be willing to overlook a rogue nut or two.

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Speaking of rogue nuts, below is Chef Joe Isidori of Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, whose boss is the indisputably nutty Bruce Buschel. That's because Mr. Buschel spent nearly three years chronicling, in a New York Times blog, his decision to open a restaurant in the Hamptons with absolutely no business or restaurant experience, and then submitted to weekly online floggings for not having enough money, having too much money, being too hands-on, being too hands-off, not knowing the first thing about lighting/seating/flooring, and (this is the part where the Internet exploded) deciding to hire Chef Isidori without ever tasting his food.

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Luckily for Buschel o' Nuts, Chef Joe makes a mean smoked trout salad.

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Another of our favorite dining spots is the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold. Chef Gerry Hayden's foodie credentials include being presented with the inaugural Two Forks Outstanding Achievement Award for his dedication to the local community and commitment to native Long Island produce and ingredients. Oh, and he ran the famed New York City restaurant Aureole before, er, buying the farm.

This is North Fork Table's summer vegetable-stuffed organic zucchini with tomato emulsion and goat cheese. Forget cotton candy: Next time I go to the circus, I want some tomato foam.

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On our way out, Taste of Two Forks presented us with a small parting gift, a tiny corn muffin from the gourmet market Citarella.

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Although the muffin was delicious, might I suggest a lightly chilled Pepto-Bismol digestif for next year?

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Next up, the bucolic North Fork, where my potato sack will blend right in! Subscribe here to be notified by email when a new post is published.

Posted by TraceyG 06:36 Archived in USA Tagged hamptons bridgehampton taste_of_two_forks dans_papers Comments (5)

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