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Tiptoe Through the Hedgerow: The Hamptons From A to Z

It's spring! That time of year when we move our clocks forward, clean our houses for the first time since Halloween, and drag an unsuspecting groundhog out of his hidey-hole to tell us whether we should bury our winter coats in the back of the closet, or just bury ourselves under the covers. And for me, it's also that time of year when I start getting giddy at the thought of spending weekends at our cottage in the Hamptons.

Sure, the Hamptons are overpriced, overcrowded, and often filled with what I'd hoped to leave behind in New York City . . . but those are only some of the reasons why I love it. Here are 26 others.

A is for Almond.

A classic French bistro with a great wine list and fantastic food, Almond is the kind of place where you can snuggle in with some steak frites and a glass of Bordeaux in the winter, or enjoy the breeze from the flung-open French doors and a fig martini at the bar in the summer.

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A is also for Alan Alda, who also dines at Almond, and to whom I once sent a fan letter. (I watched a lot of M*A*S*H after school. It came in great with the rabbit ears on our TV.) After surreptitiously snapping this photo of him at Almond a few summers ago, I was thisclose to interrupting his dinner to ask, "Hey, do you remember that fan letter you got from that 8-year-old girl that time?"

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You know he does. Nobody could forget something that weird.

B is for Beacon.

Located atop a fancy yacht club in Sag Harbor, Beacon boasts excellent food, friendly service, and a postcard view, which is why you will find us here almost every weekend.

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Of course, we had to tell our accountant that we're broke due to huge gambling losses, but it still sounds better than, "I'm paying the mortgage over at Beacon."

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C is for Cowfish.

The Hamptons are all about the water views, and one of the best can happily be found within a 10-minute drive of our cottage.

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Cowfish, however, ups the ante with its location on a small peninsula, affording water views on three sides, thus avoiding the temper tantrums that can occur when a Hamptonite suspects that he didn't get the best table in the house.

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And with an outdoor bar/living room, house-made rum punch served in chilled Mason jars, and the freshest seafood around, it's easy to understand why we're on first-name basis with the waitstaff and the owner named his first kid Trangel.

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D is for Dockers.

Fourteen years ago, Dockers was a casual little spot on the bay that served as the post-party after our wedding. It's where we danced on the tables and the DJ played the chicken dance and one of my girlfriends threw up in the bushes.

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Today, Dockers is done up in crisp navy-and-white fabric and oversized hurricane lamps, and the drinks are way too expensive to get all that drunk, but the friendly service and stunning sunsets haven't changed one bit.

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E is for East Hampton.

In 1725, Dick Syme was elected Common Whipper for East Hampton and was paid 3 shillings for each person whipped. Of course, there is no Common Whipper in East Hampton today; instead, the town extracts its pound of flesh by charging $700 a night for a hotel room and $40 for a bowl of pasta.

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You didn't think National Geographic's "Most Beautiful Village in America" was going to come cheap, did you?

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F is for fall.

Though it's hard to top a sultry August afternoon in the Hamptons, fall is even more sublime. The crowds have migrated back to the city, the ocean is still warm, it's harvest time at the vineyards, and restaurant menus are bursting with locally-grown apples, pumpkins, chestnuts, and Brussels sprouts.

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Best of all, there's trick-or-treating in the villages, and Angel and I are easily mistaken for oversized hobos, which results in a pretty nice haul.

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G is for the Greenport Brewing Company.

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Rosé is all the rage in the Hamptons, but at least once a season Angel shrugs off his pastel polo, ditches the Brooks Brothers khakis, tucks in his pinky finger, and guzzles some beer.

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I go along for the great shopping in Greenport, since the best way to pry your husband's fingers off his credit card is to wrap them around a pint glass.

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H is for house drinks.

It seems that every bar and restaurant in the Hamptons has a "specialty" cocktail, and picking a favorite is like picking your favorite kid: It can be done, but not without some hurt feelings. That's why I have several favorites.

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Besides being a boozy summer picnic in a glass, the watermelon margarita at B. Smith's in Sag Harbor tastes a bit different every year depending on the quality of that summer's watermelon crop. And so we find ourselves obsessively consulting our Farmer's Almanac and saying things like, "Ah, yes, the summer of '96. Now that was a great year."

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The Prickly Pear at Rumba in Hampton Bays is both sweet and tart, and the color is even more delicious. But do not be fooled: Two of these babies and you will be pronouncing them "Plucky Purrs."

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The blueberry mojito at Docker's may come in a small glass, but it's chock-full of memories, from wild weekends with my sister to romantic sunsets with Angel to leisurely Sunday brunches in early spring when the sun finally begins to warm our backs. Over the years the price has increased dramatically, but can you really put a price on happiness?

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Apparently you can, and that price is roughly $8 an ounce.

And then there's the Sweet Life, an off-the-menu special at Rumba, which I think is my favorite favorite. Maybe it's because it tastes exactly like the homemade limeade my mom used to make to take along on summer picnics . . . which I now realize must have been spiked with gin. Mama was no dummy.

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I is for Italian food.

Long Island's climate is similar to that of Naples, Italy (they share the same latitude), and therefore many of the best things about Italian food -- tomatoes, basil, asparagus, spinach, squash, and melons -- grow like gangbusters on Long Island, to say nothing of the fresh seafood and abundance of dairy farms. And no place puts those ingredients to better use than Tutto Il Giorno, an intimate spot off the beaten path on Nugent Street in Southampton.

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Yes, the portions will be on the small side, and the bill will rival the GDP of a small island, but if the Lear is in the shop and you can't make it to Italy for the weekend, Tutto is a pretty good substitute.

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J is for John Scott's Surf Shack.

An open-air surf shack tucked among the million-dollar homes along Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, John Scott's is the perfect place to kick back Hamptons-style, with a cold beer, a bucket of popcorn shrimp, and the knowledge that Anderson Cooper lives just down the street.

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K is for killer views.

At least there's something to do while you're sitting in traffic.

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L is for lobster.

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It wouldn't be summer in the Hamptons without lobster, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is stuffed into one of the insanely huge lobster rolls at Canal Cafe in Hampton Bays.

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Served not on a measly hot-dog bun like a traditional lobster roll, but on a hearty, nearly foot-long baguette, Canal Cafe's lobster roll is positively bursting with fresh lobster meat and not much else. I hold these lobster rolls personally responsible for the state of Angel's waistline from April through October.

If lobster rolls aren't your thing, head on over to the Lobster Inn, a classic seafood shack where the namesake dish can be grilled, steamed, stuffed, or served as a "splat," which comes with steamers, hard clams, mussels, shrimp, and crab.

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M is for money to burn.

Everywhere else in the world, that's a metaphor.

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N is for neighbors.

Our neighbors Norma and Daniel are two of the kindest, most generous people we've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Norma brings us things like homemade garlic-herb bread made with fresh rosemary from her garden and homemade caponata with her garden basil, while Daniel brings us goodies like homemade cherry-basil vodka and invites us over to "the Bungalow," as he charmingly calls it, for BBQ chicken and coconut cupcakes.

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All of which is to say, these two could be complete jerks and we'd still keep 'em around.

O is for our wedding.

On August 5, 2000, Angel and I exchanged our wedding vows at the Westhampton Bath & Tennis Club on Dune Road.

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There were some bumps along the way -- the cake was inexplicably the wrong color, and the lobsters weren't de-shelled even though we'd paid extra to make sure they would be -- but we were surrounded by the people we love the most . . . in the place we love the most.

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And that made it perfect.

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P is for Plaza Cafe.

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I have three words for you: Lobster. Shepherd's. Pie. What's better than three words, or even 1,000? You know.

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That feat of seafoody splendor is served up by Bari, one of the sweetest and most knowledgeable waitresses around, and cooked up by chef Doug Gulija, one of those maddening people who is insanely talented but also extremely nice. This guy could be cooking up frozen fish sticks and I guarantee they'd be the best you'd ever had. Luckily, though, there's stuff like pumpkin-lobster bisque; shrimp with porcini risotto; soy and acacia honey marinated black cod with yuzu beurre blanc; and red snapper stuffed with lobster instead.

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Q is for Quogue.

Our friends Jennifer and James joined us for a weekend in the Hamptons last summer, and we took them to lunch at Dockers in East Quogue, a gorgeous little oceanfront village boasting dozens of homes built in the 1700s. Over lunch, Jennifer recounted a story about an episode of the "Real Housewives" (don't ask) in which one of those snots moaned about having to drive from her house in Southampton "all the way" to Quogue for a party.

After lunch, we did that exact drive in reverse, which took maybe 25 minutes. And as we were walking down the street in Southampton, we overheard a woman at an outdoor cafe complain to her friend, "So, I have to go to this party tonight . . . but it's all the way out in Quogue!" Poor Quogue. So close, and yet so far away. I guess that explains why I don't have any photos of it.

R is for Rumba.

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We all dream of a place like "Cheers," where we can walk in and everybody knows our name (and, more importantly, what we'd like to drink). Rumba is our Cheers. So close that we can bike there (not that we ever do - that would be a little too much like exercise), Rumba's got it all: A slew of Adirondack chairs at the water's edge, plentiful seating outside on the deck, friendly servers, fantastic food, and the best drinks in the Hamptons, most of which are served "Bigga" style in oversized Mason jars.

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In season, Rumba operates a tiki-themed RumBarge that runs back and forth between Rumba and its sister restaurant, Cowfish, and is operated by a guy who I swear is not wearing a pirate costume.

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Best of all, there's free shots of homemade banana-vanilla rum for the regulars. And even the irregulars.

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S is for Shelter Island.

Remember Howard Hughes, the fabulously wealthy yet famously reclusive business magnate and aviator who, in order to avoid conflicts with the owners of the penthouse hotel suite he'd been occupying for years, simply bought the hotel so he'd never have to leave?

Shelter Island is a lot like that.

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How else to describe a 9-square mile island just minutes from the chi-chi Hamptons that doesn't have a movie theatre, bookstore, a single traffic light . . . or a bridge to the mainland?

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All of which sounds delightful, but for now we're staying put. Experience has taught us that relying on a boat to get to lunch or dinner can result in unacceptably long delays while you untangle your anchor line from around the propeller, or whatever.

T is for tomatoes.

As you probably know, I am obsessed with tomatoes. And so we spend a good part of the summer chasing down the Tomato Lady in Sag Harbor and buying up the multicolored heirlooms at Hayground Market for the one thing I can "cook" that always comes out perfectly: mozzarella and tomato salad with a drizzle of aged balsamic.

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And last summer, I gleefully welcomed the debut of the biggest, baddest tomato event of them all: A tasting of 55 of the whopping 350 varieties of heirloom tomatoes grown from seed by tomato goddess Steph Gaylor at Invincible Summer Farms in Southold, including oddballs like the Amazon Chocolate tomato and the Chartruese Mutant.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, I was the only one who brought my own salt shaker, prompting a photographer from Newsday to follow me around all afternoon.

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Now I know how poor Angel feels.

U is for Umbrella Beach.

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Every Fourth of July, I manage to convince Angel to make the drive out to Montauk for a sunset dinner, followed by the "Stars Over Montauk" fireworks display at Umbrella Beach.

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We usually end up at Gosman's Dock, a quaint shopping and dining district where you can watch the boats come in with the day's catch . . . or watch the fog roll in and destroy all of the carefully-coiffed hair in its path.

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Angel has teased me for years about my obsession with fireworks, and the display at Umbrella Beach does not disappoint. Put on by the famous Grucci family, which handles the over-the-top pyrotechnics for presidential inaugurations and the Olympics, the Stars Over Montauk display runs for nearly an hour, eliciting a series of oohs and aahs from the lucky spectators.

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Or maybe that's just me.

V is for vineyards.

With its glacial soil and maritime climate, the east end of Long Island is home to more than 40 wineries, many of which are turning out good-to-very-good Chardonnay and Merlot, along with Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and others.

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In Napa or Sonoma such small, rustic tasting rooms and family-run operations would be delightful "off-the-beaten-path" finds, but on the North Fork they're business as usual, which suits us just fine.

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And down on the South Fork, there's our beloved Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton, also known as the "hippie winery" for its dedication to lesser-known European varietals like Ribolla Gialla, Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch, and Legrein. I know the end of the previous sentence looks like my fingers landed on the wrong keys, but I assure you they are real words.

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W is for Wolffer.

I'd still love the Hamptons even if it didn't have wineries, but obviously not as much. One of our favorites is the stylish Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack.

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The main winery building is open, airy, and has a small shop where you can buy one of those useless wine-vacuum gadgets. I mean, who ever has wine left over?

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Tastings are offered outside on the spacious patio, just a stone's throw from the vines.

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While we love the main winery location for its gorgeous architecture, we actually prefer the winery's smaller offshoot, known as the Wine Stand, which is just a short drive away. The Wine Stand has a small, uncrowded patio, endless views, and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings for the sunset.

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We typically choose the patio for the shade (and proximity to the bar), but the "vineyard" tables are just as lovely.

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Best of all, you can arrive by scooter, or by Rolls Royce. Your choice, obviously.

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X is for x-citing cars.

Okay, that's a stretch, but there are not alot of xylophones or x-rays in the Hamptons, and really, where else can you see so many ridiculously cute, sherbet-colored cars in one place?

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Y is for yachts.

While most middle-aged men try to show off their virility with a shiny new sports car, that trick doesn't work in the Hamptons, since even the plumbers are driving Maseratis. So the next-best, um, yardstick is the mega-yacht.

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Preferably equipped with a crew in matching polos, a Jeep, and a whole other normal-sized boat.

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Z is for catching up on our Zzzs.

When you live and work in the city that never sleeps, being well-rested during the week is like being sober on the weekends: It's an admirable goal, but does anyone ever really achieve it? And so, by the time the weekend rolls around, Angel and I are ready to loll around.

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The Hamptons. They may be glitzy, glamorous, and sometimes even grating, but there's no better place to get your sloth on.

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Posted by TraceyG 07:35 Archived in USA Tagged beach winery beacon montauk westhampton hamptons sag_harbor east_hampton hampton_bays channing_daughters wolffer almond cowfish dockers greenport rumba shelter_island Comments (4)

Summer in the Hamptons: Don't You Know Who I Am???

Hardly a summer weekend goes by that Angel and I don't find ourselves inventing reasons to make the 35-minute drive from our cottage to the lovely village of Sag Harbor. "Yeah, we need, um . . . spark plugs! And kumquats! Oh, and toenail clippers!" Whatever the item, we convince ourselves that the best -- nay, the only -- place to get one is in Sag Harbor.

Which might not be entirely untrue.

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Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and set along a miles-long shoreline fronting Noyac Bay, Sag Harbor is midway between the Hamptons and the North Fork, both in distance and sensibility.

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Founded in 1707 as a colonial-era whaling port, today Sag Harbor is known for its artsy residents, funky shops, and distinct lack of attitude -- which in the Hamptons means that the millionaires drive beat-up Volvo station wagons instead of Rolls Royces.

Well, except for when they're driving their Maseratis . . .

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Or their Bentleys . . .

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Or flying their seaplanes.

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The friendly locals and natural beauty are nice, but the real reason to visit Sag Harbor is for margaritas. Not just any margaritas, of course, but the supremely tasty watermelon margaritas at B. Smith's, a chic waterfront restaurant that exudes a summertime vibe with its crisp navy and white decor.

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B.'s uses only fresh watermelon juice in its margaritas, so they taste a bit different every year based on the quality of that year's watermelon crop. Ahh, 2008. Now that was a great vintage.

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The food at B's is light and healthy, ensuring that you don't waste precious stomach space on food instead of tequila.

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B's also boasts a prime location right on the marina, where some of the world's largest yachts drop anchor for the summer.

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This is the yacht "Kisses," which is owned by the billionaire Norman Braman. "Kisses" ranks as #47 on the list of the world's largest yachts, which, in the world of billionaires, must be like driving a Hyundai instead of a Mercedes. Poor Norm.

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At least he was able to scrape together enough pocket change to hire a cleaning crew.

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Spending a lazy Saturday afternoon lounging on the deck at B.'s with a watermelon margarita in hand, the sun on my face, watching the sailboats glide by . . . kinda makes you wanna punch me, right? Look, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

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At least it comes with incentives. Heh-heh.

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Really, the only downside to Sag Harbor is all the communists.

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This is the iconic "Sag Harbor" sign, which graces the town's only movie theater.

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In 2004, the owner of the theater planned to replace the sign with something new, but the townspeople gathered up their pitchforks decided they didn't like that idea and actually paid for a replica of the old sign instead. You know how people hate change.

Another landmark in Sag Harbor is the Dock House, a tiny seafood joint on Long Wharf that serves up fresh lobster and other seafood.

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Rub-a-dub-dub, 50 lobsters in a tub.

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Also happening on Long Wharf? Setup for the Rock the Dock Summer Gala Benefit Bash, which I, er, attended in a most spontaneous manner last year.

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In addition to B. Smith's, another great spot in Sag Harbor is Beacon, a tiny restaurant at the Sag Harbor Cove Yacht Club.

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I know what you're thinking, and I don't know why they let me in, either.

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One of the things Angel likes best about Beacon is that when we share an appetizer, they automatically split it in the kitchen and serve it on two separate plates. That way, he at least has a fighting chance of getting a taste of it.

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We also love their fish, whether squished into a taco or luxuriating on a bun.

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Bartender, she'll have a double.

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Given Sag Harbor's laid-back air, I'm sure you're thinking that having a midget buddy wouldn't be necessary here. But you'd be wrong: Who else could fit in these tiny little houses?

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The houses in Sag Harbor aren't the only things reminiscent of a bygone era.

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Really bygone.

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Even the burger joints are old-school.

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Are there two more beautiful words in the English language than TWINKIE MILKSHAKE?

Just down the road from Sag Harbor is the hamlet of Bridgehampton, a visit to which is only slightly more enjoyable than a trip to the dentist. Sure, Bridgehampton is beautiful, but some of the people there can make you wish it were legal to ping someone in the forehead with a BB gun. I hate to generalize almost as much as I hate to leave uneaten food on my plate, but many of the folks in Bridgehampton are the kind of people who will force you into the street rather than move over a bit when they approach you on the sidewalk. They are the kind of people who won't say "thank you" when you hold a door open for them. They are the kind of people who cut in line and then say things like, "But don't you know who I am?" BB, meet forehead.

That's new money for you, I guess. Me, I'd like to think that if I ever got really rich on bad mortgages Wall Street, I'd still remember the little people. Pun very much intended.

So why would anyone who wasn't itching for a fistfight ever be caught dead here, you ask? Well, luckily Bridgehampton has at least one thing besides good manners to recommend it. That reason is Marder's, an over-the-top garden center that is something like visiting an enormous, meticulously maintained botanical garden where everything happens to be for sale, albeit at prices that make your first car look like a real steal.

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Boasting a whopping 33-acre main campus and 10 acres of growing fields, it's easy for plant murderers like me to feel like a kid in a candy store.

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In addition, the garden shop at Marders, housed in an antique barn, offers all sorts of tools and accessories that a Hamptons gardener might need. You know, like $40 candles.

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Upon realizing that it was difficult for some folks (okay, me) to spend hours wandering the grounds without a bite to eat, last year Marders opened the Honeybee Cafe, which serves tasty treats such as olive oil and rosemary cookies, goat cheese and mushroom tartlets, and miniature brownies.

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Another reason to stop by Bridgehampton is for dinner at Almond, a chic French bistro that recently relocated to new digs in the village. During their pre-summer renovations, the owner of Almond posted a few "teasers" of the new space online, including a photo of their new wallpaper: zebras being shot with arrows!! Apparently I'm not the first to appreciate its, uh, charms.

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Even Hawkeye likes it.

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Fast forward to the other night when, finding ourselves unexpectedly without dinner plans on a Friday evening, Angel and I stopped by Almond to see if we could get in for dinner without a reservation. It was only 7:00, so we figured there might be a chance, even though we were sadly sans midget. We noticed a number of empty tables and approached the hostess, who told us she'd "have to check" to see if they could fit us in. As she sized us up to see if we were worthy, the owner was saying his goodbyes to a patron, who thanked the owner for a great meal and told him how much he liked the zebras-being-shot-with-arrows wallpaper. I of course chimed in (with a secret soupcon of sarcasm) that I just adored the wallpaper, too, to which the owner replied, "Oh, everyone loves that wallpaper!" I replied, "Yes, but I'm the only one who ever put it on her blog."

A pause, and then his face lit up with recognition. And then he smiled, gave me a high-five, told me how much he liked my blog, declared how adorable he thought I was . . . and ordered the hostess to seat us at the best table in the house right away.

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And that, dear reader, is how I successfully executed the old "Don't you know who I am??" in Bridgehampton.

BB target practice on my forehead to commence immediately.

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Posted by TraceyG 17:47 Archived in USA Tagged hamptons bridgehampton sag_harbor almond Comments (4)

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