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A Weekend in East Hampton: Fancy That

One of the things I enjoy most about writing a travel blog is all the interesting people I've met as a result. Well, that and all the free food.

And so, when I received an email from Carol -- the manager and resident den mother at East Hampton's posh Huntting Inn and the former co-owner of Mango's Seaside Grill in Anguilla -- inviting me and Angel to be her guests at the Huntting Inn for a weekend, I jumped at the chance. Because what could I possibly enjoy more than some lively conversation about two of my favorite places?

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Well, anyway.

East Hampton is believed to be the first English settlement in the state of New York, built on land purchased from the Montaukett Indians in 1639. Through strict zoning and preservation laws, the town retains much of its colonial history today.

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It also maintains a little bit of its natural beauty, too.

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The Huntting Inn is the quintessential country inn and the place to stay in East Hampton.

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Occupying a prime spot on the village's chi-chi Main Street, the Inn was built in 1699 for the second Presbyterian minister of East Hampton, Reverend Nathaniel Huntting, who raised 10 children there with his wife Mary, who presumably died of exhaustion.

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Today, the Inn has the comfortable, worn-in feel of your grandma's country house, with beach chairs and umbrellas lining the halls, magazines and restaurant menus piled high near the cozy couches and on the covered porches, and board games resting on the hearth of the centuries-old stone fireplace, awaiting the occasional rainy day.

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A bright breakfast room serves up fruit, pastries, and fresh-squeezed juices in the morning.

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Outside, the manicured grounds are dotted with inviting benches and other places to enjoy the sunshine.

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I just wish someone had told us to bring the Rolls or the Bentley.

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The rooms are spacious, done up in soothing shades of sea and sky and sand, with large ensuite baths and plenty of thoughtful touches, like fresh-cut flowers from the Inn's garden, and dark-colored towels for removing makeup.

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We typically drive out to the Hamptons after work on Thursday or Friday and return to the city late on Sunday, so the drive takes about an hour and a half each way. But on this particular weekend we departed mid-afternoon, and apparently so did all eight million people who live in this city, since the normally 90-minute drive took a whopping 240 minutes. I'm no mathematician, but that's 15 miles an hour . . . for FOUR HOURS.

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If that isn't enough to drive you to drink, I don't know what is. And so you can probably understand why we needed to make a pit stop in Bridgehampton before continuing on at our snails-are-passing-us pace.

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One of our year-round favorites, Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton boasts 100-year-old tin ceilings, classic white subway tile, and on-trend "bottled" cocktails, which allow the mixologist to fine-tune a particular concoction and bottle it, ensuring that it's perfect every time.

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Though a lemongrass-infused Cosmo with house-made cranberry syrup is pretty much perfect all the time.

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Of course, you couldn't really blame anyone for wanting to be in the Hamptons that weekend. It was late September, that heavenly sliver of time between summer and fall when the ocean is at its warmest, temperatures hover in the low 80s, and the sky turns a deep cobalt blue. Late-harvest tomatoes compete with pumpkins and squash for bin space at the farm stands, red and gold mums start popping up in window boxes, and in the villages, shop windows gradually transition from sundresses and espadrilles to chunky sweaters and cashmere wraps.

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After checking in with Carol and settling in to our room, it was soon time for dinner, so we made the short walk down Main Street to the 1770 House.

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The 1770 House actually dates back to 1663, when it was built as a private home; over 100 years later, in 1770, it was converted to an inn. Today, the inn is known for its famous "Tavern Meatloaf," which East Hampton's Ina Garten, also known as the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa, has been raving about on TV for almost as long as I've been raving about cheeseburgers on this blog.

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But this isn't just any pub grub, and so the Tavern -- located, speakeasy-style, down a dimly-lit, narrow flight of stairs -- is guarded by a gate, and an always-full reservations book.

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Seating is in a cozy, low-ceilinged room with comfy, pillow-strewn banquettes.

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We started off with a salad of local heirloom tomatoes, then moved on to the main event -- the famous meatloaf with garlic sauce for me, and the succulent short ribs for Angel, which you know are good when they can distract me from a meatloaf.

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For dessert, we couldn't resist the local berry crumble.

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The next morning we decided to walk off last night's meaty excesses along the East Hampton Village Nature Trail, which is just steps from the Inn.

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The Nature Trail ended not far from the Huntting Inn, but the day was so gorgeous that we decided to keep walking, past famed Further Lane and the other wide, tree-lined streets near the beach.

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Of course, when you're part of the one percent, massive hedges aren't enough; you're going to need a guard dog, too.

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But not just any dog.

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Or even just any dog.

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We finished our walk by making a wide loop toward the ocean.

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East Hampton: Where the huge mailboxes are sized proportionately to the bills deposited into them.

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We'd worked up quite an appetite after all that walking and stalking, so we made the short walk over to Cittanuova in the village for lunch. Blending sleek European style with a beachy Hamptons vibe, Cittanuova's glass pocket doors merge the airy indoor space with the shaded garden out back.

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We settled in at a cozy table near the soothing fountain, then tucked into two orders of the panzanella, which turned out to be the best I've ever had . . . including the ones I've had in Tuscany.

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Then it was on to a simple but satisfying spaghetti with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and basil for me, and the panini with prosciutto San Daniele, stracchino cheese, arugula, tomato, and white truffle oil for the Ange.

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After lunch we milled around the village for a bit, taking in the sights.

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By late afternoon the sun was hot and our wallets were empty, so we decided to stop by Main Beach for a bit, using the beach passes provided by the Inn.

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While there are an unlimited number of beach passes for those lucky enough to own property in East Hampton, for non-residents -- those who can bear to part with upwards of $900,000 to rent a house for the summer -- the town issues only 2,900 coveted permits each season. And so stories of bribery, threats, tears, and extortion abound, involving everyone from federal judges and Congressmen to actors and hedge-fund moguls.

Which is why, for just the briefest of moments, I giddily contemplated auctioning that beach pass on eBay.

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The ocean breeze made us thirsty, so we headed off to Bay Kitchen Bar, which overlooks East Hampton's Three Mile Harbor.

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I'd heard that Bay Kitchen Bar had added juleps to their cocktail list, so we snagged two water-view seats on the upper level patio and ordered up a Blackberry Julep with muddled mint, blackberries, bourbon, agave, and lime, and a Root Beer Float Julep with vanilla vodka, root beer, bourbon, and vanilla extract.

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We moved down to the Adirondacks on the lawn as the sun began to go down.

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There, we were joined by this friendly speckled chicken? miniature turkey? No wonder the locals call us citiots.

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That evening we had reservations to take Carol to dinner at the Huntting Inn's Palm steakhouse.

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The place was packed, and even with all of Carol's pull, we still ended up waiting over an hour for our table to be ready.

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That turned out to be a lucky break, as it gave us plenty of time for chatting and laughing and wine-drinking, and although I had brought my camera along, I respected our lovely hostess's protestations that she was feeling somewhat camera-shy.

What I can tell you is that Carol has lived enough life for at least two or three people, and she recounted much of it in hilarious detail, regaling us with stories of her former life as a nun, her years of being relentlessly pursued by her eventual ex-husband, the late Mango Dave, and her stint operating one of Anguilla's best-loved restaurants, Mango's (including through Hurricane Luis, which destroyed the restaurant shortly after it opened).

Finally, our table was ready, and we wasted no time in ordering up a feast of steakhouse favorites: Fried calamari, veal parmigiana, filet Oscar, macaroni & cheese, creamed spinach, and cheesecake for dessert.

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Best of all, we didn't have far to go to crawl into bed afterwards.

The next morning we stopped by Round Swamp Farm, which you might recognize as the market where celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Eric Ripert, and Geoffrey Zakarian like to get their produce when they're out east.

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But of course I wasn't there for the celebrities, and I definitely wasn't there for the veggies. I was there for the fried chicken.

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And maybe some other stuff, too.

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Soon it was time for lunch, and again the day's weather dictated that we spend it outside. So we decided to make the short hop over to Montauk for lunch at the Montauket.

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Perched high on a bluff overlooking Fort Pond Bay, the Montauket is one of the last holdouts of the old fishing-village era of Montauk, which is unfortunately being rapidly replaced by a trendy young crowd looking to expand ever eastward from the Hamptons. (One can only hope that they eventually keep going and fall into the ocean end up on Block Island.)

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The Montauket's vibe and décor are genuinely old-school, which provides a nice change from all the hipster spots in Montauk that have spent thousands of dollars and hired teams of architects, designers, and consultants in an attempt to look . . . genuinely old-school. But despite those efforts, I doubt any of them have one of these:

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Lunch was good, but it couldn't compete with the fantastic view.

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After lunch we headed over to one of my favorite spots to while away a sunny afternoon, the Montauk Yacht Club on Star Island.

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Originally built in 1929, MYC underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago and now boasts everything from a surf camp and sailing lessons to nightly bonfires and S'mores during the summer. Done up in spiffy navy and white for the boating set, it's the perfect spot to take in the view while enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine.

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Or some truffle fries covered in flurry of Parmigiano-Reggiano slivers.

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The afternoon passed in a happy haze of sun and sea.

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Before we knew it, it was time to head over to Montauk Harbor, where we planned to take a private sunset cruise.

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The captain had told us we could bring our own beverages, so we made a pit stop at Lynn's Hula Hut for a couple of Hula Juices to bring aboard, then grabbed some sweatshirts from the stash we keep in the trunk, just in case. (It's the Hamptons: You never know when you might find yourself at an evening clam bake, a bonfire on the beach, or frozen out by an air conditioner set to 60 degrees because some socialite showed up to dinner in a fur . . . in July).

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Montauk Harbor is actually the northern part of Lake Montauk; a cut allows boaters to access Block Island Sound and, beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean.

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Although it was early evening when we set off, the cloud-speckled sky was already giving us an inkling that that night's sunset was going to be a good one.

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As the sky turned a rosy pink, we plied the waters of Montauk Harbor and were treated to the sight of the fishing boats returning with the day's catch.

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And as predicted, the sunset was spectacular.

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Soon it was time to head home, but not before a pit stop at one of our favorite Mexican dives, La Superica in Sag Harbor.

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Of course, because this is the Hamptons, that dive has a water view and plays host to sailors from the Breakwater Yacht Club after their Wednesday night races, but you know us: We're not too picky.

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Besides, is there any better way to end the weekend than with frozen margaritas and overflowing platters of enchiladas?

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I don't think so, either.

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Want more Hamptons? Click here for my A to Z rundown of everything to gobble, guzzle, and gaze at on my favorite little strip of sand!

Posted by TraceyG 10:44 Archived in USA Tagged montauk hamptons sag_harbor east_hampton cittanuova 1770_house bay_kitchen_bar the_palm huntting_inn montauket round_swamp_farm la_superica Comments (9)

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: 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)

Summer in Southampton: Bluebloods & Greenbacks

There's no place quite like Southampton in the summertime. Sprawling green lawns are dotted with pink and blue hydrangea, tall privet hedges are trimmed to perfection, and the gabled rooflines of grand estates peek out from windswept dunes.

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In town, chic new shops pop up for the season, flowers tumble out of window boxes, American flags wave in the breeze, and the smell of money fills the air.

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Nowhere is that smell more overwhelming than in Southampton's estate section, home to the town's wealthy bluebloods. Whether it's tree-lined Halsey Neck Lane, oceanfront Gin Lane, or ultra-exclusive Meadow Lane, the estate section is where polite society reigns . . .

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And where impolite society must resort to stalking in order to sneak some photographs, given that these folks have spent untold millions on their spectacular homes, only to obscure them from prying, ill-bred eyes like mine with all manner of hedges, gates, cameras, and intercoms.

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Still, you didn't really think I was going to let a handful of trespassing citations and three nights in jail stop me, did you?

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I'm kidding, of course. It was only one night in jail.

In all seriousness, though, you know you've abandoned all sense of dignity when you pull your leased Honda onto the shoulder on Gin Lane, jump out in your flip-flops, and start taking paparazzi shots of the Old Guard's houses while the drool runs down your chin.

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The private estate at the end of this long driveway is called Fairlea. Fairlea Expensive, that is. Gravel ain't cheap, ya know.

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I guess this is the high-class version of that old bumper sticker, "My Other Car is a Lamborghini."

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There's one in every neighborhood: that guy who doesn't cut his grass, or leaves his Christmas lights up all year. In Southampton, it's the guy with the windmill in his yard.

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Or the guy with the O.K. Corral security gate.

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Or, worst of all, the poor sap who couldn't afford a separate entrance for the help. How gauche.

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Behind this hedge is the venerable Meadow Club, which was established in the 1880s and is known for its meticulously maintained grass tennis courts. The Wasps, they'll use any excuse to hire a groundskeeper.

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Like this poor guy, who was apparently hired to spend the day on his hands and knees in a mile-long gravel driveway, pulling the weeds out with a tweezer.

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Or this one, who probably trained with Cirque du Soleil before pulling off this feat.

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Despite being manicured to within an inch of its life, Southampton has a tiny bit of natural beauty, too.

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Because it is a sin to have more money than God, Southampton also has its fair share of lovely churches.

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The only thing a church needs more than an iron pot? A cannon.

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I'd have taken some pictures of the church interiors, too, but I'm not a big fan of bursting into flames.

In town, Southampton is chock-full of tony shops where residents of the estate section can burn through some of the money that's falling out of their pockets.

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It's a sad day when you discover that a town's library is way nicer than your house.

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Even the old library.

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I don't know what I'm pointing at here, but it's a pretty good bet that I can't afford whatever it is.

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If a shopping spree hasn't relieved you of the burden of a full wallet, one of the best places to lighten the load is at Tutto Il Giorno, a restaurant whose name means "all day" in Italian, and also describes how long you'll want to spend in Tutto's gorgeous, Tuscan-style garden.

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Angel and I started by sharing the burrata . . .

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. . . and ended by thumb-wrestling over the last of the tomatoes.

Then it was on to the spaghetti for me, and the ravioli stuffed with bitter herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sage sauce for Angel. It's a shame they both look so unappetizing.

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Oh, you think I forgot something? Don't be silly.

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The lovely decor was designed by fashion designer Donna Karan's equally-talented daughter, Gabby. My family is really talented, too, but there isn't much money in bickering.

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Another spot we like in Southampton is Le Chef, a small bistro for the ladies-who-lunch crowd.

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One of the things I love about Le Chef is that they give you a free bowl of soup with your lunch entree. Free! In Southampton! This day's soup was spring pea with basil. Did I mention it was free?

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Angel ordered the local flounder, while I had one of my favorite sandwiches, the sundried tomato with goat cheese, cucumber, field greens, and basil-walnut dressing on 8-grain toast.

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As I was photographing our entrees, one of the ladies a few tables over gasped loudly to her dining companions: "That young lady is taking a photograph . . . of her sandwich!!" Little did she know that the real shocker was how many vegetables I ate in one sitting. Between the soup and that sandwich, I might have actually eaten a day's worth of vegetables in a single day, instead of spreading it out over a month or two like I usually do.

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Of course, not every place in Southampton caters to such highbrow tastes. This is the Golden Pear, a popular local mini-chain of cafes where you can grab a coffee, some breakfast, or a light lunch all year round.

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The Golden Pear has the distinction of being one of the only restaurants within 100 miles of New York City where you can allow people to pour their own coffee without fear of someone getting trampled to death.

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Of course, you might still be in danger of a stampede, given the lines that stretch out the door in the summer.

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But at least you'll be trampled by the very well-heeled.

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Posted by TraceyG 18:40 Archived in USA Tagged southampton hamptons the_hamptons Comments (8)

East Hampton: Rowdy Public Displays of Eating and Drinking

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Do you really need to ask what I ate next?

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I know what you're thinking, but a cheeseburger this good could turn anyone into a mesmerized zombie.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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??"

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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.

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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!

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Luckily the food is good, since the view is so blah.

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I mean, who can resist a calamari salad with homemade Fritos in it? Not me.

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The resort is currently for sale for the bargain price of $30 million. Start saving your pennies thousand dollar bills!

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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.

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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.

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Despite its small size, Amagansett packs a wide variety of shops into a postage-stamped size space.

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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.

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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.

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After a day of shopping in Amagansett, one of the best places to refuel is at Jack's Stir Brew.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Our first order of business was a round of rum punches, which come with a floater of dark rum on top.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In fact, I am still thinking about that damn fish, mostly because I ordered a salad and the crab cakes.

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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.

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I recommended that he give the BBC a try - I think he'd really lap it up.

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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!

Posted by TraceyG 05:55 Archived in USA Tagged hamptons east_hampton rowdy_hall Comments (7)

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)

Summer in the Hamptons: Hampton Bays, the Gateway Drug

One of the advantages of living in New York City, besides the noise, the garbage, and the occasional terrorist attack, is getting to spend summer weekends in the Hamptons. Located just 75 miles east of New York City, the Hamptons are a string of posh, picture-perfect little villages set along the southern shore of Long Island, also known as the South Fork.

People sometimes assume that all of the Hamptons villages are interchangeable, filled with the same Gatsby-esque mansions and gourmet restaurants and Lilly Pulitzer stores. But that couldn't be further from the truth, so Angel and I created this handy map so you can tell them apart.

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The Hamptons have long been a weekend haven for wealthy investment bankers and celebrities, so of course Angel and I fit right in . . . with their domestic help.

Seriously, though, last summer we saw Julianne Moore at an ice cream shop in Bridgehampton, and a few years ago we saw Jon Stewart sitting on a bench in Sag Harbor. I saw Billy Joel there once, too, and I was just glad that he was on foot and not behind the wheel. In other words, we are constantly rubbing elbows with the A-listers out there.

When we're not sipping Cristal at P. Diddy's place, we are lucky enough to be at our tiny cottage in Hampton Bays, a two-stoplight hamlet in Southampton. In keeping with the grand tradition of Hamptons residents naming their estates, we named our cottage Casa Sombra, which means "shady house."

Because of all the trees, not the occupants. Ahem.

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The cottage is approximately the size of a toll booth, but for two people who spend their weekends in a Hamptons-based mashup of "The Amazing Race" and "Iron Chef," sprinting like maniacs from restaurants to wineries to farmstands, it's just the right size.

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Our cottage is part of a small community of similar cottages that share a pool and tennis courts. Do we play tennis, you ask? No. Well, not since I got my a$$ kicked by our 76-year-old neighbor who'd just had knee surgery, that is.

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The cottages are nestled in a wooded area that visitors often say reminds them of summer camp. To a couple of city slickers like us, these woods are beautiful but also dangerous, being that they are filled with wild animals. God only knows when one of them will decide to attack us!

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Indeed, just a few weeks ago I stumbled upon this beautiful but terrifying beetle while gardening. I of course photographed it so that someone in the online bug community could identify it and let me know how fast its venom will kill me.

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Turns out it's a rare type of moth, not a beetle, making it doubly terrifying . . . because now it can fly after me when I run screaming.

Still, I am practically that guy from "Man vs. Wild" in comparison to Angel, a born-and-bred city boy. Case in point: A few years ago I suggested that we get a birdbath for our garden. Angel wasn't too keen on the idea, but he refused to explain why. Confused as to why someone might be anti-birdbath, I pressed him for a reason. After much hemming and hawing, he finally admitted, "I don't know anything about running one of those. I mean, what all is involved in that?" Complicated contraptions, those birdbaths.

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The village where our cottage is located, Hampton Bays, is sometimes called the "gateway" Hampton, which is intended to convey its easy access to the Long Island Expressway, but instead conjures up images of a seemingly harmless "gateway" drug that leads to much more dangerous and expensive ones. And that pretty much sums up Hampton Bays: It seems like a really nice place, until you get an eyeful of one of the other Hamptons, and before you know it you're trading in your current husband for a 24-year-old with a trust fund and an oceanfront spread in East Hampton.

Hampton Bays juts out from the South Fork on a peninsula bordered by Tiana Bay, Shinnecock Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and the Shinnecock Canal and Great Peconic Bay to the north. This location gives the town unparalled access to the water for boaters, fishermen, beachgoers, and those of us who prefer our recreation to include a waterside table and a frozen drink.

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Hampton Bays is also home to one of the last surviving commercial fishing fleets on Long Island. I mean, who wants fresh-off-the-boat seafood when you could have frozen fish sticks from Vietnam?

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In addition, Hampton Bays is located precisely at the point where Long Island's North and South Forks split, giving the town easy access to both the glitzy South Fork and the bucolic, vineyard-dotted North Fork. Which basically means that you can take your choice of getting drunk on $16 martinis or homemade wine.

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Indeed, Hamptons Bays sits on such prime real estate that in 1743, a smallpox outbreak was attributed to the deliberate distribution of infected blankets being handed out by one K. M. Fallo, who then purchased land titles from the widows and orphans left behind. So that's where developers come from!

Although there's lots to do in the Hamptons, on most weekends Angel and I like to keep things simple: He watches baseball and I lay at the pool, until one of us gets hungry and hollers at the other one to hurry up so we can go get something to eat. Often we end up at Rumba, an island-inspired rum bar whose laid back, come-as-you-are vibe is perfect for a couple of sloths like ourselves.

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I take that back. THIS woman is the sloth. Apparently she just lies there all day, critiquing the boulders her kid is forced to bring her.

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Rumba's drinks come in two sizes, "beenie" (small) and "bigga," which also describe the proportionate size of the hangover you will have the next day.

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A big draw at Rumba are the $5 tacos, which are served in warm corn tortillas and filled with your choice of pineapple-soy marinated skirt steak, sage-breaded local fish, Dominican-style BBQ pork, or jerk chicken. Or all four, if you're Angel.

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But my favorite dish here is the Caesar salad with garlic dressing, which I'm pretty sure is made by combining a few cloves of roasted garlic with an entire jar of mayonnaise and a few fistfuls of lard. Which is by no means an insult.

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Our other regular hangout is the Canal Cafe, a casual spot tucked away on the Shinnecock Canal.

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I was initially disinclined to like this place because they don't have a drink list. That's right: In a town where they could charge (and I would make Angel pay) fourteen bucks for virtually any cocktail with a tropical fruit in the name, Canal Cafe is staunchly old-school: beer, wine, or well drinks, take it or leave it. The bartender will, however, make you a quite passable rum punch, which is potent enough to make me forget the fact that I have fancy-fruit-drink taste on a Pabst-Blue-Ribbon budget.

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This menu board shows all of Canal Cafe's lunch specials. As you can see, it's a little expensive, much in the way that I'm a little bit of a glutton. It is the Hamptons, though, so these prices aren't too bad . . . until you realize that your $26 lunch entree is served on a paper plate, and you'll be eating it with plastic utensils.

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Still, for $22, Canal Cafe serves the most gigantic lobster roll I've ever seen. Here is just HALF of it:

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In fact, this thing was so huge that I couldn't finish it all. Let's just chalk that up to the fact that this monstrous mound of lobster salad was served on a hearty baguette instead of the traditional hot dog roll . . . because I think we all know there's no other explanation for ME not being able to finish a meal.

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Another place we like in Hampton Bays is Blue Cactus, a tiny Mexican joint on Montauk Highway.

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Blue Cactus is perpetually packed, partly because the food is good, and partly because nothing on the menu costs more than twenty bucks -- the latter of which is about as easy to find in the Hamptons as El Chupacabra.

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Blue Cactus also has an impressive selection of interesting margaritas, such as Mango-Cilantro, Strawberry-Basil, Blackberry-Thyme, and their signature, Blueberry-Ginger. No matter which one you order, though, there will be so much tequila in it that you might as well just order this thing and hog all the straws.

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Also, kudos to the guy on the right for matching his shirt to the paper used to line the chip baskets. The Hamptons, they're all about fashion.

One of the things we like best about these casual spots is that you don't need a reservation. See, making dinner reservations in the Hamptons is something like a game of Battleship: The first step is to figure out the purported strategy of your desired dining destination. Do they take reservations only one week in advance? Two weeks? Only on Tuesdays between 2 and 3? Get this wrong and you'll find yourself eating dinner at 5pm all summer long.

The second step is to disguise your identity so they don't figure out that you're a Nobody. It's the Hamptons, darling: Nobody wants to dine next to a Nobody! Luckily that part is easy; all you have to do is casually mention that you're bringing a dwarf with you and you're in. Rich folks, they love dwarves.

Thankfully there are still a few spots in the Hamptons where you can be spared the indignity of Reservations Roulette and simply show up. One of our favorite places to endure our plight as dwarfless Nobodies is at Oakland's, a lovely spot on Dune Road with views of both the bay and the ocean.

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With an icy bottle of Sancerre, a view of the sunset, and the strains of a reggae band in the air, you won't even miss not having a midget buddy.

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At brunch, Oakland's has a wide assortment of choices, including seafood pasta, fish tacos, omelets stuffed with shrimp, fried local flounder, and mimosas . . . served in wine glasses with ice. Look, I know it's not ideal, but sometimes you'll take some hair of the dog any way you can get it.

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No, not that dog.

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After all this, you're probably wondering: Why would anyone endure these crowded, overpriced, dwarf-obsessed Hamptons anyway? Luckily, there are a few good arguments to be made.

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Besides, have you been to New York City in August??

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Posted by TraceyG 18:12 Archived in USA Tagged hamptons hampton_bays rumba canal_cafe oakland's Comments (9)

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