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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)

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