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Tiptoe Through the Hedgerow: The Hamptons From A to Z

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

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

A is for Almond.

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

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

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

B is for Beacon.

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

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

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C is for Cowfish.

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

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

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

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D is for Dockers.

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

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

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E is for East Hampton.

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

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

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F is for fall.

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

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

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G is for the Greenport Brewing Company.

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

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

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H is for house drinks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I is for Italian food.

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

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

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J is for John Scott's Surf Shack.

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

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K is for killer views.

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

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L is for lobster.

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

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

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

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M is for money to burn.

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

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N is for neighbors.

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

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

O is for our wedding.

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

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

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And that made it perfect.

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P is for Plaza Cafe.

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

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

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Q is for Quogue.

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

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

R is for Rumba.

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

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

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

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S is for Shelter Island.

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

Shelter Island is a lot like that.

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

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

T is for tomatoes.

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

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

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

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Now I know how poor Angel feels.

U is for Umbrella Beach.

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

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

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

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Or maybe that's just me.

V is for vineyards.

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

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

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

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W is for Wolffer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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X is for x-citing cars.

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

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Y is for yachts.

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

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

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Z is for catching up on our Zzzs.

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

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

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

Summer in the Hamptons: 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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