While the Hamptons’ posh South Fork eateries, steamy nightlife and celebrity residents make it undeniably chic, Long Island’s other fork, the North Fork, offers an entirely different kind of scene: authentic country charm.
Its 11 coastal towns are only 80 miles from Manhattan, but the area’s low-key lifestyle makes the metro area seem worlds away.
As economic times get increasingly tougher, the North Fork is likely to become an even more popular destination for East Coasters wanting to stay closer to home and budget travelers who want to avoid the pricier South Fork hotspots.
And best of all, contrarian travelers know that instead of hitting up the jam-packed South Fork in the summer, traveling to the North Fork in the off season is an excellent opportunity to save on shopping, dining and of course, wine tasting. So we checked in with the locals to find out some of their favorite picks.
WINE TASTING LIKE A LOCAL
The most famous North Fork pastime, wine tasting, stems from the regions fertile Bordeaux-like conditions which produce some of New York’s most famous varietals. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot thrive in the Long Island climate and over the years dozens of new wineries have sprung up along the North Fork.
Most travel brochures will highlight the most popular wineries like Pindar, Osprey’s Dominion and Bedell Cellars. Because of their notoriety, though, rowdy bridesmaid parties, large wine tours and heavy limo traffic could clutter up what should be a relaxing affair. Here’s a less-traveled wine route that highlights some of the regions smaller, boutique wineries.
Heading West to East, your first stop should be the Diliberto Winery in Jamesport where owner Sal Dilberto has created a little slice of Italy right on Long Island. The mom-and-pop winery is decorated like a typical Italian piazza and its charm will tempt you to linger sipping vino the entire afternoon. But even if you’re short on time, stay long enough to enjoy a wine tasting accompanied by Sal’s personal serenade. Rumor has it; all you have to do is ask him! 631-722-3416, www.dilibertowinery.com
Continuing east, you’ll want to visit Shinn Estate in Mattituck, one of the North Fork’s certified sustainable farming vineyards. For $8.50 enjoy a sophisticated tasting and a 20-30 minute walk through the vineyard by its owner, Barbara Shinn. Her knowledge and passion for sustainable farming makes for a fantastic tour and learning about how much skill and time goes into one bottle of wine makes it taste that much better. 631-804-0367, www.shinnvineyard.com
The final “off the brochure” stop is the beautifully rustic Old Field Vineyard in Southold. Its farmy accents are just right for a casual day in the country, complete with quintessential chickens roaming free around the property. Also a sustainable vineyard, Old Field conducts several types of tours and is part of the North Fork’s adult wine camp! There’s still time to sign up for the February 27-March 1, 2009 camp session. 631-765-0004, www.theoldfield.com
A notably sour North Fork stop is a boutique winery, Clovis Point, in Jamesport. Perhaps they were having an off day when we visited, but the servers were uninformed about their tasting selections and lacked warmth or friendliness. With so many other winners, you might consider skipping this one. 631-722-4222, www.clovispointwines.com
FROM NORTH FORK TO TABLE
Eating out in the North Fork is all about fresh ingredients, comfy digs and an effortless cool. Topping our locals’ list is the Frisky Oyster in Greenport village. 631-477-4265, www.thefriskyoyster.com
While the name implies a predominantly seafood menu, this staple of North Fork dining is a feel-good favorite with an eclectic menu complete with a braised lamb shank and “Pad Thai” salad. Regulars love the over-sized window seats, funky décor and stellar wine list.
In a region with such a rich wine culture, it’s not surprising that there be an equally as decadent cheese shop nearby. Welcome to the Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck. Part store, part café, this Love Lane fixture is ideal for a light lunch. When temperatures are warm, sitting in their outdoor garden will conjure up images of al fresco dining in France. 631-298-8556, www.thevillagecheeseshop.com
More cheesy delights can be found at Bruce’s Cheese Emporium, in addition to cured meats, fresh baked breads and some of the area’s best coffee. If you pop in for breakfast try the sweet brown sugar bacon. Trust us; you’ll want the recipe to make at home. 631-477-0023
SHOPPING ON A DIME
Of course no vacation is complete without a little shopping, or a lot of shopping if you hit Tanger Outlet’s sprawling complex in Riverhead. It’s no more than 30 minutes from the North Fork, even on a crowded summer weekend. Although the 158 brand-name outlets are hardly off the brochure: Pottery Barn, William Sonoma, Saks OFF 5TH, Banana Republic, Ugg, and Victoria’s Secret, to name a few, you could easily find yourself spending two days here digging for great deals.
After a full day of wine tasting or bargain hunting, there’s no better place to rest your head than one of the North Fork’s bed and breakfasts. If a girl’s weekend is what you’re after, the Blue Iris B&B in Cutchogue will organize a private pajama party for $150 per gal per night. You have full run of the beautifully-adorned farmhouse, and can drink wine in your fuzzy slippers while watching chick flicks on the 52-inch TV! 631-734-7126, www.blueirisbedandbreakfast.com
Take advantage of the North Fork’s coastal location and stay at the Harbor Knoll waterfront B&B. Beautiful Peconic Bay will greet you each morning when you awake in the elegant 19th century Greenport home. Relax in the stately living room or roam the grounds and English country garden. 631-477-2352, www.harborknoll.com
NIGHT ON THE FORK
It’s true; the North Fork is not “the” place for trendy nightclubs. But that’s exactly why people prefer it here over the Hamptons. But if you are jonesing for a night on the town, Claudio’s in Greenport is the place to be. When summer arrives, you can you can listen to live bands jam out on the wharf and dance the night away without every waiting at a velvet rope. www.claudios.com
And when late September rolls around, expect Claudio’s and every other inch of Greenport to be buzzing with visitors to the annual Maritime Festival. Fresh seafood stalls, art exhibits, an annual chowder contest (New England versus Manhattan), a parade and live music bring the nautical village of Greenport to life for this perfect early autumn funfest.
By Courtney Scott for PeterGreenberg.com. Check out Courtney’s blog about her adventures in Italy, New York and beyond at https://abroadrview.blogspot.com.
Don’t miss the rest of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide series.
View Off the Brochure Maps in a larger map