Eons before farm to table, market fresh, or locally sourced were part of my vocabulary, I recall turkeys in our backyard coop, a post-WWII Victory garden, and playing the “incubator game,” to guess the date when eggs would hatch at the family’s hay, grain, and feed store. Summers in Bay Shore—on Long Island’s South Shore, midway between Manhattan and The Hamptons—meant biking to Ghosio’s farm for corn, wading into the water to scoop up clams with my toes, and special Sunday “suppers” in a grand old Southampton mansion. I always ordered Long Island Duckling, which appeared on every menu (typically served with an overly-sweet orange glaze). I ate it to salute my mom, who—before she was old enough for a driver’s license—transported the quacking birds in the back of my grandpa’s red wooden truck from various duck farms in Eastport to Manhattan. Life was more carefree when I was 15, when I rode in my boyfriend’s red convertible to a burger shack across from the ocean on Dune Road, Westhampton. After marrying an avid sailor, our summer cruises overnighted in Montauk, where I ate lobster at Gosman’s Dock; Sag Harbor, where I tasted my first Pate de Foie de Canard with toast points and cornichons, mini-gherkin pickles at the American Hotel; and on Shelter Island, where the lure of the Victorian Chequit Inn, now Red Maple at The Chequit, was an easy walk from and within view of the harbor.
In those days, there was no talk of traffic and mansions were “old” and hidden behind tall shrubs south of the highway, not mega-new and built on potato fields. Money came from family, not from show business or Wall Street. The first vineyard was planted in 1973 on the North Fork.
Hampton’s bounty, however, has sustained Eastenders since Colonial Times, and it’s at its peak at summer’s end, when my friend and I restaurant-hopped recently.
From our lunch table on the narrow front porch of the American Hotel, l watched weekenders stepping off the Jitney, parents pushing strollers, and old-timers chatting about the fundraising efforts to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema, destroyed when fire raged down Main Street in December 2016. The American Hotel long promoted an off-season, midweek dinner-and-movie special, and memories of those evenings sparked a sudden Proustian madeleine moment. We ordered simple favorites: a beautifully presented Cobb salad, a crab cake burger, and my duck sandwich, which was sourced from Crescent Farm, the very last remaining duck farm on Long Island, and served with a lime aioli and apple slivers.
One evening, we dined at The Maidstone, across from the Hook Windmill, in East Hampton, which was known as The Maidstone Arms when I first dined there in 1996. The 18th-century clapboard colonial inn has recently been refurbished with the owners’ contemporary art collection and a décor accented by animal skins atop porch chairs and on the floors. The ingredient-focused menu showcased perfect produce: tomatoes, heirloom or in gazpacho; corn, in a risotto and in a most creative Corn Off the Cob, spiced with green chilies, cilantro, lime and ginger and peaches, grilled with mint, lemon ricotta and water cress, in pie, gelato and even grilled in a bourbon-based Old Fashioned. Local fish and Joyce Farm beef enhance the choices, as did a lovely Cuvée on the reasonably priced wine list.
For our last night, we dined at Jean-Georges at the Topping Rose House, one of an illustrious group of stars in the JG galaxy, which showcase his magic with spices and subtle flavors. Here, Drew Hiatt, chef de cuisine, has overseen the kitchen for my past few meals, each of which has been prepared using ingredients from the one-acre farm on the property of the 19th century former mansion. With drinks, we shared a signature JG dish—the best truffle and fontina cheese pizza. Another signature, the tuna tartare on avocado, is topped with spicy radish rings and flavored with a ginger marinade. The roasted Maine lobster is served with roasted corn, sweet corn vinaigrette, and basil, and the Parmesan-crusted chicken arrives atop artichokes with a lemon-basil sauce. A delightful assortment of mignardises followed the berries and ice cream that we ordered for dessert.
After Labor Day, it’s easier to drive (or take the train or Jitney) the 100 miles east of Manhattan and restaurant reservations are more available. Be assured, local fish and farm-fresh ingredients appear until Thanksgiving and December is the season for sweet, local bay scallops. Much as I adore summer bounty, fall has its appeal and I usually order a lobster roll at Bobby Van’s (Bridgehampton), onion soup at Rowdy Hall (East Hampton) and linguine with clams at Cappelletti’s (Sag Harbor).