It’s a question people have been asking on the North Fork for years, when yet another bistro opens or a B&B debuts. Is this low-key community, which has sustained itself on farming and fishing since the 17th century, on its way to becoming its counterpart, the South Fork, better known as the Hamptons?
Ten years ago, the North Fork―a collection of 11 small towns on the 30-mile peninsula at the northeastern tip of Long Island―was marked by dying agriculture. But in the past several years, as many city-dwellers have decamped New York to open restaurants, inns, and wineries, the North Fork has developed into something more than just the anti-Hamptons. It’s now a tight-knit community of trendsetters with a distinctly quirky, sophisticated style, where words like “seasonal” and “sustainable” are de rigueur.
Visit during autumn and you can expect fewer crowds and lower hotel rates than during peak times. But money aside, it’s simply the best time to visit the North Fork. Once the summer bustle has died down, what is left is sprawling fields peppered by small villages, farm stands, stylish hotels, stellar restaurants, and wineries. Lots and lots of wineries.
IT STARTED WITH FOOD
North Fork became an official foodie destination in 2006, when Manhattan restaurant celebs Claudia Fleming, who won a James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef in 2000 at the Gramercy Tavern, and Gerry Hayden, formerly chef of the four-star Aureole, opened The North Fork Table and Inn (57225 Main Road, Southold; 631/765-0177 or northforktableandinn.com). The elegant country restaurant lures many patrons from the Hamptons. Repeat visitors find it hard to resist the restaurant’s tasting menu that might include roasted baby beets with local goat cheese, pan-roasted Long Island duck breast, and a chocolate caramel tart or upside-down caramelized apple tart. After a meal like that, guests can only hope they booked one of the four pretty, crisply appointed rooms.
Expect the unexpected at The Frisky Oyster (27 Front Street, Greenport; 631/477-4265 or thefriskyoyster.com). The menu at this seafood joint, within a Greenport storefront, depends on what the chef finds on the farm truck that unloads its produce in a nearby parking lot. What you can count on getting in the candlelit room, whimsically decorated with framed prints of exotic sea creatures, is specialty cocktails and an inventive menu with dishes such as Oysters Friskasella (a take on oysters Rockefeller with spinach, parmesan, and chipotle), crispy calamari, rib-eye steak frites, and pan-seared sea scallops with local beets and fennel-horseradish vinaigrette. If you can’t get a reservation, no worries. This year, the same owner opened F.O.B. (136 Front Street; 631/477-6720 or friskybar.com). The name stands for Frisky Oyster Bar, and the casual restaurant serves familiar and tasty fare: crab cakes, fried chicken, and a house burger.