My Hampton Happy Places

So. … I may be a bit picky when it comes to dining out in the Hamptons. I’ve been coming out to the East End for as long as I can remember and, unfortunately, feel as though the restaurant quality has been on the decline for the past several years. Maybe it’s just the way of the world. … the truly local businesses cannot afford to stay with rising rent costs and therefore the only option is to fill vacant spaces with big names like Nobu or BLT East. But these places being pushed out are some of the same places that help keep the economy out there alive during the off-season when coming out to the Hamptons is not necessarily “en vogue.”

I just like to keep it simple. And while I lament the current trends, that does not mean I have not found Hampton dining establishments where simplicity and good food thrive. So, rather than rant and lament current trends (which I definitely could do), I will instead give you a list of my Hampton Happy Places. Hopefully after reading you will feel inspired to check out a few of these gems if you have not yet already. I cannot list all the wonderful farm stands, but these businesses are so, so, so important to life on the East End and we should always remember to support the farms by buying their local produce. And finally, if you read this and are reminded of your favorite Hamptons spot please let me hear about it! I am sure I am still missing some of the special ones.

WaterMill

The Green Thumb
829 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY. Phone: (631) 726-1900.

The Green Thumb is a Hamptons icon and the Halsey family has got to be one of the oldest family of farmers in the area. Right off 27 in Water Mill, the Green Thumb offers fresh, local and sustainable produce that you can easily pick up on your way out from the City. It offers select other grocery items as well, but it’s the place’s history and farm-fresh produce that keeps people coming back year-after-year-after-year. I hope this place and other farms like it are able to survive the times because they are truly what makes this area special.

 

Sag Harbor

Beacon
8 W. Water Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7088.

The restaurant does not take reservations and the wait time is sometimes painful, but the ambiance is one of my Hampton favorites. Situated atop the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, Beacon provides great waterfront views and a sunset that cannot be beat. Even if you have to endure the long wait times on a Saturday night, you can still enjoy a nice glass of Rose as the sun slips away from the sky. My favorite dishes are the Lobster Rigatoni and Halibut, but you cannot really go wrong with the menu. David Loewenberg and Sam McCleland have other restaurants in the Hamptons that also provide very solid meals, but Beacon has always been the one to stick out in my mind.

Big Olaf Ice Cream
8 Wharf Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7505.

Who does not love an ice cream cone on a hot summer day (or night)? There are plenty of places for fro-yo, ice cream, smoothies, etc… but Big Olaf is a Hampton classic for sure. Situated on Sag Harbor’s Wharf near the water, this small ice-cream shop is best known for the wafting breeze of homemade waffle cones that you can catch a whiff of from down the block. The line on a Saturday after dinner time usually goes well outside the entrance, but a bite of one of those freshly made cones makes the wait worth it. They have plenty of ice cream flavors too. There’s nothing fancy about it except the price tag for a small cone. … but hey, you’re in the Hamptons. Expect Hampton prices.

Dockside
26 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7100.

No frills here. Just simple, reliable American fare that can be enjoyed al fresco facing the water. The menu is quite eclectic and offers anything from chicken dumplings to fresh fish and paella. Clearly, the menu is influenced for a diverse range of cuisines. I recommend either eating in the bar area or outside as that’s where the restaurant really comes to life. It’s a great setting, even if the food is not super fancy, and a place that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Estia’s Little Kitchen
1615 Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-1048.

Little is right. This small restaurant on the side of the Bridge/Sag Turnpike is open for Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner and offers breakfast through the lunch hours (always a plus in my book). There is nothing particularly special about the decor, but the restaurant is cozy, welcoming and familial. Sometimes it’s a little too crowded for comfort. … but that means the food is good, right? If you have to wait during the rush times there is a garden out back which provides a more pleasant place to pass the time. I have only eaten here for breakfast/lunch, and am close to being addicted to the breakfast burrito. The predominately American cuisine carries Mexican influences throughout the menu, and all the flavors are really great. This place is still a little gem, so make sure you do not just pass it by when you’re whizzing down the highway on the way to Sag Harbor.

 

Sagaponack/Wainscott

Breadzilla
84 Wainscott Northwest Road, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0955.

First of all, the name is great. Second of all, the signs posted around the bakery always make me chuckle (go in for yourself and check them out). Thirdly, the bread kills it. Especially the cinnamon, sunflower, challah and gruyere. The handmade bagels are pretty solid too. But the real deal at this spot is the awesome lunch served all year round. Every day (except Monday when it’s closed. … yes, even on the long weekends) around 11:30 the barely legible daily lunch menu is posted online. There is an assortment of soups, sandwiches and salads to choose from. Don’t worry about the carbs here. … the fresh bread is SO worth it in this case. The sesame noodles are a must as well. I go here so often they know my name and, at this point, can pretty much figure out what I am going to order too. The classic “TMP” (Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto) or a Veggie du Jour, and then I am always looking for those sesame noodles. Throw a chocolate chip cookie on top and we’ve got ourself the perfect lunch.

Levain Bakery
354 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-8570.

It’s all about the cookies. …well. … and the chocolate chip brioche. I generally would not advise spending $4 for a cookie, but these are (nearly) life-changing. There are four cookie varietals and I think the two “musts” are by far and away the Chocolate Chip Walnut and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Divine. And definitely meant for sharing. Eat one of these yourself and you’ll be feeling it for the rest of the day.

The Fairway at Poxabogue
3556 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 521-7100.

Dan Murray and his crew know how to serve a good weekend breakfast or lunch at the Fairway (Disclaimer: I have been coming here since I was probably 12 years old, so I have a lot of affection for this place and its people). Breakfast is served all day and many of the menu items correspond to a “hole” on a golf course. Makes sense since Poxabogue is Sagaponack’s public course. If you like your simple eggs, a bespoke omelette, hearty french toast or maybe a burger is your fancy then this is your place. Try to avoid the rush and go at slightly off times so you don’t have to wait and can snag a prime outdoor seat when the weather suits.

The Seafood Shop
356 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0633.

This one may come as a surprise, but the Seafood Shop has the best guacamole and pico de gallo around. Yes, the fish is great too, but MAN that guac. The amount of that stuff consumed in my house over the years would probably disturb most people. So when you go in there to get your tuna, swordfish or lobster. … make sure you pick up at least a pint of that other good stuff too. The Seafood Shop also has great take-out options and will even organize a clambake on the beach for you and your friends.

Twice Upon a Bagel
358 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5553.

Fresh bagels. What else could you want? This place has been here for years and is open year-round for both the seasonal crowd and the locals. In addition to bagels, this place provides full deli service at lunch to get whatever sandwich creation you please. Oh, and they make a MASSIVE iced coffee that is sure to keep you buzzing on the beach all day long.

Wolffer Vineyard and Wine Stand
Vineyard: 139 Sagg Road, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5106. Wine Stand: 3312 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631)-537-5106.

Famed for its Rose, Wolffer is one of the premier vineyards on the East End. This place is so much more than wine though. There are events at the Vineyard and Wine Stand weekly and it’s always a treat so stop by on the weekends. The Wine Stand is really my favorite spot, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening in the summer when the lawn is filled with families and friends enjoying live music and taking a load off with a nice glass or bottle of wine. You can do full tastings thee as well. I promise you’ll relax immediately upon arrival and want to stay for hours. Oh. … and the wine goes far beyond the Rose. My personal favorite is the Caya – check it out and report back.

 

East Hampton

Nichol’s
100 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3939.

This one is definitely a locals hang out. Whether you’re looking for an easy meal or a cold pint Nichol’s will have you covered. The menu almost has too much to choose from. You can really get close to any sort of pub/comfort food you want. The bread is delicious (definitely not good for you) and comes out piping hot. I usually stick with a solid quesadilla, which comes as a generous portion and of which there are a number of varietals to choose from. It’s simple, easy and sometimes just what the doctor ordered. And. … being an occasional sucker for small details I really like how the restaurant’s interior walls have been formed with old wooden wine cases. A small touch that I always notice and keeps me amused.

Nick and Toni’s
136 N. Main Street, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3550.

OK, I am sure there will be some people who look at this name on the list and think “What is she talking about. … Nick and Toni’s definitely hosts the trendy scene during the summer months.” And yes, that’s true, but it’s far more subdued than some of the other restaurants on the East End. Nick and Toni’s delivers a solid product with amicable service and an ambiance that is somewhat calming. From the bread to the pasta to the enormous tartufo dessert you really cannot go wrong with the food there. Don’t even think about leaving without trying that tartufo. It can feed a table of four and it is so, so good.

 

Amagansett/Montauk

Jack’s Coffee
146 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-5555.

I am not a big coffee gal, but I do enjoy a cold one from Jack’s on a summer day. Jack’s boasts its stir brew technique and that the product supports fairtrade and is organic. All things people love in their food and beverage products these days. On a Saturday morning the line is almost out the door as the place seems to have acquired almost a cult following. I am guessing a number of those guests are also bemoaning the night before and desperate for a quick caffeine fix.

South Edison
17 South Edison Street, Montauk, NY. (631) 668-4200.

This is a newer addition to Montauk, but one that is great and really fits. South Edison is situated steps away from the beach and offers a seasonal menu focused on seafood and local produce. The restaurant has a great menu, awesome vibe and I have not run into problems with the service either. It definitely draws the crowds (in a good way) and is a fun place to go with a group during the weekends. The shishito peppers, street corn, baked clams and South Edison Clam Bake are all solid picks. Don’t forget the 5-Year Anniversary Sundae as a top off either. Make sure you ask for plenty of extra spoons with that one.

The Lobster Roll
1980 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-3740.
It’s all about the lobster rolls at this casual eats joint on the way out to Montauk. This place has been around for nearly 50 years and the feature has always been its lobster rolls. The restaurant has a full lunch and dinner menu with many fried fish goodies and other sorts of things, but with a place named after one specific menu item it only seems fitting to get one of those rolls. Note: Great place to walk and grab a quick bite after a couple notorious BBCs at Cyril’s.

 

The Next Great Meal Goes International: Ireland

Welcome to the first international restaurant series from The Next Great Meal. I spent a week in Ireland, mostly in the outskirts of Dublin in County Wicklow. Below you will get a brief taste of the highlights. Maybe you won’t make it to Ireland in the very near future, but should you find yourself in the country’s capital or the luscious green countryside here are some places to keep in mind!

Gordon Ramsay @ Powerscourt

This restaurant by the well-known Gordon Ramsay is situated in the Ritz Carlton hotel on the Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. The setting is beautiful as you get panoramic views of Sugar Loaf mountain in the distance. There is a lovely terrace for when the weather in Ireland permits you to enjoy a peaceful dinner outdoors. As I am sure many of you have experienced, hotel dining can be very hit-or-miss. Some hotels know how to do it right, but others struggle to create ambiance and character, so while the food could be exceptional the restaurant ends up lacking in energy. With Gordon Ramsay’s Powerscourt location I felt more the latter. The wait staff, however, was friendly and I found this was mostly the case in Ireland. They also knew how to make the customer happy. After a fly had flown into my glass of wine for the second time there was no charge on the bill. Now that’s what I’m talking about! The menu composed of fresh, local ingredients from the region which is something I always appreciate.  I started with a beet salad with fresh, local goat cheese followed by a diverse lamb medley which included tenderloin, crispy bacon-like slices and sweetbreads garnished with baby artichoke and cherry tomatoes. The main course was delicate, light and succulent. I did, however, pass on the sweetbreads. The best way I know how to describe what came next is as a chocolate bomb (see the picture. … you’ll understand). All I can say is it was pretty darn good. Then the meal was over. And while I did enjoy the food and it was clearly of high caliber, I was really hoping for character and Ramsay has still yet to find it here.

The Box Tree

This was a special place we visited in County Wicklow. It’s situated in a small town called Stepaside Village and couldn’t be more charming. With a seating area outside lined with pots of bright yellow flowers, and a charming wine bar next door, I was able to tell from the entrance that this was going to be a serene evening.  The Box Tree does receive accolades for being and Eamonn O’Reilly establishment, who is one of the acclaimed chefs in Ireland. O’Reilly also owns a successful restaurant in Dublin, One Pico, that I did not have the time to try but looked appealing as well.  We were seated in a banquet in front of the semi-open kitchen. Above our heads, the walls were lined with all sorts of wine bottles organized and encased by glass. There were a number of creative dishes on the menu, such as the Poached Egg and Grilled Asparagus appetizer that came with Kellys Black Pudding, Capers and Bacon and Grain Mustard Hollandaise or the Butter Roasted Chicken Breast with Spinach, Mushroom Ravioli, Crispy Wing and Sweetcorn Cream. I ordered the latter and started with the Ardsallagh Goats Cheese and Pickled Beetroot salad. I almost did not get the salad because the server initially brought out the wrong goat cheese appetizer, but just as I was sticking my fork in the phyllo-wrapped cheese (and don’t get me wrong. … I was confused about the dish, but was going to go along with it anyway) he realized his mistake and pulled it out of my grasp. Oops! When I finally did get the correct salad, it looked more like a work of art than something I should be eating. There were three statues of soft, coiled goat cheese sandwiched between two thinly sliced beets, garnished with greens and candied walnuts. Something about the goat cheese in Ireland (and the butter) is just a notch above the rest, but this rendition in particular was quite tasty. It was light, flavorful and very fresh. Then came the (first) rich part of the meal. … the chicken. From the description, I was not quite sure what to expect from all the ingredients but they surprisingly worked very well. The spinach lay at the bottom with the one large mushroom ravioli placed on top, which was surrounded by the buttered chicken breast and crispy baby chicken wings. Then the sweetcorn cream to finish it off. That was home style cooking in the most gourmet way possible. I really enjoyed this dish. I think the chef did a very good job of making each piece of the meal work together. The chicken wings were definitely a creative touch. The finish touch wasn’t disappointing either. The chocolate walnut brownie bites with dollops of chocolate mousse and a scoop of Bailey’s ice cream were a great way to the end the meal. It may sound overwhelming, but the brownies were dainty and the mousse not overpowering, so it actually was quite a nice way to end a filling meal. Overall, great place with character and innovative cuisine. The location is a little out-of-the-way so it’s not a touristy spot which gave it a lot of charm. The service is friendly and accommodating. We heard that some have had problems with it being spotty and slow, but we just had the appetizer incident! 

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Campo De Fiori

Campo De Fiori is a quaint Italian restaurant in the coastal town of Bray. Bray is one of the larger towns near where I stayed and the most vivacious. There was an Italian festival going on that week and the night we were in town the entire town seemed to be in the streets cheering on the local Olympic heroes during the opening ceremonies. It was a fun scene. Campo De Fiori is situated right across from the water so you can get some picturesque views if seated at the right table. When we walked in it seemed like a one-man show. The manager was acting as hostess then waiter then bus boy and anything else in between. He was running it all. The whole experience felt quite intimate and felt closer to a trattoria in Italy than one in the middle of Ireland. And like most people do at Italian restaurants we ordered a bit too much. It was nothing fancy, but the simple ingredients worked and made the meal enjoyable. The Antipasto appetizers are a must. You cannot find many places that really do antipasto well in the U.S. (if you know of some please let me know) and this one had all the right stuff. Just make sure if you’re a table for two to get the small one. I got the Black Sole as my entrée, which was very simply prepared fish with boiled potatoes and vegetables. We also got the Mixed Grilled Fish which is probably the best way to get a sampling of all the fish offerings. You’re in a coastal town. … you should really order some fish. There was one snafu with a prawn that wasn’t fully cooked, but otherwise we enjoyed the meal and there wasn’t much left over on our plates. If you haven’t figured this out yet, I am a sucker for sweets but I wasn’t impressed by my chocolate mousse. Worth stopping by this Italian gem if you’re visiting Bray. And if you are not in the mood for dinner, there is a wine bar next door.

Fern House

The Fern House is rustic cafe attached to the Kilmacanogue location of the well-known Avoca stores. After you’re done picking up your hand-woven blankets, socks and scarves you can take a breather at this lovely cafe for a leisurely breakfast or lunch. The servers here were some of the most friendly I had during the trip. The setting was peaceful and it almost felt like you were in a massive green house with lush gardens surrounding you. The space is enchanting and the food tasted farmhouse fresh. I had a lovely crab and apple salad that was a refreshing summer treat. We also ordered a vegetable antipasto plate (another great antipasto!) that had an assortment of marinated vegetables, falafel, cheeses and more. The only disappointment was my Smarties cookie that was a little stale. But the other baked goods looked delicious, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

The Winding Stair

From the outside you wouldn’t think much of this Dublin charmer. The yellow building blends with the others on the city block, and it’s hard to spot from afar unless you look way up and see the intricate letters that read “The Winding Stair.”  The second-story restaurant sits above a book shop in the center of Dublin and looks over the river. The wooden loft space is simple, cozy and warm. The menu  has plenty of options and I would love to come back and try some more. I ordered a special lamb shank they were serving that night that was tender and fell off the bone. Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves and I was having a good time observing the food that landed on their tables. It all looked just as delicious as mine tasted. The desserts were the real kicker. They are known for the Bread and Butter Pudding with Whiskey Sauce. It really does melt in your mouth. You shouldn’t leave without at least having a bite. Another phenomenal dessert was the Apple and Rhubarb Crumble. It’s actually very hard for me to describe either of these desserts because I won’t be able to do them justice. The skillet crumble was mouth-watering good and so perfectly warmed that the cinnamon ice cream formed a river throughout the dish. I would venture to say that if you venture to Ireland there is a high likelihood Dublin would be part of the trip. If this is the case and you have some time, this restaurant is worth a trip. I hear their lunch is great as well. It’s high quality with not a lot of bells and whistles in an inviting and relaxed environment. I could have sat there with a bottle of wine for another hour enjoying the setting. Too bad we had to drive back to County Wicklow!

Those four restaurants represent the highlights of my culinary adventures in Ireland. There were some other places I went worth making quick mention of as well. The Wicklow Heather (Glendalough), The Powerscourt Arms (Enniskerry), McGill’s (Powerscourt) and Elephant and Castle (Dublin. … and yes, the sister restaurant to the one in the West Village). If you want more information on any of the restaurants I have highlighted feel free to leave a comment or email thenextgreatmeal@gmail.com. Contrary to what I expected from its former reputation, Ireland cuisine consists of more than meat, potatoes and Guinness pints. I enjoyed some great meals here and, for the most part, at a reasonable price.