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.

 

Colicchio’s Latest in Culinary Innovation @ The Topping Rose House

Two weeks ago I got a taste of one of the Hampton’s newest restaurant additions – The Topping Rose House. The Topping Rose has the promise to be the new luxe destination for summer weekenders this season. It’s going to come at a price, of course. Rooms go for ~$1,000 per night, but you will be able to decompress at what looks like it will be an impressive spa and enjoy the fine dining experience that comes with a Tom Colicchio restaurant. I am going to focus on the restaurant more than the Inn itself, but they did do a great job of restoring an historic landmark in the center of Bridgehampton. From the outside, the building fits in nicely with the town’s surroundings and does not stick out as a gaudy eye sore. I think this was some people’s concern upon fist hearing about the new luxury accommodations coming to town. The inn and spa are not in full swing yet, but promise to be by the summer rush not too far off. In the meantime, people, like myself, who sometimes make the trip out there in the off-season have the privilege of testing the restaurant before it becomes impossible to get a table. Come Memorial
Day that will surely be the case.

Topping Rose is elegant but not in the same way Colicchio designed Craft or Riverpark where you enjoy a meal in a lavish dining room. The setting itself is rather quaint and it feels as though you are dining in the middle of a farmhouse. The decor is wonderful and brings forth a comfortable ambiance. The real elegance at Topping Rose lies rather in the preparation of the food. This is not my first Colicchio experience, so I know what to expect in terms of food quality and his general flare for modern and seasonally appropriate cooking. The off-summer menu was definitely reflective of winter and early spring flavors, so I will be interested to see what comes next in the summer time when Hampton tomatoes, corn and other farm-fresh goodies blossom in abundance.

The menu item of the night at our table was the Tilefish. I strayed from the other three and decided to try one of the pastas instead. Given the exuberance and high recommendation for the Tilefish, however, it’s probably worth a try. The fish is served with gold and blue potatoes, leeks and preserved lemons. Now, be careful here. When the server described the dish to us it was conveyed that there would be a puree of leeks beneath the fish and a noticeable serving of said preserved lemons. What actually came out was a delicately prepared fish with a light sauce infused with leek and lemon flavors. This was confusing to a few members of the table, who insisted they get to the bottom of this mystery and find out where the leeks and lemon resided. To their dismay, the puree was not missing just slightly misrepresented from the beginning. Nonetheless, the overall review for the fish was positive and all three people I dined with seemed to enjoy the light and flavorful dish.

I do not order pasta very often, but on this occasion I had a particular craving for a new and inventive carb creation. I tried the restaurant’s Smoked Pappardelle, which is topped with a slow poached egg. All of the pastas at Topping Rose are made in house and, in the case of the Pappardelle, they actually smoke the pasta noodles so they taste just the faintest bit of delicious smoked meats. The sauce is light and the poached egg adds a rich twist to the dish. I am glad I ordered the smaller portion because anything more may have been too decadent. For a starter, I had the Fennel, Radish, Celery and Cucumber Salad which is one of the appetizers I hope never comes off the menu. It’s great for every season and filled with fresh, refreshing greens and finished off with a light goat-yogurt herb dressing. While I enjoyed my entire meal this simple preparation was probably the highlight.

Additionally, we ordered the Fried Oysters with Braised Chili Bacon which were a nice twist the standard raw oyster. I am no huge fan of oysters myself, but these were delicious (maybe because they did not really taste like oysters!). The oysters were not over-fried and together with the bacon I could almost transport myself to a beach BBQ. Yet another good preparation for all seasons. The other must-do on the menu is checking out the side dishes. Generally side dishes are not a main attraction for any meal, but picking up the Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Cauliflower are a great way to round out a meal at Topping Rose. They are simple, but you won’t be disappointed.

 

There was, of course, some dessert to finish off the meal. By this time I was quite satisfied, but I did need something small and sweet to top me off for the evening. There were quite a few inventive ice cream flavors to sample and even though it seemed like the simple choice I went with a few scoops of coffee ice cream. There was also Lemon Meringue Tart and Apple Tarte Tatin at the table so I snagged a small taste of each. They were both great, but the Tarte Tatin beat out and would be my pick to anyone looking for a dessert suggestion. The restaurant also brings out petit fours of mini chocolate chip cookies and other small chocolate treats, so I doubled up on my ice cream and enjoyed a few of those. At the end of the meal, in true Colicchio fashion, you receive a small satchel of house made granola to remember the restaurant by as you enjoy breakfast the next morning.

Topping Rose will be a great addition to the Hampton restaurant scene, but it should definitely be reserved for a special occasion. To me, this is not a restaurant you bring the little kids on a random Friday evening or make a standing reservation at every weekend. Some people might do this, but I think it de-values the special nature of the place. It’s not gaudy, pretentious or over-the-top, but when you walk in you know you’re in for a treat so savor it that way. I would love to check out the brunch and will likely do so at some point this summer when occasion allows, so be sure to look for a Topping Rose update.

The Topping Rose House, One Bridgehampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, NY, 11932. Phone: (631) 537-0870.

When To Book: I recommend booking a table at Topping Rose as early as you can plan. Even in the off-month of March, our options for a Saturday seating were 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. It will be even busier in the summer so get to planning sooner rather than later.

Harbor-Side Dining @ Beacon Restaurant

September is one of my favorite months to head out to the Hamptons for a number of reasons. The masses have retreated, the weather is still fantastic, the produce still tastes freshly picked from the local farm and you can actually get a table at some of the more popular restaurants. This weekend I took full advantage of the off-season and went to Sag Harbor’s Beacon Restaurant. This was not my first time at Beacon and it continues to be one of my top five restaurants in the Hamptons. The setting is serene, the experience pleasant and the food does not disappoint.

Let me start by setting the mood. After driving through the quaint town of Sag Harbor you veer to the left and drive west down Water Street until you reach the Sag Harbor Yacht Club. It would be very easy to drive by without noticing it except for the swarm of cars feverishly looking for a parking spot during dinner time. That’s when you know you’ve reached the destination. The restaurant is situated above the Yacht Club and overlooks the harbor. It’s peaceful, a great view and if you catch it right you can witness a gorgeous East End sunset from your table outside. Beacon does not take reservations, so when you walk up the stairs on a busy summer night the first thing you encounter is a jovial scene of those waiting for tables enjoying cocktails on the porch.  The place is always bustling with people, but it’s never overwhelmingly noisy. Nobody even seems to mind the wait (and in peak Hampton season it can be a LONG wait). On this beautiful September evening there was no line (maybe because we showed up at 6:15 p.m.) and we were lucky enough to snag the last outdoor table that looked out over the boats on the water.

In addition to the tranquil setting Beacon’s menu offers new American cuisine with enough choices to satisfy many taste buds. I have sampled many of the menu items, and while there is nothing that has stood out as a disappointment there are a few “must try” dishes. First, the Lobster Rigatoni. This dish without a doubt should be on every table at Beacon.  It should not be one of your “choices,” but rather should be placed on the table right next to the bread basket. The short, thick rigatoni pasta is topped with a light aged cheddar and cream sauce with basil, sweet corn and large chunks of lobster meat mixed throughout. I won’t describe it any further. … you just have to try it. Second, the Pork Chop Milanese. This dish is so large it could probably serve your whole table. At the very least it is plenty for two to share.  The pork chop is breaded, pounded thin and topped with a salad full of local greens, tomatoes, caramelized onions, Parmesan cheese and a delicious vinaigrette. This one is really tasty and won’t leave you going home hungry. Go with one of the fish dishes if you’re craving a lighter meal. I went with the Halibut baked in Parchment with Sun-Dried Tomato and Israeli Cous Cous. This is a simple fish dish, but the baking technique with the parchment brings out the best flavor in the Halibut. The dessert selection isn’t bad either. Saturday we decided to hold on to the last glimpse of summer we could find and ordered Beacon’s Homemade Ice-Cream Sandwich. Two large chocolate chip cookies sandwiched between vanilla ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and some berries. Mm Mm Good! The only complaint from our table was the skimpy portion of chocolate sauce. Note to the pastry chef: Do not be afraid to top it off generously with some more sauce! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Beacon is great no matter what the occasion. In the heat of summer the wait can sometimes be long and frustrating, but in all honesty it is one of the few Hampton gems worth the hype (and the price tag). There are obviously plenty of restaurant offerings in the area, but Beacon’s unique setting coupled with the consistently solid food and lively atmosphere set it apart from other Hampton hot spots. If you go and feel differently. … I am all ears!

Beacon Restaurant, 8 West Water Street, Sag Harbor, NY, 11963. 

When To Go: Beacon does not accept reservations and begins serving dinner at 6 p.m Wednesday-Sunday. If you want to avoid a long wait I suggest getting there early and snagging one of the coveted outdoor tables. In the summer, be prepared to wait no matter what. Come with a positive attitude and find a refreshing cocktail to enjoy until a table frees up. If you plan to dine in the off-season keep in mind they close the restaurant in the winter months, so make sure to visit in September or October. 

Rushed @ red bar brasserie

I find it increasingly difficult to have a hassle-free meal in the Hamptons during the high summer months. But since I enjoy dining out, I get the itch sometimes to go to an old standby or the newest en vogue out there. This past weekend I went with my family to red bar brasserie in South Hampton for an early dinner before making the trek back to the City. It was quick reminder of why I usually just eat a fresh meal at home between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Now I have been here a number of times before and typically have a very nice experience, but this time something was off. I thought we were off to a great start when the host recognized someone in my party and said, “Oh! I did not know you were on this reservation or I would have seated you at your regular table.” That should be the golden ticket to good service at a high-end restaurant, right? I thought so too.

Everything was going well until the appetizers were on the table. We ordered the Bruschetta with Artichoke, Piquillo Pepper, Black Garlic and House-Made Lemon-Farmers Cheese for the table and some people ordered the special Tuscan Tomato Soup with Bell Peppers and Croutons. The Bruschetta was tasty even though the other ingredients overpowered the artichoke to the point you could barely taste it. And we clearly did not order enough because there were only three small toasts for the five of us, but that’s our on problem! But here’s where the evening went downhill. One person still had about a quarter of her soup left in the bowl – and she was still hunched over the plate as though she wanted to continue eating – when the bus boy arrived at our table trying to remove the dish. She politely told him she wanted to continue enjoying the appetizer and he disappeared. … for approximately 60 seconds.

So, I guess we were moving onto the main course. I ordered the Truffled Chicken Breast with Mushroom Risotto and French Beans, which I highly recommend. I could smell the truffle aroma wafting in the air as the waiter placed the rest of the plates on the table before mine. And who doesn’t like truffles! The chicken was tender and under the crispy skin was a thin layer of truffles giving the dish that extra “umph!” The risotto was rich – as all risotto should be – and the green beans were there to round out the course and serve as an attempt to be healthy. But as I was finishing my meal the vendetta against our table resurfaced.

The same person who ordered the soup ordered a simple Endive Salad, and before she could eat half of it the bus boy arrived trying to remover her plate. I understand the need for table turnover, but it was 6 p.m. on a Sunday. Seeing as there was not a long line of people waiting to get in I do not think it would have killed the staff to let us enjoy a peaceful family meal. We each enjoyed our food, but could not figure out why they wanted to get us out of there so quickly. Did we smell bad? The table behind us did not appear to have the same issues. After each bottle of wine they all consumed (I think we counted three, but who knows) the noise level in the restaurant grew two octaves. They were having a grand ‘ole time and lasted far longer than us.

We decided not to order dessert for fear the Profiteroles would be gone before we could scrape the chocolate sauce from our plates. We paid the bill, the host tried his friendly charm yet again and we went on our way. As I said, I have been to red bar a number of times. And I usually leave satisfied. I like the brasserie feel with the wicker chairs and white table clothes, and the intimate dining room setting. The dining room fills up quickly and there is usually a nice, unpretentious liveliness about the place. The food is consistently good, but my experience with the service this go around was just particularly notable (and in case you didn’t get the memo, it wasn’t in a good way). I am also a patron at the owner’s other restaurants, Beacon and Fresno, and would hope the next time I dine at one of them I feel just a tad more wanted. If you head over to red bar, let me know your thoughts. I would like to go back at some point!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

red bar brasserie, 210 Hampton Road, Southampton, NY 11968. Phone: (631) 283- 0704.

When to Book: red bar brasserie takes reservations on OpenTable and you can typically get a reservation a week in advance. During the peak season of summer, you may want to give yourself an extra week to make your reservation if you want prime-time weekend spots.