New York Weekend: Escape to the North Fork
With summer turning to fall, the time is now to discover Long Island's North Fork. Filled with wineries, farmland and fresh produce, it's a gastronome's dream. Contributor Adee Braun is your guide to the sweet and slowed down good life just a few hours from Manhattan.
Jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island’s North Fork is the hard-working cousin of the daintier South Fork with its beach clubs and chic Hamptons villages. Despite its growing popularity as a weekend destination for urbanites, the North Fork remains down to earth and dominated by agriculture, most notably, viniculture. With rows of grapevines, fields of vegetables and piles of seafood, the North Fork is a gastronome’s dream. And, at just a two to three hours from Manhattan, the North Fork is a perfect late summer or early autumn weekend escape.
The North Fork’s bucolic fields and farmland remain its backbone, but the wineries are the real stars for visitors. Over 50 mostly small, family-owned vineyards dot The Fork. Most are densely packed along Routes 25 (Main Road) and 48, making for convenient tasting hopping. Keep this handy map open on your phone and let the tastings begin. If you want to make a whole day of it and not worry about driving, you can go on a tasting tour. Otherwise, meandering on your own is easy as you’ll never be more than a few minutes away from a tasting room. Some notable vineyards include Macari, Shinn Estate, Osprey’s Dominion, Lenz, and Bedell. When you tire of grape-based drinks, try some vodka or whisky at Long’s Island’s only distillery, Long Island Spirits.
The North Fork is all about fresh produce and seafood and there is no shortage of places to indulge in both, but you don’t have to spend a lot of to eat well. Many of the wineries have convenient picnic areas. And of course, there’s always the beach. At the Southold Fish Market you can get a killer lobster roll to-go, or grab a sandwich at on freshly baked bread at the Blue Duck Bakery Cafe down the road. Get all your cheese needs met at The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck.
Another great budget option is The Lunch Truck that waits patiently and permanently behind The North Fork Table & Inn, serving an ever-changing variety of delectable restaurant-grade sandwiches. Bear in mind that the truck is only open for lunch (closed Tuesdays) and the lines can be long. The restaurant itself is renowned for its innovative farm-to-table American cuisine. Head to Greenport for oysters as well as lots of other local catch at the cheekily-named The Frisky Oyster. If you’re feeling DIY, check out the Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market to shuck your own.
You won’t find the wide open beaches of the Hamptons here, but the less crowded shores of the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay are calming and pristine. Many beaches are located around Southold and Greenport. Here’s a full list of public beaches, parks and trails.
Greenport is lovely for strolling and checking out its many shops and restaurants. If you're itching to get on the water, take a short ferry ride to quaint Shelter Island. The fare for drivers is $11 one way and just $2 for foot passengers. Late summer and early fall is prime time for berry picking. At Patty’s Berries and Bunches you can pick your own along Route 48 in Mattituck. The seasons are short, so check before you go to see what’s ripening. Farm stands abound along the main roads, so you’ll never be far from local produce and fresh cut flowers.
You can catch the tail end of lavender season at the glorious Lavender By the Bay farm in East Marion. For $8 you get to walk around 17 acres of intoxicating lavender fields along with the buzzing bees. To get up close with your food source, head to Catapano Dairy Farm where visitors are welcome to spend time with the goats at this family farm. The little shop and tasting room lets you sample a wide range of goat-based edible and cosmetic products.
The closest points hotels are located in Riverhead, just before the fork. Since it’s only about 35 minutes from Greenport, Riverhead makes a good home base. The Hyatt Place, East End offers rooms and suites, some with harbor or pool views for 8,000 Gold Passport points or weekend rates starting at $382. Of the IGH hotels, the Hotel Indigo, Long Island has room rates starting at $363 or 35,000 points and the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Long Island-East End has rates starting at $299 or 30,000 points. The Hilton Garden Inn Riverhead is a Category 6 hotel with rooms going for $296 or 50,000 HHonors Points.
The North Fork itself is brimming with picturesque inns and B&B’s if you're willing to forgo earning and redeeming points for a little off-the-beaten path charm. Shinn Estate in Mattituck is a vineyard that also houses a pleasant and cozy inn with rates starting at $259. The multitalented owners serve up a great breakfast, as well as excellent wines at the Napa-inspired tasting room. For a more traditional B&B experience, the Cedar House, also in Mattituck, has rates starting at $225. The retro Greenporter Hotel in Greenport offers sustainable (it’s Green-Certified) accommodations starting at $199.
The Hampton Jitney bus runs frequently from a few points in NYC to the North Fork during the summer and early fall, with stops in all the main towns ($19 one way, about 3 hours). Long Island Rail Road trains depart from Penn Station to Greenport with a transfer at Ronkonkoma ($19.75 one way off peak, about 3 hours). Ferry services connect the North Fork to Connecticut, Shelter Island and the South Fork, but if you plan on exploring, you’ll need a car. The trip from Manhattan takes two to two and a half hours, but the distances around the Fork are relatively short. Otherwise, cabs, bikes or a pair of sturdy shoes are your best options for getting around once there.
Have you escaped to the North Fork? What spots have you discovered?