The majority of people who land at JFK International never even realize that they are on Long Island— and regrettably, the airport is the most they will ever see of it. Others view this slim strip of land as just a summer playground or a bedroom community for Manhattan's workforce. However, there is another Long Island, beyond the Hamptons and suburbia: one where acres of farms and vineyards are still harvested each autumn and the elegant aura of Fitzgerald's Gatsby lingers. Head for the north shore and continue out until it becomes the North Fork. Standing in the walled garden at Old Westbury or knee-deep in pumpkins at Krupski's, you'll never believe you're less than a two-hour drive from Times Square.
— Kimberly Robinson
AN AUTUMN DRIVE
by Renée Bacher
Long Island's South Fork has long eclipsed its somewhat neglected northern cousin. But the foils to the Hamptons' society balls and traffic jams are the earthier pleasures of the North Fork: hayrides through farmland, bluegrass concerts in vineyards, and kayak tours of backwater bird sanctuaries.
Perhaps the most beautiful time to visit is autumn. Pumpkins crowd the open fields, grapes droop lusciously from the vine, and tractors have been known to slow traffic enough that even the most resolute urbanite is forced to revel in the colors of the crops and commune with the livestock.
As a local, I know to arm visiting friends with a copy of the Suffolk Times (pick one up at the 7-Eleven on the traffic circle in Riverhead), which lists dozens of fall happenings each week. Special events to look for include Dave Markel's occasional country auctions at the Landing in Southold, and the clam chowder contest and whaleboat races at Greenport's Maritime Festival in late September. The yard-sale listings are extensive, too, and the prices significantly lower than on the South Fork.
If you're headed here from New York, have brunch at the Jamesport Country Kitchen (Main Rd. [Rte. 25]; 516/722-3537; lunch for two $20); try the three-egg omelette with marinated veggies. Continue east on Route 25 to Cutchogue, and stop at Wickham's Fruit Farm (516/734-6441) for a few bags of crunchy, softball-size apples. Less than a mile down the road on the right is Farmer Mike's stand, where you'll find two specialties of the region: broccoli with florets as soft as pussy willows, and golden beets whose nutty taste will convert even confirmed beet haters. Take a hayride over the fields next door at Krupski's Pumpkin Farm (516/734-6847), then wander through the maze made of cornstalks.
If the sun is shining and you're feeling energetic, head to Eagle's Neck Paddling (49295 Main Rd., Southold; 516/765-3502) for a guided kayak expedition on local bays, creeks, and marshy inlets, where ospreys and other protected birds nest.
A bit farther east, Route 25 turns into antiques alley. My favorite shops are in Greenport. The merchandise at Beall & Bell (18 South St.; 516/477-8239) reflects the SoHo style of owners Ginger McFadden Ludacer and her husband, Ken, who also have a South Fork shop, Dixon Road, in Water Mill. The Greenport Antiques Center (74365 Main Rd.; 516/477-0843) is a large barn filled with reasonably priced furniture, including ornate, hand-carved oak beds, 19th-century kerosene lamps, and antique commercial coffee grinders. But for the best deals, time your visit to coincide with the monthly flea market at Kapell Antiques (400 Front St.; 516/ 477-0100); owner Dave Kapell (who is also Greenport's mayor) has a reputation for letting things go at ridiculously low prices just to move merchandise. A friend scored an ivory mah-jongg set there for $25.
A former whaling town trying to resurrect itself from hard times, Greenport is the hub of the North Fork. In spite of its vacant storefronts and a few shabby side streets, you'll find funky shops, charming turn-of-the-century architecture, sweeping views of Shelter Island, and droves of urban refugees enjoying the tranquillity of this as-yet-undiscovered seaside retreat.
The tiny East End Seaport Maritime Museum (Third St.; 516/477-2100) is a vestige of Greenport's past life. Housed in the former railway station, it displays regional lighthouse artifacts, such as a 16-foot glass lens from the late 19th century. At lunchtime, head for the Cheese Emporium (208 Main St.; 516/477-0023; lunch for two $25), which has a bright, country-store atmosphere. The sandwiches are bountiful, and there is a large assortment of cheeses and pâtés. Greenport Tea Company (119A Main St.; 516/477-8744; lunch for two $15) is another good choice: great soup, friendly service, and a wonderful afternoon tea— although it might irremediably alter your cholesterol level. If traveling with a tyke, you have a good excuse for taking a ride on the vintage carousel behind the North Fork Bank.
Among my favorite restaurants for dinner is the small and romantic Salamander Café (Manhanset Ave.; 516/477-8839; dinner for two $50; no credit cards). I had the smoked-pepper mackerel with herb-scallion mayonnaise as a warm-up, then moved on to flounder sautéed with champagne, shallots, and herbs. The French food at Aldo's (103 105 Front St.; 516/477-1699; dinner for two $65) is also delicious— although on a busy night you might have to wait a long time to be served. The coffee, as good as anything you've tasted, is roasted across the street in Aldo's Too, a gorgeous café painted with a mural of a Roman demigoddess. Take home a pound of coffee, as well as some chocolate-dipped biscotti or buttery scones if you're feeling wicked.
In the morning, head out to Orient and meander around the Oysterponds Historical Society museum complex (516/323-2480). The buildings date to the 18th century, and collections include maritime paintings, Native American artifacts, and Civil War memorabilia, as well as antique quilts, clothing, and sepia-toned photos of local families from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
If you're heading west to go home (New Englanders can take a car ferry from Orient Point to New London, Connecticut), drive through East Marion and stop at Sep's farm stand, where, in addition to local produce, there are greenhouses packed with mums. Also worth a detour is Horton Point Lighthouse and Nautical Museum, in Southold (Lighthouse Rd.; 516/ 765-5500). Built in 1857, the tiny lighthouse stands on a 65-foot-high bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. The museum's small collection includes ships' logs, sea chests, scrimshaw, and tools used by the farmer-mariners of Southold.
My favorite North Fork beach is Goldsmith's Inlet (at the north end of Peconic Lane, off Sound Avenue). Here, marsh meets beach in a rush of tide that fills and empties a pond teeming with wildlife. You can walk out to the end of the jetty to try to see Connecticut across the Sound. If you arrive at ebb tide, cross the inlet and picnic on the far side, where you'll see fly fishermen tossing their lines.
It won't be easy to drag yourself back to the city when the sun is setting over the vineyards and the scent of burning logs permeates the evening air. You might appease yourself with a stop at Briermere Farm (4414 Sound Ave.; 516/722-3931), in Riverhead, to stock up on blissful pies and turnovers. The blueberry-peach cream pie is the best. Have a piece as soon as you get home; for just a second, you'll recapture the flavor of the North Fork.
WHERE TO STAY
Corner House Inn 32660 Rte. 48, Peconic; 516/765-1884; doubles $75$95; no credit cards. Walk to the Lenz winery from this restored Victorian with handmade quilts and claw-foot tubs.
Home Port B&B Peconic Lane, Peconic; 516/765-1435; doubles $75$85; no credit cards. A farmhouse with soaring ceilings, resident Jack Russell terriers, and rooms that would make Laura Ashley feel at home.
The Tern Inn 51680 Main Rd., Southold; 516/765-1392; doubles $65$100; no credit cards. Three small, bright guest rooms in a recently restored Victorian.
Bartlett House B&B 503 Front St., Greenport; 516/477-0371; $80$105. An ample Victorian with a welcoming porch and a columned dining area. Easy walk to restaurants and a bay beach.
Fordham House 817 Main St., Greenport; 516/477-8419; doubles $75$105. A Victorian grande dame recently refurbished in florals. Also an easy walk to downtown.
SHELTER ISLAND SOJOURN
by Kimberly Robinson
Tucked between the North and South Forks of Long Island, Shelter Island is a remote sanctuary for endangered seabirds, rare plants, and world-weary humans. There is little here to compete with the island's natural beauty: just some discreet summer houses, a tiny commercial street, a few crafts studios, and the occasional honor-system farm stand. The island has neither the frantic social scene of the Hamptons nor the busy tourist trade of Greenport. That said, trendiness is beginning to creep in: the guest list at André Balazs's recently opened Sunset Beach Motel is laced with celebrities.
But there is still quiet to be had.
The best way to find it is to pedal. Rent a bike at Piccozzi's Bike Shop (Bridge Rd.; 516/749-0045) and head east out of town, down a long, thin spit of land toward Ram Island. The beach, blanketed in smooth, fist-size rocks, is home to a community of ospreys, whose large, messy twig nests sit on platforms. If you continue to the very end of Ram Island, you'll happen upon a piping plover nesting ground covered with sea grass, shells, and erosion fencing, which helps protect the sand dunes.
Bike back to the main part of Shelter Island, and refuel at the Chequit Inn's patio restaurant with an excellent bowl of clam chowder and a mozzarella-and-roasted-red-pepper sandwich (23 Grand Ave.; 516/749-0018; lunch for two $25). Spend an hour poking through Bliss' Department Store (186 N. Ferry Rd.; 516/749-0041), which will transport you back to the forties, when department stores carried everything: shower curtains, model rocket engines, penny candy, picnic tablecloths, and Keds for the whole family.
Plan on taking a whole day to see the Mashomack Preserve (79 S. Ferry Rd.; 516/749-1001), a 2,100-acre Nature Conservancy property that covers one third of the island. Hiking trails are available for all levels of stamina, the least strenuous of which is the 11/2-mile Red Trail loop. Step into the bird-watching pagoda, and you might spot mute swans or snowy egrets— or at least a South Ferry crossing. Intrepid hikers should take the 11-mile Blue Trail: on a clear day you can see Connecticut and Rhode Island; on a hazy one, both the North and South Forks. You'll be accompanied by a symphony of birdsong.
Back at the information center, the interactive-learning exhibition helps bird lovers identify breeds by their calls; there's also a display of gemlike eggshells. Nature Conservancy employees can be overheard saying things like "I work on my life list every vacation; I'm up to four hundred birds."
WHERE TO STAY
The best inns on Shelter Island are splendidly located, with the steep room rates to prove it. Bed-and-breakfasts can be reasonably priced, but the term is bandied about loosely here, and mornings might find you jockeying for position in the toaster line. Consider yourself warned.
Best Value House on Chase Creek 3 Locust Ave., Shelter Island Heights; 516/749-4379; doubles $75$125. Three small but immaculate guest rooms, done up with antiques and yellow-pine floors, with views of a sleepy creek across the street or the oak trees in the back yard. Breakfast is served in the glassed-in sunporch, tinted pink by the bright red leaves of the adjacent Japanese maple. The creekside hammock or the Adirondack chairs are perfect for an afternoon nap.
Ram's Head Inn Ram Island Dr., Ram Island; 516/749-0811; doubles $95 $150. The island classic. The 17 bedrooms on the top two floors of this large, shingled Colonial are decorated in wicker and white. Guests have access to an 800-foot strip of private beach, a tennis court, a two-person kayak, a Sunfish, and a paddleboat. The inn's restaurant has the best food on the island. Hope you like weddings, though; in summer, there's one at the inn almost every weekend.
Sunset Beach Motel 35 Shore Rd., Shelter Island; 516/749-2001; open mid-May through September; doubles $115$220.
WHERE TO EAT
Ram's Head Inn Ram Island Dr.; 516/749-0811; dinner for two $85. Dinner on the porch of the Ram's Head is the stuff of legend. Listen to the leaves rustle as you sit under a striped awning. Oenophiles will thrill over the extensive wine list, which devotes an entire page to Long Island vintages. The menu changes seasonally, but the daily seafood special— perhaps grilled mussels and calamari on a bed of arugula— is always the hot item. Old standbys like fillet of beef and herb-crusted chicken live up to their reputation thanks to the freshness of the local produce (you've never had green beans this good). Order the plate of homemade cookies if you dine early enough— they are great and sell out fast.
Sunset Beach Restaurant 35 Shore Rd.; 516/749-2001; lunch for two $45. It didn't take long for this restaurant, across the street from Crescent Beach, to establish itself as the happening weekend nightspot. A vibrant color scheme and loud Caribbean music lend a tropical feel; twentysomethings in jeans and wooden beads seem just as comfortable as the entertainment honcho barking into his cell phone. The kitchen turns out simple, perfectly executed dishes: herb-crusted salmon on a bed of Vidalia onions, char-grilled-chicken sandwiches, and mesclun salad lightly dressed in lemony vinaigrette. The staff is young, friendly, and hip, but you have to wonder if they weren't hot last summer in those Lycra pants.
Michael Anthony's Dering Harbor Inn 13 Winthrop Rd.; 516/749-3460; dinner for two $80. Walk through the massive carved-wood, Tiki-style door and you may think you stumbled into a Kojak episode. The interior is pure sixties: a rough-hewn rock fireplace is the centerpiece of the dining room, and a lumpy steel chandelier hangs ominously from the cathedral ceiling. Better to sit on the patio overlooking the boats moored in Dering Harbor, if the weather permits. The menu is ambitious and the presentation artistic, but the service can be extraordinarily slow. The appetizer of fried artichokes with a mint-and-lemon dipping sauce was delicious, light and greaseless. Steamed mussels and clams were served with a savory hot-pepper-and-tomato concassée. To amuse yourself while waiting for your entrée, picture a blade-wielding ninja leaping over the second-story rice-paper balcony. Keep cool, though: when the chicken roulade with porcini mushrooms finally arrives, it will taste as good as it looks.
A new ferry service from Manhattan to the North Fork offers a more pleasurable commute than a long drive or train ride. The passenger-only New York Fast Ferry departs once a day on Fridays and Saturdays from the 34th Street pier on the East River, arriving in Greenport three and a half hours later (800/693-6933 or 718/815-6942; $48 round-trip). To get to Shelter Island from Greenport, take the seven-minute ride on the North Ferry (516/749-0139).
If the prospect of seeing Jackson Pollock's South Fork studio doesn't awe you, the ritual-like entrance to his workroom will: visitors are asked to remove their shoes and don foam conservation slippers in order to keep the main attraction, the artist's paint-splattered floor, pristine. Pollock's two-room studio building was moved to its present location in 1947, and he worked there until his death, in 1956. The large workroom is a chapel to Pollock and the process of artistic creation: a white-walled cube with one large, multi-paned window that illuminates the space as a rose window does the apse of a church. The walls are covered with photos, explanations of the artist's pouring techniques, and quotes from Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, an unsung heroine of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Pollock's notorious exploits and tragic death by car crash are clinically described in frank, non-judgmental prose. (The 1949 Life magazine article that made him a household name asks poignantly, "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?") In the storage room, some of Pollock's powdered pigments from his years at the WPA studio are still on shelves, as is the human skull he stole from the Art Students League prop closet.
Next door is the unassuming 1879 shingled house where Pollock and Krasner lived. The interior is simple, with cool white walls, but the house has a 2,500-volume research library of periodicals and exhibition catalogues and an archive of more than 200 tape-recorded interviews with and about members of the New York School.
Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center 830 Fireplace Rd., East Hampton; 516/ 324-4929; tours available ThursdaySaturday from May through October, by appointment only. — K.R.
Standing at the top of the hill at Old Westbury Gardens, it's difficult to believe that all the splendor below was once just cornfields. Financier John S. Phipps hired London designer George Abraham Crawley in 1906 to create a house and a view. Crawley didn't disappoint: dramatic gardens surround the Charles IIstyle mansion. On the east side there's a Temple of Love folly; on the west, a traditional English boxwood garden containing a fountain and temple ruins. In back are an embarrassingly profuse rose bower and a walled garden that is impeccably kept, despite the fat little rabbits you might spot among the foxgloves and pansies.
Contemplate a koan in the Japanese garden, listen to the murmuring hemlock leaves on the spooky Ghost Walk, or, if you're there in early June, stroll down the lilac path, heady with perfume. Children will love the Alice in Wonderland proportions of the tiny playhouses dwarfed by hollyhocks that Phipps built for his children. Pack a picnic and stay for pops concerts in summer. Or order a sandwich— perhaps a Three Little Pigs (BLT) or an Ugly Step Sisters (roast beef and turkey)— at the Café in the Woods, and enjoy the shade of the looming hardwoods.
71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury; 516/333-0048; open daily except Tuesday from May through October, and FridaySunday until November 23.
Even on the snowiest day in February, when Old Westbury is shut tight for winter, Planting Fields Arboretum is in full bloom, and the nation's largest collection of camellias is at its peak. Formerly the estate of millionaire William Robertson Coe, this 400-acre historical park was designed by the Olmsted brothers. Surrounding the 1918 Tudor Revival stone manor house is a bird sanctuary and the arboretum's prize collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, with more than 600 hybrids and varieties. Lectures, landscaping classes, and garden tours are available to keep garden lovers of all levels up to speed. Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay; 516/922-9201.