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.