If the Hamptons, in Eastern Long Island, is a glamorous seaside destination for the see-and-be-seen set, the North Fork, the 30-mile peninsula that parallels it, is its laid-back understated sibling.
Understated does not mean undynamic, however. Though the area has for decades been home to dozens of wineries as well as quaint homes for local residents and New Yorkers looking for a quiet escape about 80 miles east of the city, a spate of new hotels, restaurants and wineries has upped the ante.
Greenport, a former 17th-century whaling village toward the end of the peninsula, is the main draw. The cool crowd has taken to staying at The Menhaden, a new 16-room hotel that seamlessly blends colonial and contemporary aesthetics in the center of town. On the ground floor, there’s a general store selling pastries and coffee, and an outpost of Demarchelier, the famous French bistro that first opened in Manhattan in 1978. Led by siblings Emily and Benjamin Demarchelier, the restaurant serves traditional fare such as steak tartare, duck à l'orange and moules marinière. Come sunset, preferably cocktail in hand, The Menhaden’s rooftop is a fine choice, as it boasts a bar, lounge chairs and firepits overlooking the harbor.
From there, take it to the Low Tide Beach Bar, which opened this summer and is a collaboration with the East Village bar Death & Co, an establishment that has won Best American Cocktail Bar honors at Tales of the Cocktail. Lit by tiki torches, this new after-dark hangout offers Adirondack chairs for relaxing and a creative cocktail menu.
As for dining, it would be remiss not to mention Porto Bello, a decades-old institution in the marina that serves up seasonal Italian dishes, with the burrata salad and local tuna crudo with pineapple being house favorites.
A 15-minute drive west, the town of Southold is seeing an uptick as well. Visitors can hang their hat at South Harbor Inn, a 19th-century farmhouse turned chic four-room hotel. Married couple Alex Azcona and Dan Devito own and run the property and decorated it themselves with cozy contemporary furniture, elegant fabrics and bright art. Breakfast is a can’t miss to-do here: Azcona prepares the three-course spread himself, serving freshly baked pastries such as moist blueberry muffins, homemade granola and hearty entrées like Italian frittatas. Guests can stroll 15 minutes to the water and spend the day on the sand where Azcona and Devito set up beach chairs, tables and umbrellas.
The excitement in Southold this summer is around the reopening of the renowned North Fork Table and Inn. Renovated using reclaimed wood and tarnished metal, the restaurant is now run by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, who has created a vegetable-heavy menu that emphasizes local seafood, meat and dairy. Think grilled potatoes grown in the surrounding farm fields and served with fresh cream and caviar, fluke crudo with carrot broth and wildflower noodles with chanterelles, nettles and squash pine nut pesto.
Riverhead, another 20 minutes west, is a slow pace North Fork destination with a warm, family-friendly charm. The Preston House & Hotel is the newest place to stay here, but it's already courted a following with its large rooms and urban feel crafted with cement flooring and hallways lined with graffiti art. Guest or not, a meal at the three-level American restaurant, situated in a separate house next to the main building, is a must. Brunch means dishes like smoked salmon with potato latkes while the dinner menu includes entrees infused with international touches such as striped bass with saffron gnocchi and smoked chilis.
With more than 60 wineries, vineyard hopping has become a quintessential North Fork pastime. Whether you’re a teetotaler or oenophile, they offer plenty of diversions. Mattabella, for example, is a garden lover’s dream with its 200 rose bushes, endless hydrangeas and flowering trees. There’s a bocce court, too, and a tasting room in an early 20th-century barn where the staff proffers pours of the white, red and rosé varietals.
Then there’s Croteaux, a winery that takes a page from Provence with the French country gardens laden with lilacs and an 18th-century post and beam barn. Rosés are the name of the game here: there are nine in all—three sparkling, the rest still. Croteaux’s food is worth noting as well. The baskets full of house-made baguettes, artichoke tapenade, local goat cheese and other bites are a hit, as are the lobster rolls garnished with chives.
Visitors can order a nosh, with or without rosé, and take a seat in one of the lounging chairs set around a weeping cherry tree. Stay an hour or linger for a few. You’re in the North Fork—it’s okay to slow down.