Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Hamptons in winter, day 3

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The lighthouse at Montauk Point
(Click here to read about the second day of my winter weekend in the Hamptons)

On the third and last day of my winter weekend in the Hamptons, I woke up, said goodbye to my wonderful hosts at the Southampton Inn, got in my rented car, and drove to the end of the earth. Montauk Point, at the very eastern tip of Long Island's south fork, is surrounded by ocean on all sides. There's not much there: an understated lighthouse, a snack bar, a rocky beach strewn with seaweed.

The deserted beach at Montauk Point

In the summer, I imagine, it's a cheerful place, kids throwing rocks into the water, all ages feeling the possibility of distant lands and adventures. On a gray day in March, with rain clouds thickening above, it felt ominous and oppressive. I stood on the deserted beach and watched dark thoughts gather in my head. Why was I suddenly obsessing about undertows and boogie men during my peaceful, solitary long weekend? I didn't know, and I didn't want to stay to figure it out. Maybe three days alone is too much for a woman used to the company of a husband, the chatter of children, the community of an office. I headed west, back toward the tony town of East Hampton.

I always crave lobster rolls when I'm on the East coast - fresh lobster tossed with a little mayo, on a buttered, grilled, split-top hot dog bun. In summer there are some fine lobster rolls to be had in and around the Hamptons. In March, not so much.


Two famous seafood shacks along Highway 27, shut up tight until summer
I'd gotten some very thorough food advice from a friend who lives in southern California now but grew up in East Hampton. He said I wanted a breakfast sandwich from Buckets Deli ("Great when you've been dancing on the tables at The Stephen Talkhouse the night before," he noted). Alas, it's closed on weekends in the winter. I stopped instead at Villa Italian Specialties, where the cases were full of the kind of Italian food it's hard to find in southern California. House-made mozzarella. A dozen varieties of sausages. Fist-sized rice balls. Ah, for a kitchen! I ordered the Villa Combo sandwich, a pile thinly sliced Italian cold cuts on a length of Italian bread with lettuce, tomato, and roasted red peppers. A mess, but it made a great breakfast.

House-made delicacies at Villa Italian Specialties in East Hampton
I'd been instructed not to miss the donuts at Dressen's Deli. But the staff was so rude that I walked out empty-handed, despite the fabulous aroma of freshly baked donuts. I was wearing a bright red coat, people. Seemingly hard to ignore, and yet you managed.

But I didn't let it get me down. A bit farther down highway 27 I found Stuart's Seafood in Amagansett, tucked off the main road behind a couple of inconspicuous houses. Four different people told me a stop at Stuart's was a must for any food lover. Even on a chilly March Sunday, people kept coming in to buy local Peconic bay scallops or furious lobsters dragged from their cozy tanks. I got one cod cake and one lobster cake, each lightly breaded and fried. I dipped them into Stuart's homemade tartar sauce and ate them sitting on the hood of my rented car. Tasty and fresh.

Lobster and cod cakes at the unassuming Stuart's Seafood in Amagansett
After Stuart's, I turned north toward Sag Harbor, an historic whaling village on the bay that separates the North and South Forks of Long Island. Sag Harbor feels completely different from the towns on the south shore beaches. It reminds me more of the river towns along the Hudson in upstate New York, narrow and pleasantly crowded, quaint and slightly artsy.

I headed for the American Hotel, which Lee Ellis, the manager at the Southampton Inn, had described to me as "the center of the slow food movement on the east end." Built in the mid-19th century, the hotel has a winding warren of dining rooms with the kind of smooth-worn wood, painted-over door jambs and slightly shabby upholstery you just never find in the bright new construction of California. I love buildings that feel their age. I took a table in a bright, narrow garden room. It would have felt almost European, except that behind me two couples were comparing the merits of the ski schools in Gstaad and Park City. Sag Harbor may not feel like the Hamptons, but it's still one of the playgrounds of the rich.

I ordered the lobster BLT. Not that I needed another meal, really, after the Villa sandwich and the seafood cakes. But lobster...I needed more lobster. The sandwich came with a bracing salad of radicchio, endive and frisee, lightly dressed, just salty enough. Were they growing greens in some hothouse on the North Fork?, I wondered. I was about to ask, and then I realized I was tired of taking notes. The salad was good. The lobster BLT satisfied my craving. A relaxed meal in a beautiful room: the perfect way to end the weekend.

I got the lobster I'd been craving at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor

As I got into the car to drive back toward Manhattan, I felt the first raindrops of the weekend. It poured all the way back to the city, but I couldn't have cared less. March may not be beach weather, but I had exactly the weekend I needed: peaceful, relaxed, and on my own.

Thanks to the Southampton Inn, which provided me a beautiful room during my winter weekend in the Hamptons. Please visit their website - if you're headed to the east end of Long Island, it's a lovely, well located and extremely reasonable place to stay.

8 comments:

Lynne @ CookandBeMerry said...

Erika ~ Thanks for these posts about your trip. I enjoyed them very much and felt like I went right along with you. I wish I had some lobster myself, right now.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

I've always wanted to go to the Hamptons and this just makes me want to even more. I love places like this in the off season!

Zarko said...

I have to visit Hamptons one day. Thanks for sharing.

saltyseattle said...

a. i've never been and your words and pictures, even in the relative desolation of march, make me want to go
b. i am SERIOUSLY craving a lobster roll now, thanks
c. it was awesome to see you the other night.

Daniela said...

i like the new design :)

Jennifer in East Hampton said...

I grew up in and live in the Hamptons, and want to thank you for your travel journal. You reminded me that the places I take so for granted are truly unique. I hope you do come back (even in the summer it is great if you know where to go to avoid the crowds)!

Erika said...

@Jennifer - you can avoid the crowds in the summer? Do tell. :)

Jennifer in East Hampton said...

Yes! We can avoid the crowds. Basically, even in the height of the summer (late July and early August) the Hamptons is relatively empty Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I do all my shopping on those days and then on weekends, we usually spend the time with friends either at our home or theirs. We also love to pack picnic dinners and take them to the beach at 6pm or so. I find most of the restaurants overpriced and just ok, (with a few notable exceptions) so we don't go out to dinner a lot during the summer. I can go to all the best markets on my time and get all the best ingredients for a delicious meal quickly and easily. Even on the weekends, most beaches are uncrowded compared to other resorts (the Jersey Shore or Jones Beach, for instance). Plus, there are so many beaches (both bay and ocean) that if one is too crowded, we just drive to the next! It's a wonderful place both winter and summer.

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