New Vacation Spot: North Fork of Long Island

Two years ago, some dear friends moved to Long Island for a job. It’s not often you meet people you really connect with as an entire family—not just getting along with, but actually deeply connecting with, including the children. We even camped together, in the rain! Dinners at each other’s homes, lots of time at the playground, lots of work-time together at cafes for the two of us who worked from home….and then bam, gone.

Where they live now is a long drive to visit; it’s also long to travel to if we took the ferry to their part of New York. There just seemed to be no quick and easy way to get together….until now.

This summer, we’ll meet up on the North Fork of Long Island, about three hours’ travel for each of our families. The North Fork: as in, that easternmost, northernmost point of Long Island? Formerly potato farms? What is there to do there, you ask?

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I’ll tell you: there’s a family farm where we could easily spend most of a day, beaches, great restaurants, wineries, and small towns. You’ll find beautiful countryside, friendly people, great local food, very good wine. Vineyards and farms and small shops and good restaurants and small inns and B&Bs. It’s a rural place with tiny towns where everyone knows each other. It’s beautiful there. It is wine country. And it’s family-friendly.

Plus, it’s a mere three hours or less from Boston. That’s well within the range of summer travel. I mean, we normally head three hours’ north, to the White Mountains, without batting an eye. I had no idea Long Island was so close. IMG_0461

As some of you might know from my recent social media feed, I was lucky enough to travel to the North Fork of Long Island just over a week ago, along with several other local bloggers and writers.

Getting There

We drove two hours to New London, Connecticut, and rode the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point, New York. Cross Sound Ferry was the mastermind behind the trip as well as the chief sponsor. The fast ferry gets you to New York in a mere 40 minutes; the slower ferry ride is 80 minutes long. You can take your car on the ferry, which is a good idea, since public transportation in the North Fork is pretty minimal. (You can use bicycles to get around, or sign on with the very helpful and kind drivers of Vintage Tours, who drove us around during our trip, but a car would be really handy.)

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The ferry was quick, comfortable, and smooth. They have a fully stocked snack bar and a TV room (if you’re so inclined). Upon landing, we were taken to The Loft Restaurant for a very good lunch (and great service—one thing that really stood out was how friendly and helpful everyone was, all the local business owners). We were then whisked away to our first vineyard tour.

Wineries…and Food, and Locally Crafted Beer

Long Island is home to some fine wine country, it turns out. It’s the soil! The North Fork used to be home to potato farms, but as that grew less and less lucrative, people planted vineyards (the oldest one in the area was planted 41 years ago).

We first went to Bedell Cellars Winery. Quiz time! What was the first New York wine ever served at a U.S. Presidential Inauguration? Bedell Merlot!

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We did not taste that, but we did tour the vineyard and then, while Richard Olsen-Habic, their winemaker, told us about the winery and their sustainable winemaking methods. We got to taste several of their wines, including Voignier (which I’d never had before….floral and herbal, not quite my thing) and their Cabernet Franc (something else I’d never had before, and hello, may I taste just a little more, please? Or take some home with me?).

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We also were lucky enough to taste the Musée, which at $90 is not something I’m likely to be sipping again soon, but wow was that good. They use French oak barrels, many used but some new, and the owner explained how the different barrels of different ages affect the taste of the wine. [Sorry, what were you saying? May I have just a little more of that Musée?] The farm is sustainably managed. Bedell is an artful, lovely place, with sculptures on the grounds and lovely art within.

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That evening we went to a reception at Kontokosta Winery in Greenport. The building is gorgeous: all black and white and modern, and green. As in, LEED Gold-certified, made of recycled materials, and—thanks to the onsite windmill—the winery is off the grid for 9 months of the year. The building overlooks a meadow that ends at the ocean. We watched deer frolicking at the edge of the meadow, by the trees, as we ate and mingled.

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Ate! Yes. A local restaurant called Noah’s catered the reception. I will be going to Noah’s when I return to the North Fork. The hummus was a kicked-up with chili flakes, the crab cakes and duck sliders were incredible, filet mignon on brioche very tender, and the maple-bacon almonds? We practically fought over them. Unbelieveably good.IMG_0343

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company was there, too, with several growlers. My favorite was a double IPA, Hopnami (but I had to limit myself to a few sips—strong stuff on an empty stomach, you know?). I talked to one of the owners at length about his brewery and about running. He’s not a runner, but I was interested in the local running scene. The brewery has a second location opening up about 6 miles from their main location (currently in the firehouse in Greenport). Are you thinking what I’m thinking? A 10K? I reminded him that runners generally love beer and, if he’d get the race organized, I’d bring a pile of runners down from the Boston area. Let’s hope this works out!

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The owner of Kontokoska Winery, Michael Kontokoska, told us the history of his winery and explained the construction of the building. He’s a kindly giant of a man, smart and thoughtful. Then he invited us downstairs into the cellar to see the workings of the winery. Yes, please!

He led a small group of us downstairs for a tour. His assistant soon began clambering about on top of casks, with a thief, pulling out wine for us to taste. Heaven. And educational. For example, the new Cabernet Franc, still in steel, was bright, slightly fizzy, whereas the Cabernet Franc that had been aged in oak for a year was much softer, richer, and smoother. (I don’t speak wine, by the way, in case that’s not obvious.)

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When we reluctantly, finally, left Kontokoska and returned to town, our B&B owner, Donna, was hosting a bit of an afterparty at our B&B.Then we headed next door to Greenport Brewing Company, situated in the former fire station (which is next to the cute little building labeled “JAIL,” like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon). The brewing takes place downstairs; upstairs is a fun place to hang out and try the brews. The owners poured us half-pints of whatever we wanted to try, and we admired the ship drawings on the wall. It seemed like the whole town was hanging out there at one point!

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Accommodations

We were such a large group that various innkeepers offered us rooms, so we were at different B&Bs and inns in the area. Some are more family-friendly than others. With a few other friends (Leah of Leah’s Life: Pearls and Oysters and Christy from QuirkyFusion), I stayed at Ruby’s Cove B&B, a Victorian in the heart of Greenport. The inside, downstairs, was deep-red and felt what I’d call “old Parisian”; the chatty, sociable owner, Donna, quickly put on some Edith Piaf and offered us wine (we declined, as we were between wine tastings and had been up since the crack of dawn and had plenty of day ahead of us still). It’s a lovely place, with three guest bedrooms upstairs, two with their own bathrooms and one which has a private bathroom across the hall.

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The wide wrap-around porch is perfect for lounging (when it’s not cold and rainy out, as it was when we were there), and there are plenty of cozy spots to lounge inside, too. Donna also has a barn full of bikes her guests can use for free, but we didn’t get a chance to use these (or even check them out) during our short stay.

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Ruby’s Cove would be a great place for a getaway weekend with friends. It would not be a great place to bring a family, but there are several motels and rentable condos in the area that families can stay in (and that we’d stay in when we return with our kids and our friends). Of course, at a motel we wouldn’t get the amazing breakfast that Donna made the next morning (chicken asiago sausages handmade by a butcher an hour away, then a divine chiles relleno egg bake, followed by a large platter of French toast swimming in maple syrup and piled with fresh fruit and whipped cream). She managed to have it out for us by 8:30, but she normally doesn’t serve breakfast until 10 a.m.

Family-Friendly Attractions

We spend a morning Harbes Family Farm, which is where I knew for sure I’d be returning to the North Fork with friends and family. Harbes, a former potato farm, now grows a variety of crops, plus they have a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, an apple orchard, multiple corn mazes (ranging from easy to tricky), and an entire family area: huge sandboxes to dig in, a tractor to climb on, chicks, goats, lambs, a slide that goes through a hillside (!!), a “Secret Garden” hedge maze, a spiderweb to climb on, a bunny, and pig races. You heard me. Pig races! You can have your own races, too, pedaling small tractors around a track.

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Harbes also has cider donuts (not just in the fall—cider donuts in May!), kettle corn, flowers, and a farm stand where they sell their produce. It’s family-run, and it’s great for families. And in keeping with the North Fork theme, they have an onsite winery, too…and on the barn walls, you can see old potato harvest counts written on the walls from the 1920s and 1930s. I felt so at home there, I was sad to leave the farm.IMG_0447

In Greenport itself there’s an old wooden carousel, made in 1920 or so. We got to ride it!

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Obviously, when we return to the North Fork, we’ll be spending most of our time at Harbes, plus riding the carousel and puttering around on the beaches (which we didn’t see on this trip). But it would also be a great getaway for an adults-only trip, visiting the vineyards, tasting the region’s wines, checking out the shops (and the lavender farm), and staying in one of the B&Bs more geared toward adults.

Interested in checking it out? You can use Long Island Weekends to help you plan your trip!

 

All opinions are my own. I was taken on this trip by Cross Sound Ferry, and all of the Long Island businesses mentioned in this post (and others not mentioned—Love Lane Kitchen, Orient by the Sea, Vintage Tours, the former Mayor of Greenport) provided goods and services for our trip (THANK YOU!!). I can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

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