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Eating and exploring in Bellport

View from the porch of Porters on the

Ours is an island of contrasts—baronial mansions and tract housing, luxury boutiques and big-box stores—and much of its distinctive flavor comes from how these contradictions exist cheek by jowl. And then there is Bellport, a picture-perfect village with literally one stoplight. In this former fishing and whaling community, you’ll find a gazebo and bandshell out of "The Music Man" and a dry cleaner who does the tailoring himself. Even the most elegant historic houses have a restrained modesty, and the smaller homes skew more Cabot Cove than Levittown.

For food lovers, Bellport and its immediate neighbor to the east, Brookhaven hamlet, offer a wealth of fine dining, road-side eats and kitchen provisioning from markets and farms. We’ll start our tour in the center of Bellport with The Bellport Restaurant, going strong since 1990 when Taylor Alonso and his wife, Patricia Trainor, moved to the village and gave it a jolt. Alonso ran the kitchen and Trainor, a former fashion publicist who died in 2017, presided over the dining room. Her influence can be seen in the restaurant’s whimsical yet refined interior—exuberant oral paintings mixing it up with Irving Penn prints. "She had unbelievable taste," Alonso recalled. "People used to come in just to see what she was wearing."

Raised in Washington, D.C., Alonso had worked in restaurants from a young age but took a detour when he came to New York City and started building clubs and high-end homes. Then Trainor had the idea that they should move to the U.K. and embark on a year-long professional culinary course at L’Ecole de Cuisine Française S. de Mirbeck in Sussex, England. When they returned, they moved to Long Island and, acting on a tip from a friend, bought the Bellport restaurant B.K. & The Bar, and settled in.

Alonso doesn’t like to define his eclectic style, which draws from a lifetime of travel and experimentation. The menu, now overseen by executive chef David Green, includes warm spinach salad with toasted sunflower seeds and balsamic-bacon dressing, house-cured gravlax with a dill-Dijon schmear on house-made olive bread, pecorino-crusted codfish with haricots verts and zucchini cream, and buttermilk-fried chicken with mushroom fricassee and braised greens, along with outliers such as chicken tikka masala with basmati rice pilaf, spiced fruit chutney and cucumber raita.

The Bellport is one of the village’s three major fine-dining destinations. A block west of the traffic light is Avino’s Italian Table (est. 2008), with a menu that blends Italian standards—baked clams, Caesar salad, linguine and clams, pappardelle Bolognese—with modern classics—crab cakes with corn relish and sherry vinaigrette, rare tuna with Asian greens and crispy noodles. And the best people-watching in town is undoubtedly from the porch of Porters on the Lane, also opened in 2008 and serving straight-ahead New American—burgers and sliders and lobster rolls, steaks and chops—as well as a "tid bit skillet" of marinated let mignon tips with Gorgonzola cream.

Across the street (and under the same ownership) is Carla Marla’s Ice Cream Parlor, which looks like it belongs on a movie set (and indeed played a Hamptons ice cream shop in a 2012 episode of "Royal Pains").

If you happen to be in Bellport for breakfast, stop at Peter’s on the Green, the country club outpost of Patchogue’s beloved Peter’s Luncheonette, where you’ll get a view of the magnificent course at the Bellport Golf Club along with your eggs. For lunch, the biggest culinary surprise in town is Café Castello, thanks to Naples-born chef-owner Nick Gagliardi. You won’t find better eggplant Parmesan on the Island: Gagliardi dips thin slices of eggplant in egg and our before lightly frying them, piling them up, then topping them with a bright tomato sauce and blanket of mozzarella. If cavatelli contadina, with sausage and broccoli rabe, is on the menu, you’ll want that, too. While you wait for your order, browse the imported grocery items, among them Frantoia extra-virgin olive oil, Stappi soda, Gia anchovy paste in a tube, Mutti tomato passata. There are a few tables on the street and a capacious hidden patio out back.

You might well miss the food at Copper Beech, tucked away at the back of one of Long Island’s most stylish home furnishings shops. Designer-decorator Thomas O’Brien and his partner Dan Fink not only have an unerring eye for linens, tableware, kitchenware and lighting, but also a refined and global palate. Groceries from around the world—bomba rice (and the paella pan to cook it in), Pianogrillo olive oil, Pommery mustard in a stoneware pot.

Back in the day, the store was home to Wallen’s IGA, and the takeout counter is located where the old deli was. But instead of luncheon meat and coleslaw, it now showcases the handiwork of chef Stacey Schulz McDevitt: quiches and frittatas, quarts of roasted pork posole and microwavable trays of corn tamale pie. More than any local menus, McDevit’s takeout options are inspired by and created around the produce from local farms.

A few doors down from Copper Beech is The Storefront, with a small selection of clothing, accessories and soaps downstairs, books upstairs and a main floor given over to art exhibitions. Across the street is Bellport General, with its minimalist eclecticism (and freshly pulled La Colombe espresso) and Thos. Cornell Galleries, which, according to its owner, is the largest auction house on Long Island with regular auctions. Around the corner is Marquee Projects gallery, which brings a little Chelsea to the South Shore.

It’s only five blocks from "downtown" to the Bellport Marina (a.k.a. "the dock"), where boats bob in Bellport Bay and village residents embark, on the town ferry, to their own private slice of Fire Island, Ho-Hum Beach. There’s a playground right on the water and plenty of tables for a picnic lunch from Copper Beech. Last summer, the bandshell stood dormant, but the 2021 season began July 2 and will continue every Friday night until Labor Day. Another series of live performances resumes this summer at The Gateway theater.

A group of women enjoy an afternoon picnic
Children play in a playground at the Bellport
Bellport Marina (a.k.a. "the dock"), where boats bob
Left: A group of women enjoy an afternoon picnic at the Bellport Marina. Top: Children play at the playground at the Bellport Marina. Bottom: Boats bob in Bellport Bay at the Bellport Marina. Photo credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Heading away from the water, Bellport Lane turns into Station Road at the traffic light. A few yards north of the intersection you’ll find Bellport Brewing Co., a shipshape new brewery owned by Brian Baker. Among the 10 taps are IPAs, a wheat beer flavored with peaches, an espresso stout and a nitro red ale, plus spirits and cocktails. In addition, there are giant pretzels, a resident food truck and takeout from most of the village restaurants.

Looking for a wider selection of beer? A mile up the road, in the less rarified environs of Montauk Highway, sits Bellport Cold Beer & Soda. The scruffy exterior portends your average off-the-beaten-path beverage mart but cross the threshold and be prepared to be awed. Since he took over the location in 1997, Dave Schultzer has turned it into one of Long Island’s greatest beer destinations.

Soon after he bought the business, Schultzer had T-shirts printed for the staff that promised 150 beers and, he said, "all of them were listed." Back then, the emphasis was imports, now it’s American craft beers. He is dedicated to showcasing local beers including such newcomers as Ubergeek (Riverhead) and Ghost (Bay Shore). The latest shirt says, "We have over 1000 varieties of beer & 20 beers on tap. Which ones can I help you with today?"

Help from Schultzer or his knowledgeable staff is recommended to navigate the selection but it’s also true that, as Schultzer said, "We’ve done our job if you can’t decide what to buy."

Hang a right on Montauk Highway and a mile down the road you can’t miss the huge Varney’s sign. In capital letters bigger than the restaurant’s name, it proclaims "lobster rolls" and is accompanied by a dapper lobster wearing a top hat and cutaway coat and sporting an exuberant moustache.

Will Varney and his wife, Randi, opened the place in 1981 and "junior" partner Bill Lengyel came aboard in 1983, but it wasn’t until 2018 that they added lobster rolls.

Varney’s son Jay designed and painted the sign; Lengyel, the chef, serves two simple versions: a cold one in which lobster meat is dressed with mayonnaise, and a hot one that swaps out the mayo for butter. Both are served in top-split brioche rolls with the sides shaved off, so the bread can be more lavishly griddled in butter. Regulars who have had their fill of lobster rolls might order the equally beloved duck, which Lengyel, whose ringtone is a quack, slowly roasts to render all the fat, then crisps up under the broiler.

Varney and Lengyel grew up in nearby East Patchogue and hung out at Varney’s predecessor, Junior’s, which was sneak-out distance from their high school. Soon after they took over, they stopped selling breakfast (they still shudder at the memory of the lady who wanted her eggs "over scrumptious") and raised the old lunch counter so it functions as a bar. Other than that, the little structure retains its ramshackle, mid-century roadside charm.

Varney’s address is in Brookhaven, but it’s not the Town of Brookhaven, which, extending from Long Island Sound in the north to the Great South Bay in the south, is the largest in the state at 531 square miles. This is the hamlet of Brookhaven, a mere 5.9 square miles. Aside from Varney’s, the only dine-in spot is Painters’ Restaurant, a rollicking place with equally high-spirited fare ranging from the classic (such as marinated skirt steak and iron-skillet roasted chicken) to the extravagant (mango- avocado-pecan-goat-cheese salad, grilled cheese with Buffalo chicken). So-called "genius burgers" bear the names of artists such as Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keeffe and, of course, Francis Bacon.

What the hamlet does have in abundance is farms. The oldest, 49-acre Deer Run Farms, has been worked by the Nolan family since 1953. Their farm stand, open Wednesday to Sunday in season, supplements their own produce with dairy, specialty items and homemade pies. A minute down the road is Early Girl; its farmer, Patty Gentry, a former professional chef, cultivated a few acres in East Moriches before she was drafted by Isabella Rosselini (yes, that Isabella Rosellini) to work the much bigger plot the actress purchased to preserve as farmland. There’s no farm stand; all produce is destined for restaurants or the farm’s CSA.

Diners of a certain stripe already know about H.O.G. Farm. The initials stand for "Hamlet Organic Garden" and its produce graces the menus of some of Suffolk’s finest restaurants (Verde Kitchen & Cocktails and Bakuto on the South Shore, Orto and The Trattoria on the North). Starting in May, the farm stand opened to the public on Saturday mornings and, once the season got underway, extended its hours to Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons as well.

Because restaurants are such important customers, H.O.G. cultivates a high percentage of niche crops such as pea greens, Japanese turnips, nettles, bronze fennel, dozens of head lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. Head farmer Sean Pilger finds it diffcult to rein himself in. "In the winter we geek out on seed catalogs," he said. "We order the green beans and also purple beans and yellow beans. We might plant 12 varieties of cucumbers because they looked so tantalizing, and we usually discover that there are really four that customers are drawn to."

Pilger grew up in Brookhaven hamlet, studied agriculture at Cornell and embarked on an itinerant farming career before moving back in 2006 and joining H.O.G. His commitment to local food doesn’t stop at vegetables. At the farm stand you’ll also find heritage pork from Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton, pizza dough from local bakery KC Wild Bread.

Heed this advice for a visit to H.O.G. farm or any foray into Bellport-Brookhaven: Bring a cooler and shopping bags. You’ll be leaving this corner of the Island with plenty of produce, leftovers and memories—or at least enough of them to tide you over until your next visit.

More information

EATING & DRINKING

AVINO’S ITALIAN TABLE: 108 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-803-6416, avinositaliantable.com

BELLPORT BREWING CO.: 14 Station Rd., Bellport; 631-909-4457, bellportbrewing.com

THE BELLPORT RESTAURANT: 159 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-286-7550, thebellportrestaurant.com

CAFE CASTELLO: 141 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-803-8370, bellport.com/cafecastello

CARLA MARLA’S ICE CREAM PARLOR: 8 Bellport Lane, Bellport; 631-803-6630

PAINTERS’ RESTAURANT: 416 S. Country Rd., Brookhaven; 631-803-8593, paintersrestaurant.com

PETER’S ON THE GREEN: 40A S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-803-8440, petersonthegreen.com

PORTERS ON THE LANE: 19 Bellport Lane, Bellport; 631-803-6067, portersonthelane.com

VARNEY’S: 2109 Montauk Hwy., Brookhaven; 631-286-9569, varneysrestaurant.com

BEING THERE

BELLPORT COLD BEER & SODA: 417 Station Rd., Bellport; 631-286-0760, bellportbeer.com

BELLPORT GENERAL: 138 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-803-8121

COPPER BEECH: 133 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-286-0202, copperbeechbythesea.com

DEER RUN FARMS: 282 S. Country Rd., Brookhaven; 631-707-2195

THE GATEWAY PERFORMINGARTS CENTER OF SUFFOLK COUNTY 215 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-286-1133, thegateway.org

H.O.G. FARM: 319 Beaver Dam Rd., Brookhaven; thehogfarm.org

MARQUEE PROJECTS GALLERY:14 Bellport Lane, Bellport; 631-803-2511, marqueeprojects.org

THE STOREFRONT: 139 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-803-2190, thestorefrontbellport.com

THOS. CORNELL GALLERIES: 152 S. Country Rd., Bellport; 631-289-9505, thoscornellauctions.com

VILLAGE OF BELLPORT: bellportvillageny.gov

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