Long Island’s newest culinary destination is also its most conveniently located.
Rising in cedar-shingled splendor between exits 51 and 52 on the eastbound Long Island Expressway, the two-week-old Welcome Center has as its centerpiece a Taste NY market that features produce and products made exclusively in New York State.
No Coke or Pepsi here, but thirsty travelers can knock back a bottle of Montauk’s Sweet’tauk Lemonade, Coastal Craft Kombucha (Oceanside), Sail Away cold-brew coffee (Huntington) or Saratoga Spring water.
Richard A. Ball, commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, conceded that “some travelers may say, ‘Where’s the real soda machine?’ But the governor was adamant about only carrying New York products.”
It was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who wanted to locate the center in Dix Hills, Ball said. “He had the idea of combining tourism and agriculture in one beautiful facility, and Suffolk County was a natural — it’s one of the state’s top three agricultural counties, with family farms that predate the Revolutionary War. When you head east into Suffolk, you’re heading back into agricultural history.”
The building cost the state $20.2 million, and it shows. The exterior is outfitted with a scaled-down Montauk lighthouse and other colorful nautical motifs. At the entrance, a Long Island Walk of Fame honors (with paving stones) local luminaries such as Billy Joel, Alec Baldwin, Robert Moses, Julius Erving and Jackson Pollock. The 15,200-square-foot interior boasts a 70-foot-long terrazzo floor map of Long Island, luxe restrooms (this is a rest stop, after all), a Suffolk County Police substation, a Department of Motor Vehicles kiosk (renew your license or sign up to be an organ donor), a pet comfort station (complete with fire hydrant) and lots of interactive maps and displays to help you navigate state tourist destinations.
But the focus is on food.
Every sandwich and salad (both $7) features at least one New York-grown or produced item, be it Tumbleweed Cheddar cheese from Goshen or preserved vegetables from Katchkie farm in Kinderhook. Hot coffee is provided by Georgio’s in Farmingdale — although Long Island roasters will rotate throughout the year. There are granola bars from Copia (Calverton), yogurt from Kalypso (Queens) and Ronnybrook dairy (Pine Plains in the Hudson Valley), ice cream from Joe & Liza’s (Sag Harbor), and baked goods from Jonathan Lord (Bohemia), Hahn’s in Farmingdale and Butterscotch*s, a favorite at Long Island farmers markets.
All food is ordered and picked up at a counter, but there is a light-filled, nearly 2,000-square-foot dining room in which to eat it.
The grab-and-go options are dwarfed by the range of locally made packaged goods, and if you like to give gifts of New York State food, there’s no place in Nassau or Suffolk with a better selection: Miss Amy’s Preserves (Blue Point), Vine Street Café tomato sauce (Shelter Island), Crimson & Clove spices (Cutchogue), Sir Kensington condiments (NYC) and Divine Brine pickles (Huntington Station), to name a very few.
Fresh items include farmstead cheeses from Nettle Meadow dairy (Warrensburg) and Naturally Grass Fed beef (Fort Ann).
The food at Taste NY Market is overseen by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, whose executive director is Gregory Sandor. His second-in-command is Bernadette Martin, longtime head of LI Greenmarket, which operates weekly farmers markets in Long Beach, Nesconset, Kings Park and Great Neck. Martin has also started a farmers market inside the Welcome Center on Saturdays (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Sundays (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) through Nov. 20. When the market starts up again in June, there will also be hours on Friday nights. (For more information, go to ligreenmarket.org.)