My favorite grocery store on Long Island? The farmers market. From asparagus through pumpkins, this is where I go to get the best produce and, depending on the market, I can beef up my basket with artisanal sausage, farmstead cheese, handmade breads, locally caught fish and more.
And I don’t have to go very far. This year there are 38 weekly markets throughout Nassau and Suffolk. One is certainly near you.
On a recent Saturday, I hit one of Long Island’s longest-running, the Northport Farmers Market. Overlooking Northport Harbor, it’s certainly one of the loveliest. Dorothy Walsh, who organizes and oversees it, said that 2018 marked 11 years that vendors have set up their stalls in the parking lot of Cow Harbor park. (Market hours are 8 a.m. to noon.)
There’s an abundance of produce riches here, with three of the North Fork’s best farms sending a truck every Saturday morning. Sang Lee Farms, one of only a few certified organic growers on Long Island, recently brought a range of lettuces, pretty as bridal bouquets, as well as French radishes, garlic scapes and multicolored beets. In addition to whatever they’ve picked the day before, Wesnofske Farms also sells potted tomato plants and herbs for your own home-farming pleasure. Both Wesnofske and Wickham’s Fruit Farm were selling late-in-season asparagus and the season’s first strawberries. Summer will bring Wickham’s raspberries, peaches, nectarines and cherries, which will give way to apples and pears in fall.
Fans of Wickham’s pies and doughnuts will find them here, but Northport is also home to two great bakers. Duck Island Bread Co. and Hometown Bake Shop started out as farmers-market stands and, though both have since opened brick-and-mortar shops (Duck Island in Huntington, Hometown in Centerport), they continue to support the markets that supported them. Hit Duck Island first because the croissants sell out quickly. Then circle back because the Danish often show up an hour or two after the market opens. Hometown is your stop for over-the-top potpies such as braised short ribs topped with mashed potatoes, “bagel bombs” (spherical bagels that are stuffed with cream cheese and more) and loaf-sized biscuits loaded with fried chicken and honey tomato, pesto and mozzarella.
With so many breakfast options, give in to the temptation to eat while you shop. Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters has made the trip from Long Beach to supply you with your cup of joe. (At the other end of the beverage spectrum, Centerport’s Blind Bat Brewery sets up shop every other week to fulfill your beer needs.)
This being Long Island, the market has a certain Italian flavor, with Bambino Ravioli selling fresh pasta; Monty Breads selling lard bread, olive loaves and other Italian specialties; Arlotta Food Studio selling infused olive oils and vinegars.
One of my all-time-favorite farmers market vendors is The Big Cheese, aka Mark Cassin, an itinerant cheese monger who travels around New York State looking for great artisanal farmstead cheeses. He’s usually stationed next to Ridgewood European Pork Store, the Queens concern that specializes in the relatively unsung sausage stylings of Eastern Europe. Try the Hungarian dried sausage and, a new one on me, lamb prosciutto.
Completing the fermentation trifecta is Sir John Wincroft, an elegant British gentleman who sells cured and smoked fish, among them salmon and trout. I’ve been wondering for decades what kippered salmon is. Sir John explained to me that “kippering” is hot smoking — a brief process in which meat is exposed to smoke that is hot enough to cook it. This differs from cold smoking, a much longer process in which meat is infused with cold smoke but is not actually cooked. Most smoked salmon has been cold-smoked and cured with brine. (And speaking of brine, Horman’s Pickles of Glen Cove are Saturday regulars in Northport.)
I was glad I brought my cooler with me to take advantage of Alice’s Fish Market. The Greenport store was selling local bluefish and fluke, as well as tuna and swordfish that had been landed in Massachusetts. (Look for local tuna and swordfish in the next few weeks as the water warms up.)
Not a cook? There’s still plenty to buy: Imperial Empanadas, Beewitched Bee honey, Laurel’s Butter nut butters, Miss Amy’s Preserves, Nina’s Fresh Batch granola, The Gourmet Kid pestos, Spoonfuls Inc. puddings and, every other week, dumplings from Asian Farmer.
And if you’re busy on Saturdays, or nowhere near Northport, you’ll find comparable scenes at Long Island’s other 38 markets. Go to newsday.com/farmersmarkets for details.
TIPS FOR SHOPPING
Come early: Vendors bring a limited supply, whether it’s strawberries or croissants or goat cheese. The early birds are going to get the most sought-after products.
Bring a cooler: You don’t want your lettuce to wilt, your cheese to melt, your fish to spoil. So bring along a large cooler and ice packs and transfer your perishables once you get back to the car.
Be flexible: Come to the market with an idea of what you’d like to buy — but only a vague idea. Think “greens” rather than red oak leaf lettuce, “berries” rather than strawberries..
Be skeptical: The vast majority of Long Island’s vendors are selling bona fide local produce. But every once in a while you run into someone selling Brussels sprouts in June. If the plum tomatoes look suspiciously like the ones you see in the supermarket, question the “farmer.”