Socially distanced daytrips get a lot more fun when there's food involved. In fact, you can spend a good part of a day driving-and-eating your way between bakeries, markets, restaurants and other pitstops that are open for takeout, often with curbside pickup. Newsday's food critics have curated three Long Island food crawl itineraries designed to help you be as gluttonous as you want to be. Bring a mask — and your appetite.
Nassau South Shore Treasure Hunt
Compiled by Erica Marcus
Intrepid gastronomes know that some of Long Island’s best bites are hiding in plain sight on Nassau's South Shore. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours shuttling between Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road, with detours to the serrated shoreline that brings the bay right up into the towns that border it.
Start your day at Front Street Bakery in Rockville Centre. The selection here can be overwhelming, so let’s just focus on breakfast. Front Street excels with doughnuts and Danishes, of course, but why not go for the sticky-flaky coffee rings or the tea biscuits, like scones but square and not so dry? The shop’s most popular morning treat is the crumb cake, emphasis on the crumb, buttery, sweet and guaranteed to crumble all over your car interior.
Indeed it’s tempting to eat in your car since COVID-19 has had at least one salutary effect on Rockville Centre: there are now places to park. But you could also take your bag of goodies on a little stroll: The town’s Village Green is a few blocks east; Morgan Days Park a few blocks west and, just beyond that, Rockville Cemetery, a burial ground on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now it’s time to see some water. Head south on Ocean Avenue to East Rockaway and stretch your legs along the waterfront promenade where it turns into Main Street and intersects with Front Street. (I’d be the last person to tell you to forego a lobster roll at The Lazy Lobster, by the way.) If you continue to drive way south, you’ll wind up at Bay Park, an immense patch of green between Hewlett Bay and East Rockaway Channel. Even if the park facilities are closed, the parking lots offer a view of the water.
You must be famished. Time for pizza.
Make your way north to Atlantic Avenue, and head east about a mile to Long Beach Road. Two blocks north you’ll find Naples Street Food, the year-old younger sister to the original, Franklin Square Naples Street Food that opened in 2016. The pie here is unapologetically Neapolitan, with a tender center bordered by a puffy rim ("cornicione" in Italian) whose texture — pillowy but chewy — is the result of a long, cold fermentation and superfine "tipo 00" flour. All the pies are terrific. If you’re traveling solo, get a 12-incher, but a carload should opt for the eight-slice rectangular pie. For a change of pace, try the panuozzo, a warm sandwich whose bread is a freshly baked length of pizza dough. I’m partial to the one filled with sausage and broccoli rabe.
There are a few parking spaces behind the pizzeria; otherwise you’ll certainly find a spot in nearby shopping-center lot. Nothing on the menu benefits from a cool-down period. When you’re done, point your car south on Long Beach Road and drive the two miles to Peter’s Clam Bar. Even if you are stuffed, there’s always room for clams and oysters on the half shell and that’s why you are here.
Call you order in or place it at the (socially distanced) counter inside and someone will bring it to your car. For a view of Barnums Channel while you slurp, there's a little patch of grass, between Peter’s and the road bridge, where you can sit and contemplate the Town of Hempstead waste transfer station, beautifully situated on the channel’s banks.
Head back up Long Beach Road and just before you hit Sunrise Highway turn into the parking lot of Bigelow’s, Long Island’s epicenter of Ipswich (fried whole-belly) clams. Amid and supply and delivery crunches, the Andreolas brothers have been driving to New England to get the clams — call first if you want to be absolutely sure they’ll have them. (God forbid they don’t, it’s a great excuse to get the fried-flounder sandwich or a quart of clam chowder, New England or Manhattan.)
Back on Merrick Road, drive east and take in the verdant string of parks where you can pull off and walk: Loff’s Lake and Silver Lake and Milburn Creek parks in Baldwin, Cammanns Pond and Meroke Preserve in Merrick, Mill Pond Preserve in Wantagh.
Two blocks west of Mill Pond is one of Long Island’s best taquerias, Taco El Chingon which is tucked away at the back of the shopping center behind the Gulf gas station. My colleague, Corin Hirsch, gave this spot 3 stars, even though the first two times she went, the tiny shop had no free tables and she was forced to eat in her car. Could there be a more timely recommendation? Make sure you take advantage of the half dozen salsas made fresh every day. Don’t miss the magnificent machete, a floppy, oversized housemade tortilla layered with refried beans, melted Oaxacan cheese sliced avocado, tangy crema and meat of your choosing.
If it’s Sunday, El Chingon is closed, but you can console yourself with a trip to Tavlin Market across the street, which is closed on Saturdays. There you will find a fresh falafel, refrigerated vegetable salads and a wide selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean groceries.
You’ve got until 8 p.m. to make it to Krisch’s. Sure, you could get a cup or a cone but if a global pandemic doesn’t confer immunity from accusations of gluttony, I don’t know what does. Have a sundae on a glazed doughnut or fresh waffle. Or go for the signature S’mores sundae (chocolate ice cream with marshmallow crème and crumbled graham crackers) or Peanut Butter Blow-Out (ice cream topped with peanut-butter sauce and Reese’s Pieces.)
Fancy a nightcap? The Walgreens at Broadway and Sunrise Highway is open until midnight and Alka-Seltzer is in aisle 25.
Front Street Bakery: 51 Front St., Rockvilel Centre; 516-766-1199, frontstreetbakery.com
The Lazy Lobster: 10 Front St., East Rockaway; 516-837-8484, lazylobsterny.com
Naples Street Food: 2905 Long Beach Rd.; Oceanside, 516-442-1692, naplesstreetfood2905.com
Peter’s Clam Bar: 600 Long Beach Rd., Island Park; 516-432-0505, petersclamhouse.com
Bigelow’s: 79 N. Long Beach Rd.; Rockville Centre, 516-678-3878, bigelows-rvc.com
Taco El Chingon: 2809-A Merrick Rd. Bellmore; 516-809-9102, tacoelchingon.com
Tavlin Market: 2828 Merrick Rd. Bellmore; 516-221-9008
Krisch’s: 11 Central Ave., Massapequa, 516-797-3149, krischs.com
North Shore Suffolk Hidden Gems Crawl
Compiled by Corin Hirsch
I've spent a sizable chunk of my life driving the length of Route 25A, which wends for 73 miles from the Queens border to the tip of the North Fork. The further east you push, the more the road snakes and winds, through stretches of woods, a fish hatchery, and even past the grounds of an old mental hospital.
This North Shore artery is also dotted with lots of notable places to eat — if not right on the road (which changes nicknames in almost every town, from Main Street to North Country Road) then a few blocks just north or south. I’ve done so much “app surfing” along 25A that my front seat eating skills are epic; however, I’m of the mind that if you’re going to trek for nearly an hour from Northport (our point A) to Port Jefferson (point B), not only should you snack, but also pick up vittles for ensuing days. A cooler is a must.
First, pizza. In Northport, cars snakes through the parking lot of Vespa Italian Chophouse every weekend. This ambitious spot opened shortly before the shutdown, but to make the most of things, staff set up a wood-fired pizza oven in their parking lot each weekend. A mellow guitarist might serenade you (from a safe distance) as you wait for super-thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza.
The margarita is sturdy enough to tackle in your car as you hook right out of the lot and into downtown, to Sand City Brewing Co. Simply walking down the brewery’s alley to grab a growler of their fine IPA (to drink at home later) can feel like an adventure after what has surely been weeks of featureless quarantine.
Definitely don’t eat all the pizza, though, because the next spot is barely 15 minutes away — the scrappy Mi Pueblo. Call ahead from Northport to order some Mexican-style carnitas tacos (topped with cilantro onion and lime) and deeply charred pupusas, their insides gooey with queso and maybe ayote (zucchini) or beans. Then spirit this treasure to the leafy grounds of Nissequogue River State Park (formerly the Kings Park Psychiatric Center), about five minutes away, one of the most delightfully strange places to have a picnic or wander. If you stroll a mile past the towering, graffiti-covered Building 93 and over the Nissequogue River, you can work off all that cheese and drink in a postcard view.
Driving out of the back of the center’s grounds puts you on St. Johnland Road, a shortcut between Kings Park to St. James, a ‘burg bursting with great places to eat. The tiny Basil Cafe is only a few blocks off of 25A and can hook you up with Persian bites. Chef Ray Akhlagi makes an eggplant dip that’s like smoked silk, topped with crumbled walnuts and mint, and supplied with poofy, warm pita bread for scooping. To save for later: zereshk polo, chicken breast in a buttery saffron sauce over barberry-studded basmati rice. It will fill the car with a heady fragrance.
At this point, if you’re in the market for another walk, the gorgeous Avalon Preserve in Stony Brook is just three minutes north of 25A. And if you’re just focused on more food, head straight to East Setauket and Old Fields Barbecue where the smoker is still in action. The inside of this newly opened spot is handsomely rustic, but for now, it’s all curbside for a half-rack of sticky ribs, some chorizo-studded collard greens and fatty ribbons of brisket. Pick up a cucumber salad as a refresher, and definitely don’t leave without cornbread.
Congrats! You’ve made it to Port Jefferson, where it’s all harbor views and PIE. Torte Jeff Pie Co. is a trove of sweet and savory pies, arranged on a table for perusal. They may include a pulled-pork pie with a butter-bomb crust, but certainly there will also be raspberry pie and maybe even a pina-colada pie with creamy coconut custard. A few times a week, bartenders batch out “giggle juice" — on a recent Sunday, cherry-infused vodka, blood orange juice and cherry liqueur — to grab for your cooler, which is by now well-stocked. The only catch: Torte Jeff closes at 5 p.m. Start in Northport around 1, and you’ll be golden.
Vespa Italian Chophouse: 843 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport; 631-651-9889, vespaitalianchophouse.com
Sand City Brewing Co.: 60 Main St., Northport; 631-651-2767, sandcitybeer.com
Mi Pueblo: 95 Pulaski Rd., Kings Park; 631-663-3442, mipueblorestaurantkp.com
Basil Cafe: 413 Lake Ave., St. James; 631-862-4444
Old Fields Barbecue: 130 Old Town Rd.; 631-675-1313, of1956.com
Torte Jeff Pie Co.: 218 E. Main St., 631-456-1532
North Fork Scenic Escape Crawl
Compliled by Scott Vogel
I stumble out of my hovel dazed and squinting at the sunlight, like I’m in some COVID version of Plato’s allegory of the cave. For weeks I’ve done nothing but stare gloomily at the TV as big box retailers and wireless providers promised me that we’d get through these uncertain times together. And now, as I greet the great outdoors on a Sunday morning, I hardly know what to do.
The North Fork. I’ll go there. I’ll reorient myself by driving to Orient Point, the end of the Island, or one of them anyway. Google Maps claims that I can be barefoot on the sand — gazing into the Atlantic abyss and dodging clam diggers — in a cool 97 minutes.
The trip takes three hours, a delay due not to Google or bottlenecks on the LIE, for once, but a series of speed bumps encountered along the way. Breitenbach Farms, the first of these, is on a leafy stretch of Rte 25 in Aquebogue, a year-old roadside stand that actually reopened earlier than its proprietors expected, owing to a social distancing-friendly layout.
The strawberries and squash blossoms won’t be on offer until June, but the jams are here, and oh boy, the pies too. Apple crumb and cherry and especially a blueberry number that sloshes around and spills onto my floorboards but nonetheless turns out to be the best non-homemade blueberry pie I’ve ever tasted.
This best-ever business happens over and over on the best Sunday ever. All that buttermilk flakiness that Main Road Biscuit Co. is famous for can’t possibly be any good when eaten out of a paper bag, I tell myself, a claim that is disproved almost before I get back to the car. The biscuits are sandwich-square, Tolstoy-thick, incredible. They are the Platonic form of biscuits, and I only wish Plato himself had lived to try them.
Now time’s a-wastin’, the road is curving north, and I really must get going, but look at that — the North Fork Shack has reopened too! Soon I am leaning back in a red plastic deck chair on the lawn, a sunbathing masked man working on his quarantine while awaiting a bowl of the shack’s celebrated clam chowder, which does not disappoint, and not just because nothing can disappoint me today. You know the disappointment that comes with biting down on what feels like a clam but is instead a large, unwelcome piece of potato? There is none of that here.
At least they’ve taken away the picnic tables at Southold Fish Market, I tell myself, hoping that this will relieve me of the temptation to stop and eat. At which point I spy cars scattered on the shoulder and facing all directions in the gravel parking lot, each crammed with seafood lovers gorging on clam strips and shrimp baskets and chowder fries. I stop. The market, a staffer tells me, was hit early by COVID, with several employees testing positive, one hospitalized and another stricken with pneumonia. All have recovered and so has the business. Even with rules barring more than four patrons inside the market at once, sales are brisk. The verdict: I have never eaten fried oysters this delicious from a Styrofoam clamshell in my lap while seated in the parking lot of a seafood market in my life. The soft breading has occluded none of the mollusks’ brininess, and once more I am in heaven.
Now uncomfortably full, it seems cruelly unfair that the final sprint to Orient Point should snake through food-happy Greenport. But I stop again, at Green Hill Kitchen, which has leaned into coronavirus takeout from the beginning, its quarantine barbecue kits a consistent bestseller. By this time, I am too full to eat anything, anything but two orders of grilled shrimp, which pair best, I become convinced, with a plastic bottle of blood orange margaritas that I resolve to hold off on till I reach the beach 10 minutes up the road. And not long afterward I do indeed arrive at — you guessed it — the best beach in the world. Taking a few deep draughts, I stare into the cerulean abyss, somehow feeling both lighter than I have in weeks and several pounds heavier than when the trip began.
Breitenbach Farms: 460 Main Rd., Aquebogue; 631-722-3839, breitenbachfarms.com
Main Road Biscuit Co.: 1601 Main Rd., Jamesport; 631-779-3463, mainroadbiscuitco.com
North Fork Shack: 1150 County Rd. 48, Southold; 631-876-5566, thenorthforkshack.com
Southold Fish Market: 64755 Rte. 25, Southold, 631-765-3200
Green Hill Kitchen: 48 Front St., Greenport; 631-477-4900, greenhillny.com