Center, East Moriches: An unlikely Long Island foodie destination

Boats docked up at Silly Lilly Rentals in East Moriches on Sept. 21, 2021. Credit: Raychel Brightman

If I braked for every Italian bakery I passed, I’d never get anywhere.

But there was something about the old-fashioned storefront of Frank & Son Bakery that promised something special. And boy, did it deliver. Founded in Mastic in 1985 by Frank Visco and run now by his son, Frank Jr., the tiny pasticceria is chock-a-block with Italian cheesecakes, rainbow cookies and sfogliatelle. On weekends, the Viscos let their Sicilian flag fly with rarer treats such as cartocci, doughnut spirals filled with cannoli cream. The cassata here is the real thing, rum-soaked cake filled with cannoli cream and enrobed in bright-green almond paste. For a quick nosh, grab a bag of cookies — cuccidati (pastry filled with figs), croccantini (chocolate meringues studded with almonds) or the aptly named S cookies that may be covered in almonds or sugar.

Left: Frank Visco Jr. at Frank & Son Bakery in Mastic. Top: Cassata cake at Frank & Son Bakery. Bottom: Cartocci at Frank & Son Bakery. Photo credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The day began a few miles west at Tend Coffee, in the hamlet of Shirley. Susan and Dan Kennedy began roasting beans in 2011 and opened this shop two years later. In addition to a full panoply of coffee and tea drinks made to order and beans by the bag, Tend also sells pastries, but I’d held off ordering them — the road ahead was sure to hold riches I wouldn’t want to pass up. Like that cartoccio. Or, for that matter, the homemade ice cream that Ice Cream Cottage has been scooping since 1990.

Angela Han bought the store from founder John Pastore in 2016 and is “very honored to own this iconic place.” The extravagant Chocolate Overdose (fudge, chips, brownies) and Black Forest (Bordeaux cherries and broken-up chocolate shell) continue to wow, as do the more restrained — but no less intense — banana and coffee. And once you’ve satisfied your sweet tooth, you should know that Mastic boasts two rather more cosmopolitan stops: Mediterranean Kitchen, which stocks a full line of Turkish groceries (fresh kebabs and salads on the shady porch are another option) and Pusong Pinoy Grocery Store, which sells Filipino groceries, imported crafts and home goods.

Such serendipitous finds are characteristic along this stretch of the South Shore, east of the William Floyd Parkway. Here, within about seven miles, five small communities — Shirley, Mastic, Moriches, Center Moriches and East Moriches — nudge up around Montauk Highway, one of the original through highways on Long Island, and extend, like so many fingers, to Moriches Bay. To be clear, this is not the South Fork nor the North Fork. You won’t find designer shops, twee gift emporiums, wineries or big-ticket meals. So save the smart-casual outfit for another day and pack hiking shoes, flip-flops, a sun hat and bug spray. You’ve got some off-the-beaten-path exploring to do.

You brought a cooler, right? Good. Turn off onto a side road for Mastic Seafood, one of the Island’s top fish markets (and one of the few open on Sundays). When Nino Locascio and James Cassidy bought it in 1998, it was already at least 30 years old, and today nothing in the rough-hewn, vaguely seagoing interior seems to have changed. Aside from the stuffed clams, there is no prepared food here, just a great variety of fish at prices that approach wholesale. Locascio and Cassidy work with local fishermen who supply them with fluke, flounder, striped bass, tuna, black sea bass, whiting, bluefish, monkfish, dogfish, mackerel, porgy, squid, clams and oysters. Imports from near and far include catfish, octopus, crawfish and more. In other words, this is one-stop shopping for the seafood feast of your dreams.

A lobster at Mastic Seafood.

A lobster at Mastic Seafood. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Three miles south of Mastic Seafood is The William Floyd Estate, former home of Suffolk County’s only signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is closed for renovations, but it’s still possible to walk the grounds and see the outbuildings, the family cemetery and, adjacent to it, a slave cemetery in which the graves are marked with simple crosses (replicas) bearing only first names of the dead. The 613-acre property — now part of the Fire Island National Seashore — also has trails through forest, field and along the gleaming bay. (Be prepared: Because of sketchy signage, you may need the help of Google Maps and a compass app.)

Next: the Moriches (not “the Moricheses,” a locution that will surely mark you as an outsider). The name is derived from Meritces, a Native American who owned land on Moriches Neck, and comprises Moriches, Center Moriches and East Moriches. In Moriches proper, La Buena Vida has a deck overlooking the Forge River. Put a pin in this location if you develop a yen for Spanish tapas later in the day and push on to Barntique Village, a 40-year-old amalgam of barns and sheds (and one actual house), all overflowing with collectibles and, o.k., some junk. “It’s the ultimate ‘green’ shopping experience,” said owner Lori Wood. “In a throw-out society, we’re saving stuff from the landfill.” If shopping makes you a little peckish, know that the roadside Greek Bites Grill & Cafe makes a terrific maroulosalata (shredded romaine, scallions and dill) that may be embellished with a few souvlaki “sticks” and enjoyed at a tree-shaded picnic table.

Barntique Village in Moriches.

Barntique Village in Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Now, even though there were probably a half dozen Italian pork stores between your home and Moriches, you’ll still want to stop by M & M Market, established in 1975 by Pasquale Mastropietro, his wife, Carmela, and brothers-in-law Vincenzo Lanni and Salvatore De Luca. The excellent prepared foods include eggplant Parmesan (done the Southern Italian way, with paper-thin slices of fried eggplant layered with sweet tomato sauce), plump stuffed artichokes, housemade sausage and Carmela’s own sauces and soups. You’ll find Rummo pastas (established in 1846 in Benevento, where the Mastropietros are from) as well as imported Muti tomatoes and Frantoia olive oil. All the beef sold here is prime and cut to order.

Daniela Mastropietro hefts a pair of stuffed artichokes at M&M Market in...

Daniela Mastropietro hefts a pair of stuffed artichokes at M&M Market in Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

A block south of Montauk Highway is Moriches Field Brewing Co., a two-year-old microbrewery; the soaring tasting room is in a refurbished Quonset hut. Founder Rich Flynn specializes in lesser-known Belgian, German, British and Irish styles, as well as some historic American styles such as Kentucky Common. He also makes about 50 different beers, with more than a dozen on tap at any one time. Moriches Field has darts on Wednesday, live music on Friday and food trucks most weekends. Eat, drink and play cornhole outside on the lawn.

As you head east, keep your eyes peeled for the sign that says Good Bickle, as the restaurant itself is virtually hidden behind a Subway.

In December 2021, Yakeev Chance and his brothers Yannick and Lester Ellis opened this ode to Jamaican food. Out back is where chef Floyd McNeil smokes jerk pork and chicken; both are deeply savory and fall-off-the-bone tender. There’s also curry goat and chicken, stew chicken, braised oxtails and, for vegetarians, Rasta Pasta (with bell peppers and cheese), rice and pigeon peas, and macaroni and cheese.

Jerk pork with rice and peas, sweet plantains, and cabbage...

Jerk pork with rice and peas, sweet plantains, and cabbage salad at Good Bickle in Center Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The most metropolitan corner of this rural idyll is Center Moriches’ walkable (in under 10 minutes) downtown. Dining options here range from international (El Sabor del Pueblo is one of only a handful of Ecuadorian restaurants on Long Island) to Italian-American-eclectic (Sea Cove serves everything from pasta and Parms to burgers and barbecue).

John Bearese pours a guinness at Buckley's Irish Pub in Center...

John Bearese pours a guinness at Buckley's Irish Pub in Center Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

If it’s Sunday afternoon, look no further than Buckley’s Irish Pub. The brunch menu includes a proper Irish breakfast of eggs, toast, baked beans, tomato, and three traditional sausages — bangers, black pudding and white pudding. Most patrons gravitate toward the bar, where partner Jason Sheridan often pulls the Guinness.

For a teetotaling breakfast or lunch, however, the place to be is the venerable (since 1924) Country Cottage Diner. Over the years, the place has had many names and renovations, but the feeling of community is palpable. Current owner Jack Schwartz brought on chef Michael Bailey, whose guiding principle is “diner food but made from scratch,” and he’s justly proud of his Egg McCottage, cinnamon bun pancakes, crab Benedict, corned beef hash and California (i.e., with avocado) club sandwich.

Crab benedict served with roasted potatoes at Country Cottage Diner...

Crab benedict served with roasted potatoes at Country Cottage Diner in Center Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

For a pick-me-up (or a pit stop) while reconnoitering, there’s a new outpost of Hampton Coffee Company in the town’s public library, and about a mile and a half north is Nettie’s Country Bakery (open Friday through Sunday), a family-friendly complex with a spacious lawn, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and a small bandshell. (A cozy, free-standing sitting room with a fireplace accommodates guests in inclement or cold weather.) You won’t find Italian specialties at Nettie’s — that’s why you stopped at Frank & Son, after all — but here are crumb cakes and apple turnovers, a lemon layer cake with no decoration beyond combed yellow icing. In their signature naked cake (a style that’s left unfrosted around the side), you can clearly see the layers of yellow cake filled with Bavarian buttercream studded with blueberries and strawberries. “We get requests for fancy cakes all the time,” said Brendan McHeffey, whose parents, Joe and Jeanette (Nettie) McHeffey, opened this place in 2017. “Our motto is ‘no fondant.’ ”

The naked cake at Nettie's Country Bakery in Center Moriches.

The naked cake at Nettie's Country Bakery in Center Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The McHeffys left their original location because they needed more production space (they run a mail-order business, too). But the kids-running-wild vibe persists at its successor, Lucharito’s Farm. This is part of Marc LaMaina’s growing empire of restaurants and it rambles over more than an acre of multiple outdoor dining areas. The menu will be familiar to patrons of the original Lucharitos in Greenport and its outposts in Aquebogue, Mattituck and Melville. The exuberant take on Mexican and Mexican American street food — tacos filled with coconut shrimp, quesadillas made with local duck — may all be washed down with premium tequilas, beer and Mexican soft drinks.

Waitress Kaylie Susskraut holds a platter of drinks at Lucharito's...

Waitress Kaylie Susskraut holds a platter of drinks at Lucharito's in Center Moriches. Credit: Morgan Campbell

But wait, there’s more! As you head east out of town on Montauk Highway, you can’t miss Atlantic Seafood: The front door is framed by a giant shark’s jaw, teeth and all. Colleen Donovan, the fourth-generation owner, said her grandparents first established a swap shop here around 1948 and turned it first into a lobster-pot shop, then into a seafood market and, sometime in the 1960s, into a restaurant. Raw oysters (Great Guns are farmed where Belleview Avenue hits Moriches Bay) and clams can’t be beat here; follow them with a bucket of steamers, mussels, lobster, peel ’n’ eat shrimp, crab legs or combinations thereof.

On your way out of Center Moriches there are two fine walking spots. South of the highway is the 263-acre Terrell River County Park, with a at 2.6-mile loop comprising woodlands, beach access and views of the Terrell River inlet and Moriches Bay. Dogs are welcome. (Across the highway is Kaler’s Pond Park, complete with small beach, a large play area, shaded picnic tables and, in the pond itself, trout, large- mouth bass, bluegill and more.)

A boat outside Silly Lilly Fishing Station in East Moriches.

A boat outside Silly Lilly Fishing Station in East Moriches. Credit: Raychel Brightman

For the ultimate Moriches Bay experience, however, head to Silly Lily Fishing Station & Marina, on Tuthill Cove in East Moriches. In taking over the boatyard (est. 1932) in 2015, Jay Scott spruced it up while managing to preserve its ramshackle appeal. Here, you can rent a dory, sailboat, kayak or paddleboard, or be outfitted for a day of fishing, crabbing or clamming. (Book in advance for weekends and holidays.) Or you can just hang out at the picnic tables, enjoy the salty breeze and, on Friday evenings and weekends, grab a bite from the food truck, courtesy of Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue.

The local consensus on where to go for fine dining seems to be La Volpe Ristorante in Center Moriches; its menu ranges all over Italy (and into Italian American territory), the wine list is impressive and so is the wood-fired pizza, which is also available at the adjacent pizzeria, Anton’s. But East Moriches is home to JR EL Rodeo, and don’t let the restaurant’s unassuming exterior fool you for one second. Here is some of the best Mexican food on Long Island.

Birria beef tacos at JR EL Rodeo in East Moriches.

Birria beef tacos at JR EL Rodeo in East Moriches. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Jorge Rojas and his family own three other restaurants (Taqueria Mexico, Cielito Lindo and JR El Mariachi, all in Riverhead). One Rojas hallmark throughout: superb tacos in handmade tortillas. But don’t stop there, for El Rodeo’s menu holds gems such as adobo de puerco, luxuriant braised pork shoulder napped with either green or brick-red sauce; posole, the satisfying soup-stew of pork and hominy; and a molcajete (mortar) filled with sausage, steak, cheese and juicy, crisp-tender nopales (prickly pear cactus pads).

It’s easy to overlook this part of Long Island, whether you’re from parts west or farther east. The idea of making it a destination, in fact, may be met with polite disbelief, but ignore that and venture forth. You’ll find an absorbing mix of meals, markets and strolls all imbued with a relaxed, utterly unpretentious atmosphere that epitomizes the season — and is increasingly rare in our corner of the world. Slowing down here is a succession of small, often unexpected, graces: being treated like an invited guest at a convivial, time-honored diner or pub, feeling a catch in the throat while standing by a humble graveyard, seeing a child (or spouse) net that first fish. With enough practice, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

More information

Eating there

ATLANTIC SEAFOOD: 117 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches; 631-878-8406,

BUCKLEY’S IRISH PUB: 386 Main St., Center Moriches; 631-909-8330,

COUNTRY COTTAGE DINER: 334 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches; 631-878-6408

EL SABOR DEL PUEBLO: 430 Main St., Center Moriches; 631-909-7474

FRANK & SON BAKERY: 1575 Montauk Hwy., Mastic; 631-399-1618

GOOD BICKLE: 617 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches; 631-909-3720,

GREEK BITES GRILL & CAFE: 183 Montauk Hwy., Moriches; 631-874-0700,

HAMPTON COFFEE COMPANY: 235 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches; 631-909-8570,

ICE CREAM COTTAGE: 1590 Montauk Hwy., Mastic; 631-395-3580,

JR EL RODEO: 130 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches; 631-909-2666,

LA BUENA VIDA: 714 Montauk Hwy., Moriches; 631-909-1985,

LA VOLPE RISTORANTE / ANTON’S: 611 Main St., Center Moriches; 631-878-2528,

LUCHARITO’S FARM: 177 Main St., Center Moriches; 631-400-9625,

MEDITERRANEAN KITCHEN: 1171 Montauk Hwy., Mastic; 631-399-8833

MORICHES FIELD BREWING CO.: 1 Wilcox Ave., Center Moriches; 631-909-4404,

NETTIE’S COUNTRY BAKERY: 366 Railroad Ave., Center Moriches; 631-400-9900,

PUSONG PINOY GROCERY STORE: 1193 Montauk Hwy., Mastic; 631-871-3024

SEA COVE: 361 Main St., Center Moriches; 631-874-1071,

TEND COFFEE: 924 Montauk Hwy., Shirley; 631-772-4707,

Being there

BARNTIQUE VILLAGE: 327 Montauk Hwy., Moriches; 631-878-4594,

M&M MARKET: 187 Montauk Hwy., Moriches; 631-878-4555,

MASTIC SEAFOOD: 1051 Mastic Rd., Mastic; 631-281-9608,

SILLY LILY FISHING STATION: 99 Adelaide Ave., East Moriches; 631-878-0247,

TERRELL RIVER COUNTY PARK: 43 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches; 631-854-4949,

THE WILLIAM FLOYD ESTATE: 245 Park Dr., Mastic Beach; 631-399-2030,

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