On this, the largest island in the contiguous United States—and one that prides itself on glorious Junes, Julys and Augusts—residents and vacationers alike expect to have fun, and lots of it, during the summer. This indefatigable reporter just compiled a list of the delicious food and experiences he craves, and odds are you will, too. Now, could someone hold his beer? Let’s get started.
Unlike a Long Island iced tea, which knows no season, the (slightly) less potent Fire Island invention, the Rocket Fuel, is distinguished by an irresistible frothiness that has long since skip-jumped Great South Bay and become an essential summer potable. Some routinely dismiss the Rocket Fuel as the colada you make when the Amaretto bottle needs dusting, but many others couldn’t survive summer without it. Just ask the day drinkers dancing on the deck at Flynn’s in Ocean Bay Park or fighting for barstools at The Island Mermaid or CJ’s, both in Ocean Beach. For these folks, mainlining Fuels is the quickest, surest route to recovery—from beach days with cranky, sunburned children, from excursions to Sunken Meadow sunk by the threat of heatstroke, from misperceptions that fat-tire cycling on sand is fun and more.
BEER GARDEN PARTIES
Plattduetsche Park might conjure images of reckless polka dancing, weird socks, incessant oompah-ness and impressive steins of Krombacher Dunkel quaffed under twinkle lights in Franklin Square, but it’s really but one instance of an Island-wide genius for a summer must, the Biergarten. Such excellence is evident to anyone who’s ever spent a day at Manorville’s Long Island Farm Brewery sipping a summer lager or blonde ale from an Adirondack chair shaded by towering Norway spruce or inside the reimagined potato barn as massive fans twirl lazily overhead. Such places are the reason summer Saturdays exist, and they exist for your enjoyment everywhere, including one in the far corner of an asphalt parking lot in East Meadow. There, just beyond a fence and attractive border of hornbeam trees, lies the loveliest of outdoor spaces at Garden Social Beer Garden & Kitchen, a spiritual home for kindergarteners laying waste to bowls of fries swirled with cheese curds and adult garteners downing Beach Pass cocktails or whatever’s trending on tap.
Elsewhere, sailing to dinner may be the province of well-heeled blue bloods and Viking Cruise blue-hairs, but here we dock and dine on democracy, and Islanders of every stripe mingle happily with colorful seafaring locals. On the Nautical Mile in Freeport, the new Catcher’s Fish House may be haunted by the grillwork and Bourbon Street atmosphere of restaurants past but is spiffed up otherwise, with outdoor tableclothed seating opportunities worthy of a Venetian canal, not to mention a Woodcleft one. At Kingston’s Clam Bar in West Sayville, Saturday nights are for sun-scorched anglers trading stories over linguine and littlenecks. Meanwhile, the cooler waters of Greenport Harbor and the giant horseshoe bar at Claudio’s Waterfront draw a marginally cooler set, along with committed fans of garlicky, bacony baked clams, shrimp tacos and (separately) chocolatey mudslides.
THE ICE CREAM ISLE
You don’t become an Italian ice juggernaut for no reason, as anyone who’s noticed the proliferation of Ralph’s here can attest. But one ought not to overlook some of the madder scoops on this ice cream–mad Island or the sprinkles of quirk found on shores North and South. Denizens of the former champion the vibe at Port Washington’s Sweet Treats on the Wharf, where a yesterday-atmosphere meets today-flavors such as Colombian Coffee, Chunky Doughboy and Funfetti, and the only thing cooler is the Himalayan salt cave a few doors down. Another North Shore option is the liquid nitrogen–fueled Alkemy, a new space-age parlor in Huntington that specializes in individual portions of wacky-slash-wonderful flavors such as Maple Bourbon with Candied Bacon, Matcha Green Tea and Roasted Strawberry with a sidecar of balsamic glaze. And yet another shocking twist awaits visitors at Tipsy Scoop in Long Beach: Almost none of the ice cream is (spoiler alert) for kids because almost every flavor is mildly alcoholic, from mint chocolate chip spiked with crème de menthe and chocolate liqueur, to Strawberry White Sangria sorbet, to something called Cake Batter Vodka Martini.
LOBSTER ROLL TIDE
The larger world is riven by endless conflict, its lobster roll fans divided into neat, if mutually hostile, New England and Connecticut factions. We, on the other hand, remain agnostic, acutely aware that gustatory wonderfulness is a dish best served cold, but also warm, and no self-respecting Long Islander should summer without one or the other. Who doesn’t love the chilly satisfaction that is red claw meat and gentle Bayville mayo-ness at Schultzy’s, where a soupçon of town gossip at the bar and a French martini can turn an ordinary Tuesday into something revelatory? Or the warm, buttery satisfaction that Patchgue’s Catch Oyster Bar traffics in, not to mention those toasted buns overstuffed with meatiness? But let’s be honest. What we really love is not having to choose, which is just one reason families of mixed allegiance lean heavily on the menu at Southold Fish Market. That and the pile of skin-on French fries, the perfect accompaniment to lobster rolls of every temperature.
Summer is simply not summer without a visit to one of the Island’s multi-patty burger joints, each a tribute of sorts to Massapequa’s legendary All American Drive-In, with its siren song of nostalgia and neon, and its dependable line of expats recapturing memories of misspent youth with bags and bags of hand-cut fries and spatula-flattened burgers wrapped in foil. A remembrance of patties past also drives the throngs at Burger City in East Meadow, that and its marquee-lit faux circus tent and, of course, the burgers themselves, each a sloppy-delicious tower of distinctly non-earthquake-proof construction. Judging by its many fans, the threat of imminent burger collapse is no deterrent at Westhampton Beach’s Boom Burger either, where the walls are plastered with superhero comics and sky-high sandwiches are offered in dozens of variations, along with creative sides such as corn fritters and indulgent shakes, all of them a study in ZING! and POW!
FORKS IN THE ROAD
Forget the hoe and the trowel. Is there any more useful tool to wield in summer than the cocktail fork? Just try to imagine life without that tiny tined marvel and some lemon wedges. What would afternoons at Dockers Waterside in East Quogue be like, for instance, without coaxing peach-pink splendor from umpteen littlenecks to the accompaniment of color-matching Spicy Summer Flings (tequila, jalapeño, watermelon juice) and matchless views of the Shinnecock Canal? Or consider Aquebogue’s On the Docks, with its views of Lighthouse Marina and Meeting House Creek, a beautiful backdrop made even more so by a plate of Blue Points on ice. And at Blue Point Brewing Company, the oysters—Great Guns from East Moriches and Maris Stellas from Great South Bay—pair perfectly with toasted lager, not to mention the Patchogue haunt’s lively Friday night crowds skewering away under Japanese lanterns as live music plays. And what’s better for extracting sweet succulence from a Jonah crab claw or the shellfish served up by Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market, where forks are far easier to come by than picnic tables or barstools, but the persistent are rewarded with the finest of Greenport summer afternoons? Nothing, that’s what.
Using hot spices to cool the body may be one of the more paradoxical elements of Indian cooking, but our desi kitchens have a genius for paradox that Islanders of all sorts should embrace in summer. Village - The Soul of India, its clunky name notwithstanding, possesses one such genius kitchen, a newish vegetarian Hicksville spot serving up a whole subcontinent’s ideas for beating the heat, from a terrific samosa chaat that fights fire with fire and explodes like Pop Rocks in the mouth, to dahi vada (lentil fritters in creamy whipped yogurt) and crunchy bhel puri. At dessert-time, rice-based kheer and almondy badam halwa (the latter meltingly good) further assist in temperature reduction. Those inclined toward a more Sichuan-style cool-down, meanwhile, ought to head to Commack or Farmingville and Spicy Home Tasty for plates of cold noodles richly turned with chilies and sesame seeds, or bright green cubes of cucumber doused in a garlicky sauce. For still others, taming summer means embracing the season’s fun, doing as the Koreans do, trading kalbi for corn dogs, although that country’s take on the amusement park staple, as demonstrated by dogs coated variously with Hot Cheetos powder or injeolmi (rice cake) powder at the new Kong Dog in Hicksville, are a marriage of freaky and cheeky.
A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
Given the abundance of nature showcased by the Island’s farm stands, not to mention the abundance of farm stands, period, particularly on the North Fork, multiple visits in summer are mandatory. Like the swallows of Capistrano, each year we find ourselves drawn to the big establishments of Riverhead and along Sound Avenue, the ones called Briermere and Sound Shore and Harbes, but also to tinier roadside ones like those along Route 25 in Southold, from Deep Roots to Country View to KK’s. Tinier still are the residential streets and lanes snaking around them, and we prowl these, too, in search of hand-painted wooden signs and their advertised eggs, oysters, flowers and more. Such trips kindle not only an appreciation for the freshest food but a whole new way of marking time. Hence our speaking of strawberry and blueberry weeks rather than June, peach and sweet corn ones instead of July, watermelon and pear time, not August.
SEAFOOD SHACK ATTACK
Dining at small, semi-sturdy structures on the water is a ritual not to be missed, if only because they’re hard to avoid. There’s John Scott’s Surf Shack for one, a Westhampton Beach hangout “where debris meets the sea,” tenders meet barbecue sauce, stuffed quahogs meet drawn butter and vodka meets lemonade, all of them joining hands while watching sunsets over Moriches Bay. On cozy Corey Beach in Blue Point, chicken fingers with fries and Aunt Fran’s Baked Clams are among the most popular items at Bodhi’s Beach Shack, eclipsed only by a fleet of colorful Adirondack chairs, cups of Montauk Wave Chaser IPA and a shaded swing set for adults at the adjacent bar. And it’s tenders on a roll at Gilgo Beach Inn, a mecca for shoeless and shirtless types who’ve been ordering “grub” without pejorative intent since 1935, along the way enjoying burgers, Sabrett’s dogs, vintage photos of lost Gilgo, frozen piñas and Painkillers, and picture-perfect Great South Bay days.
Yes, it’s one of London’s trendier districts, but given our commitment to battered and fried sea creatures, isn’t it we who deserve to be called Battersea? For proof, you have only to visit Bigelow’s in Rockville Centre, where for more than 80 years innocent inhabitants of the Atlantic—whole belly (Ipswich) clams, oysters, shrimp and so much more—have found themselves dredged to perfection for a date with the Fryolater. Indeed, ’tis the season for artery-hardening fare among all Islanders, from the sometime-residents of East Hampton lured to Bostwick’s Chowder House for flounder and Block Island cod encased in golden crunchiness to Fire Island’s ferry faithful, for whom no annual trip from Bay Shore is complete without gladly missing the boat in favor of temptation-adjacent Nicky’s Clam Bar. There, the fried seafood is served by the barge (yes, they really call it that) and then devoured under the tent-shaded, aptly named Nicky’s Hot Spot. Can’t such things be consumed year-round, you ask? Of course. But summer’s active lifestyle mitigates its effect on our waistlines, or so we lie to ourselves.
NACHO TYPICAL PLACE
Long Island is more than 2,000 miles from Mexico, the growing Latin population mostly tracing its roots to other countries. Still, our unfettered access to tacos and burritos—living on this isle means you’re never far from either—bespeaks a longstanding love affair during the hot months. For Islanders, the summer sight of garage doors opening routinely elicits a Pavlovian reaction, or should, signaling as it does the blurring of inside and outside at places like Dirty Taco and Tequila. The happening spot’s growing reach—five-going-on-six towns in two counties—is far from accidental. Nor is the popularity of peace sign– and skateboard-loving Swell Taco in Babylon, where crowds swell in anticipation of buzzy cocktails such as the Surf Wax rum punch, with its gathering of pineapple, cinnamon and coconut flavors under a tipsy umbrella, and its 3 Amigos taco plate, which does the same for carne asada, chicken and mahi-mahi. And over at the new Tepache Taste of Mexico in Valley Stream, the draw is an ancient, eponymous pineapple cocktail that threatens to become an instant classic, but also superbly marinated and grilled meats that grace its fajita platters—all best enjoyed behind the restaurant, a festive outdoor area of canopies and candy-apple-red metal chairs.
Chic buzziness is yet another proud Island tradition, and one, some argue, that’s the exclusive province of our East End wealth and celebrity enclaves. But these are people who’ve never been to say, Cipollini, its Manhasset-ness flanked by a Hugo Boss and Tesla dealership. The restaurant’s shrimp-mussel-squid-ring salads and zucchini fritti are equal to anything on the South Fork, while its impeccably coiffed waiters would not be out of place hitching rides on Montauk Highway. The patio at Hendrick’s Tavern in Roslyn screams studied informality (there’s even a cocktail called the East End—a gin, cucumber, lime and mint concoction that’s all refreshment) buts wows diners on the grounds of its repurposed estate with ginormous shrimp cocktails and ever-present calamari. And any Hamptonian would feel at home at the new Birdie Bar in Northport, an offshoot of nearby Robke’s and over which an air of exclusivity hangs heavily. This is especially true of the Open Table–favored upstairs dining room, which has the feel of a private one. Downstairs, the tan and forest-green bar is friendly yet dignified and strangely addictive. It’s a place for elevated takes on everything from Buffalo chicken spring rolls to French dip sandwiches, a place you want to go again and again because they learned your name the first time—assuming, of course, you can still get in.
ALL FOR HALAL
You don’t have to be an observant Muslim to appreciate the sheer number of halal restaurants that have opened of late, particularly now, when sizzling meats sing a summer siren song to those of every persuasion. Chapli & Chips, a halal cart that opened during the pandemic on Hillside Avenue in Queens with a menu of Pashtun delights, is, at this writing, scheduled to go bricks-and-mortar in Hicksville soon. You won’t want to miss the fried meat patties, an Afghan staple, and hand-cut fries, a staple everywhere on Earth, especially when drizzled with so-called kicker sauce. Meanwhile, over at Deer Park’s Kabab Platter & Burger, the Crazy Kebab—another pandemic baby—has become the stuff of grab-and-go legend, the uber-irresistible sausage roll that saved a restaurant. And while not new, Kebab Express in Huntington Station has garnered fan-favorite status for its take on that halal classic, chicken over basmati rice, as well as tender chunks of lamb kofta and other plates of dependable deliciousness.
POETRY IN POTION
Let’s give the last word to our country’s greatest poet, shall we, and his own take on the Island’s greatest season. I speak, of course, of Walt Whitman, a man positively transfixed by splashing his “bare feet in the edge of the summer ripples on Paumanok’s sands.” Ah, Paumanok, a Native American coinage ancient and brilliant that also recalls the now-50-year-old contemporary brilliance of our Island wineries, including, yes, Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. In summer, head to its tasting balcony for red blends, blanc de blancs and carefully considered cheese pairings. Or make a pilgrimage to McCall Wines for perfect pinot noirs, popular grass-fed burger nights, and to check in on the progress of the winery’s latest project, reconstructing a New Hampshire barn saved from demolition and relocated to Cutchogue. And if you’re one of those for whom summer means rosé flights and a lively collection of accompanying snacks, run-don’t-walk to Croteaux Vineyards in Southold. Our favorite grapes, like our favorite summer enjoyments, may differ, but the goal is always the same—wining and dining our way through idyllic afternoons, Whitmanesque ones in which we’re all moved to wax ecstatic about this isle of “sea-beauty! Stretch’d and basking!,” this “isle of sweet brooks,” this “isle of the salty shore and breeze and brine!”
ALKEMY: 260 Main St., Huntington; 855-255-3690, alkemyicecream.com
ALL AMERICAN DRIVE-IN: 4286 Merrick Rd., Massapequa; 516 798-9574, allamericanhamburgerli.com
BIGELOW’S: 79 N. Long Beach Rd., Rockville Centre; 516-678-3878, bigelows-rvc.com
BIRDIE BAR: 688 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport; birdiebarnpt.com
BLUE POINT BREWING COMPANY: 225 W. Main St., Patchogue; 631-627-8292, bluepointbrewing.com
BODHI’S BEACH SHACK: 1 Corey Ave., Blue Point; bodhisbeachshackny.com
BOOM BURGER: 85 Montauk Hwy., Westhampton Beach; 631-998-4663, boomburgerwhb.com
BOSTWICK’S CHOWDER HOUSE: 277 Pantigo Rd., East Hampton; 631-324-1111, bostwickschowderhouse.com
BRIERMERE FARMS: 4414 Sound Ave., Riverhead; 631-722-393, briermerefarms.com
BURGER CITY: 1900 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow; 516-385-3355
CATCH OYSTER BAR: 63 N. Ocean Ave., Patchogue; 631-627-6860, catchoysterbar.com
CATCHER’S FISH HOUSE: 301 Woodcleft Ave., Freeport; 516-600-9698, catchersfishhouseny.com
CIPOLLINI: 2110C Northern Blvd., Manhasset; 516-627-7172, cipollinirestaurant.com
CJ’S: 479 Bay Ave., Ocean Beach; 631-583-9890, cjsfireisland.com
CLAUDIO’S WATERFRONT: 111 Main St., Greenport; 631-477-0627, claudios.com
COUNTRY VIEW FARM STAND: 57995 Main Rd. (Route 25), Southold; 631-903-1335
CROTEAUX VINEYARDS: 1450 S. Harbor Rd., Southold; 631-765-6099, croteaux.com
DEEP ROOTS FARM: 57685 Rte. 25 (Main Road), Southold; 631-745-7928, deeprootsfarmnofo.com
DIRTY TACO & TEQUILA: Wantagh, Rockville Centre, Woodbury, Patchogue and Smithtown; dirtytacoandtequila.com
DOCKERS WATERSIDE: 94 Dune Rd., East Quogue; 631-653-0653, dockerswaterside.com
FLYNN’S FIRE ISLAND: 1 Cayuga St., Ocean Bay Park; 631-583-5000, flynnsfireislandny.com
GARDEN SOCIAL BEER GARDEN & KITCHEN: 1964 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow; 516-750-5338, gardensocialli.com
GILGO BEACH INN: Gilgo Beach parking lot (Ocean Parkway); 631-826-3339, gilgoinn.com
HARBES FAMILY FARM: 715 Sound Ave., Mattituck; 631-482-7641, harbesfamilyfarm.com
HENDRICK’S TAVERN: 1305 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn; 516-621-1200, hendrickstavern.com
THE ISLAND MERMAID: 780 Bay Walk, Ocean Beach; 631-583-8088, islandmermaid.com
JOHN SCOTT’S SURF SHACK: 540 Dune Rd., Westhampton Beach; 631-288-5810, johnscottssurfshack.com
KABAB PLATTER & BURGER: 297 Bay Shore Rd., Deer Park; 631-522-1002, kababplatterandburgers.com
KEBAB EXPRESS: 10 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station; 631-923-3085, kebabexpressny.com
KINGSTON’S CLAM BAR: 130 Atlantic Ave., West Sayville; 631-589-0888, kingstonsclam.com
KK’S THE FARM: 59945 Main Rd. (Route 25), Southold; 631-765-2075, kkthefarm.com
KONG DOG: 358B N. Broadway, Hicksville; 347-523-0016, kongdog.us
LITTLE CREEK OYSTER FARM & MARKET: 37 Front St. (down Bootleg Alley), Greenport; 631-477-6992, littlecreekoysters.com
LONG ISLAND FARM BREWERY: 663 Wading River Rd., Manorville; 631-909-1864, longislandfarmbrewery.com
MCCALL WINES: 22600 Rte. 25 (Main Road), Cutchogue; 631-734-5764, mccallwines.com
NICKY’S CLAM BAR: 99 Maple Ave., Bay Shore; 631-665-6621, nickysclambar.com
ON THE DOCKS: 177 Meeting House Creek Rd., Aquebogue; 631-886-1160, onthedocksgrill.com
PAUMANOK VINEYARDS: 1074 Main Rd. (Route 25), Aquebogue; 631-722-8800, paumanok.com
PLATTDUETSCHE PARK: 1132 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square; 516-354-3131, parkrestaurant.com
RALPH’S FAMOUS ITALIAN ICES: ralphsices.com
SCHULTZY’S RESTAURANT: 265 Bayville Ave., Bayville; 516-588-6240, longislandrawbar.com
SOUND SHORE FARMS & MARKET: 5629 Sound Ave., Jamesport; 631-722-4740, bayviewfarmmarket.com
SOUTHOLD FISH MARKET: 64755 Rte. 25 (Main Road), Southold; 631-765-3200
SPICY HOME TASTY: 1087 Jericho Tpke., Commack; 631-543-8880 and 1260 Waverly Ave., Farmingville; 631-698-6550, spicyhometastylongisland.com
SWEET TREATS ON THE WHARF: 405 Main St., Port Washington; 516-708-1706
SWELL TACO: 135 Deer Park Ave., Babylon; 631-482-1299, swelltacoli.com
TEPACHE TASTE OF MEXICO: 47 Franklin Ave., Valley Stream; 516-400-9238, tepachetasteofmexico.com
TIPSY SCOOP: 891B W. Beech St., Long Beach; 516-608-0578, tipsyscoop.com
VILLAGE - THE SOUL OF INDIA: 11 W. Marie St., Hicksville; 516-506-3655, villagesoulofindia.com