Things are bad all over, yes, but not equally bad all over. Spared from the worst of it: liquor store owners, makers of hand sanitizer, drive-in theater proprietors and men like Jeff Strong, as discovered last Sunday while strolling the water’s edge with him at Mattituck Inlet.
"I can tell you that in March, when this thing really hit, my wife and I were sitting at our kitchen table thinking, holy cow, what are we doing?" said the ruddy-faced president of Strong’s Marine, one of the country’s biggest boat dealers, with four sales locations and three marinas on the Island. "It was about seven weeks that were dicey, and then all of a sudden, in the third week of April, it was like the floodgates opened." Sales of all manner of watercraft exploded, both here and nationally. For well-heeled types, such vessels meant a chance to quarantine in style, but even lockdowned landlubbers found themselves dreaming of the ocean’s endless expanse. "People were like, I’m not traveling to Europe, my kids are not in sports, we’re not traveling around. What can we do here on Long Island that’s great. Let’s go boating!"
Having successfully sailed against the business tide once this year, Strong was determined to do it again, this time in even more turbulent waters. In late September, he opened a restaurant on the grounds of his Mattituck marina. Windamere is the name and early indications are that it too will prove an unlikely win. The eatery formerly known as Pace’s Dockside has been re-imagined from stem to stern, with a new menu, new décor, and a new year-round opportunity: watching the sun sink into the inlet from the relative comfort of a heated patio.
"Pace did a good job, but the restaurant was never fully connected with the property," Strong explained. Crafting a new identity for his eatery led him and his team to the library in Mattituck, the Southold Historical Society and ultimately the original Windamere, a resort on the grounds whose heyday was in the 1890s and early decades of the twentieth century. "It was right smack in the middle of the property."
"It was known for hosting parties and entertainment," added Kelsey Cheslock, Windamere’s marketing director. "At one point they had a 500-person chorus from Brooklyn that took the train out to Mattituck."
And it was known too for a cocktail popular with Brooklynites of the day, a bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup concoction topped with a red wine floater that appears on the menu today as a Windamere sour ($12). Otherwise, the emphasis is on seafood and traditional American, "high-quality, local fare," as Strong put it. Highlights include lobster sliders served hot or cold ($24), Long Island duck wings served with a terrific wasabi sauce that will clear your sinuses from a mile away ($14), roasted local flounder with polenta ($32), bacon Cheddar cheeseburgers with caramelized onions ($16), and frequent specials to include spinach-stuffed chicken ($28).
"It was always going to be great, but during COVID time it’s even more relevant," said Strong, pointing out Windamere’s many attractive outdoor eating areas — the patio, gazebo, tiki tables, Adirondack chairs on a lawn that rolls on forever before meeting the water. "The sun literally sets right down here," he said. "So it’s a pretty special property."
Windamere is at 2255 Wickham Ave. in Mattituck, 631-315-5252, windamereofo.com. Opening hours are Sunday, Monday and Thursday from noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.