Although my driver’s license will tell you that I am a Vermonter, in my heart I have always been an East Ender. On the iciest winter day, I dream of the moment when I will drive off the Cross Sound Ferry, roll down my windows and take a deep breath of ocean air. In a world where “nature” all too often consists of a potted office philodendron and a sod-covered central square, the ocean is many people’s only experience with the natural world. Nature was commonplace in my Vermont childhood, but I find the sea more invigorating than any mountaintop or stream. So in the summer, while my friends get big-city desk jobs or return to their camps upstate for the 11th year running, I find a way to be in Long Island.
This summer, I am here for a few weeks at both ends of my three-month summer break. I’ve fixed myself a delicious Long Island sandwich. In the middle, I’ll be back at school (so I guess it’s really a college sandwich, but does that sound even half as appetizing?), making the trip down to the South Fork every few weeks by car. I take three boats to get here: the Cross Sound Ferry and two small car-ferries. It’s a simple trip: 114 South takes me basically all the way, and the ferry rides are a lovely change of pace from highway autopilot. And like any good Long Islander, I have scoped out the food situation extensively. This is my schedule of stops on the well-traveled path through the East End.
First, in Orient, I pull off Route 25 in East Marion for some odds and ends. Fork and Anchor, a convenience store that’s so much more, was revamped a year and a half ago by Erin Fitzpatrick and Lucy Muellner. Their from-scratch sandwiches, custom coffee, and pastries from Blue Duck Bakery attract many daily customers; “Some customers come in four or five times a day,” says Muellner. They open at 5:30 a.m., and their breakfast BLT is a favorite. An amusing array of products line the shelves, from name-brand chips and sodas to Joe & Liza’s ice cream. Lucy says their aim is to ”not alienate anyone,” and when it comes to sandwiches and breakfast foods, to give customers better, fresher food “without them realizing it.” Even if it were just to say hi to the very friendly staff, a stop at the Fork and Anchor is a must.
Next, just for a whiff, I pull off the road on the south side at Lavender by the Bay. The last time I stopped here I picked up a jar of the lavender sugar, which sprinkled over berries is hands-down my favorite summer dessert. A host of other lavender products entices me as well: honey, creams, lotions, soaps and candles. The lavender is blooming almost all summer, so no matter when I’m driving by, I know there will be a field of purple fragrant herbs waiting for me.
If I’m feeling fancy, my next stop is Vines & Branches on Main Street in Greenport. At Vines & Branches, you can wander through the aisles, tossing back little sips of infused (and “fused,” which apparently is a different thing! Who knew!?) extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes aged for up to 14 years in four types of wooden barrels. The mission fig vinaigrette is fantastic drizzled over a Caprese salad, and their cranberry pear white balsamic vinaigrette is a crowd pleaser. After my Mediterranean indulgence, I carry on my way toward the North Ferry.
I have explored many food establishments on Shelter Island, but have never been so taken as I am with Maria’s Kitchen. Part convenience store, part Mexican take-out spot, Maria’s has something for everyone. The casual, simple, but downright delicious food and atmosphere remind me of my own family’s kitchen, and the reasons I love Long Island. Before Maria’s, the building housed an organic food store called Greeny’s. Maria Schultheis, who worked at Greeny’s, took it over and transformed it a little over a year ago. Their most popular dishes are the shrimp tacos and fish tacos, but I can’t seem to stop ordering the chicken burrito or California grilled chicken wrap with goat cheese. Maria’s also has fresh salads, fresh guacamole, and pico de gallo. After trying a few different organic green juices on the island, I’ve come to the conclusion that Maria’s are possibly the best, and certainly the quickest. This little spot is easy to miss as you zoom by on 114, but after my first visit, I wouldn’t dream of passing up an opportunity to grab a monstrous burrito and chat with Maria and her daughter Margaret. Once I manage to drag myself away from the adorable yellow-shuttered building, I continue full-bellied and content toward the South Ferry.
Each trip to the South Fork brings new surprises and flavors, and it’s rare that I’m disappointed. Disembarking in North Haven, I immediately feel at home. Already stuffed with East End bounty, I’ve barely begun.