This bistro-hotel is a farm-to-table refuge for guests, as well as its chef-owner.
Look into the small but efficient kitchen at Cuvée Bistro and Bar at the Greenporter Hotel in Greenport and don’t be surprised to find someone behind the stove dressed for dinner, in all black, wearing jewelry and makeup. She’s arranging food on the plates, pouring brandy into a frying pan to make the sauce for steak au poivre (and then getting out of the way of the flame) and hand rolling gnocchi. It’s Friday night and chef/owner/business woman Deborah R. Pittorino has just pulled in from the city and, as she does every weekend in the winter, is checking in on her operation. First it’s outside the kitchen door to what’s left of her herb garden in mid-November. Wild fennel to garnish the steak au poivre and lavender for the salad Niçoise, sage for the butternut squash gnocchi’s beurre blanc and chives to wrap the haricots verts into little bundles.
Then, like most chefs, she makes herself something to eat (pork tacos with homemade tortillas and salsa containing the last of the green tomatoes) and eats it standing up. She communicates in Spanish with the line cooks and dishwashers, one of the languages she speaks as a result of growing up around the world (she’s the daughter of a State Department employee with stations including Paris and Mexico City) and a previous career that took her to Spain, India and France again. The cosmopolitan upbringing, eating well and spending time in markets initiated and reinforced a love of food and fresh ingredients and a lifelong curiosity about creating in the kitchen. And part of that is what brought her here.
“It doesn’t get really cold until the depths of December,” she says, “so I still have herbs in my garden; I use the sage and the rosemary, and I just picked the last of the tomatoes last week. A garden here can go pretty far into the winter.”
Hers may be another one of those stories of how someone with a successful business in business—executive recruiting—decides to look for a summerhouse and comes home the owner of an old motor lodge.
With a husband from the Boston area, and her single days summering in Amagansett, the North Fork was a good compromise. In 2000 the two saw the bare bones of what would become the Greenporter, an old motel where the cars could pull up to the doors of the rooms. Two vacant lots sat to the west; they bought those, too.
“Our plan was to have the hotel, and build the second wing on the lots, where it is now. It has an additional 19 rooms and office space.”
But for Pittorino, who is also known by her maiden name, Rivera, the exciting part was building a kitchen from scratch and to her specifications. “It really was a lot of fun,” she says. “I don’t think I would change a whole lot. You have to think about circulation and what you’re going to offer—do you need a freezer, and things like that. But, I think, one kind of grows into a kitchen.” She then felt she was ready to do the kind of food she wanted to do, which, she admits, the community was not quite ready for.
“When I first opened, the restaurant was very much about the wine,” she says. “And we did smaller plates: charcuterie, cheese plates, baguettes, tapenade. Different types of salads. I don’t think the area was ready for that.” And, she adds, this was before the opening of the popular and innovative Frisky Oyster, just down Front Street to the east. And the success of Noah’s, a near-decade later, even closer on Front Street, which has made its reputation on small plates. “To a degree I feel the business had a life of its own and I had to grow with it,” she says. “You have to learn about the area when you live there. And this area was, and is, in transition.”
Being a businesswoman, as well as a chef, Pittorino adjusted and started offering dishes more apt to a bistro than a wine bar. “Customers were checking into their rooms on Friday and wanted heartier fare,” she says, “so we grew into more of a restaurant.” Now the bistro features classic French dishes. Pittorino, a self-taught cook, values employees who “know a lot. There are kids going through my kitchen who know how to make a Mornay sauce and have knife skills, but a lot of people cannot make a classic omelet or make a risotto correctly.” She adds, “I believe in having a classic foundation before you start experimenting with things.”
While the menu is typically French, serving le hamburger, bouillabaisse de la maison, les moules and a salade Niçoise, Asian touches are also there with the filet au salmon asiatique and le thon a la japonais, as well as tuna tartare right above tuna sashimi.
And though Pittorino would by no means be the first or the last to say it, cooking on the North Fork presents enormous possibilities for chefs who want what’s freshest, which translates to what is available within driving distance. “Here we can capitalize on the local seafood, steamers, oysters and duck year round,” she says. “It’s so special out here.” It’s one reason she put a tiny freezer in the kitchen. If it’s not fresh, she throws it out.
The winter lets her hone her craft and get away from the business world that keeps her out late at night and on red-eyes from coast to coast. To some it may sound like a burden, knowing what you’re going to do every weekend, and having to rush back no matter how late your flight got in to roll gnocchi.
“It’s kind of comforting doing the same thing over and over,” she says. And, she admits, there are some Fridays “when I’m tired and don’t think I can do it, but then you get in the kitchen. ” It’s instructive to view Pittorino’s operation as an agriturismo, an Italian institution where families open their homes and their farms to visitors, preparing them meals from the produce of their land and sending them on their way to locals doing the same thing.
For someone with a full-time job during the week in the city and a restaurant on the East End that swells from 45 to 85 seats in the summer when the deck opens, Pittorino is more than happy to recommend other restaurants to the guests at her hotel. “It takes some pressure off of me,” she says.
In the meantime, she oversees the creation of fried oysters with spinach and beurre blanc served in their shells as well as a house-made duck pâté using, of course, duck liver from Crescent Duck Farm, 30 minutes west on the Main Road. The future holds a soup cookbook, sure to include the silky mushroom bisque, a special one night recently. “Americans are more interested in their food sources now,” she says. “That’s good for us on the North Fork.”
Eileen M. Duffy, Edible East End’s deputy editor, holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the International Wine Center and writes from her home in Southold.