The beer bar on the water where locals quench their assorted thirsts and hungers.
NEW SUFFOLK—The variety, color and number of beer taps out in the busy bar is rivaled only by the number and diversity of spices in the warren-like kitchen at Legends, an institution in New Suffolk that has been quenching cravings for pale ale from Nova Scotia or za’atar-dusted lamb chops for 17 years.
But don’t get comfortable with the selections; owners Diane and Dennis Harkoff and chef Ralph Foulkes are constantly tweaking and trying new things. Once a keg of Longtrail Brewmaster Belgian White from Vermont is gone, it’s probably going to be replaced with something new, like the local Robert Moses Pale Ale from the Great South Bay Brewery. And those Thai sausage and shrimp wonton saucers you love could one day turn into a Napoleon, as Foulkes is always looking to balance tastes and textures while keeping the regulars—some of whom come from western Suffolk—happy. “We can’t take the lobster potpie off the menu, though,” says Foulkes.
Seventeen years ago when the Harkoffs bought the building, everyone thought they were crazy. It was boarded up, a shell of the restaurant it once was, Bonnie’s by the Bay, due to suffering through a nor’easter that left 18-inch-high watermarks all over the restaurant.
But the couple, who grew up summering on the North Fork, had shopped around. And even though the commercial properties neighboring the building were practically derelict—a general store/post office hadn’t survived the storm—they knew they had found a home.
Dennis wanted a bar where customers could watch sports while sampling beer from around the world, and Diane wanted a restaurant where customers could sample food from around the world. Thus Legends has always had two spaces and two personalities. The bar is an active place with a couple dozen televisions airing all manner of sports packages, while the dining room is quiet with soft lighting. The eclectic menu is available in both rooms.
“People tell me eating here is like traveling without the hassle,” says Diane.
Because the menu reflects Foulkes continued interest in learning new cuisines by reading cookbooks and watching other chefs at work on the Food Channel, this presents diners with dishes like the Mediter-Asian salad, New Orleans–style stuffed clams, and cacciucco, a Tuscan seafood stew.
However exotic the menu sounds, the Harkoffs and Foulkes base it on what’s available nearby throughout the year. Expect to see weakfish offered when the lilacs are blooming and blackfish when the water’s temperate in the spring and fall. Greens come from Krupski’s Farm up the street and Satur Farms in Cutchogue, and shellfish comes out of the waters across the street from the restaurant.
And the Harkoffs’ investment seems to have paid off. New Suffolk has been going through a dramatic revitalization. That waterfront land in front of the restaurant has been preserved with the help of the Peconic Land Trust and private donors. A community garden has cropped up and the restaurant has been promised some of the bounty.
Also, over the winter, the Harkoffs closed for four and a half months to give the bar and dining room a complete renovation prompted by a roof problem. The place is the same, but different. Designed by New Suffolk architect Nancy Steelman, the restaurant is sleeker, the windows are larger, there are new banquettes, and all the televisions are now flat-screened and hug the walls.
But there’s still no doubt about where you are: the bartender that’s been with the Harkoffs since day one is still pulling beer and mixing Amethyst Martinis. Members of the Peconic Bay Sailing Association still fill the bar on Wednesday nights after their weekly races around Robins Island. Beer enthusiasts are still satisfied by the choices: bottled beers from 33 countries and 21 beers on tap. Locavores can eat and drink with impunity, and sports fans will never miss an important game. The people-watching is unparalleled.
“After being here so long,” says Diane, “we’ve kind of figured out what works.”