The cute bartender leaned over the bar as if to tell me a secret. But it wasn’t one; it was as obvious as the smiles on everyone’s faces. “This is a great place to work,” he said.
Welcome to Noah’s, a Greenport restaurant now in its third season that regularly does more than 100 dinners on weeknights—a turning of tables that is rare for this old whaling town—has a devoted cast of regulars and is expanding into the space next door.
“People say to me that it seems like we’ve always been here,” says Noah Schwartz, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Sunita. “I guess that’s a good thing.”
And it’s been good from day one. The couple opened the restaurant in January 2010 expecting to have a slow start to work out the kinks before summer. “But people were ready to be receptive of whatever we had to offer,” says Schwartz. “We opened with a bang and stayed crazy busy and then just rolled into the summer season full speed ahead.”
Like most chefs, Schwartz sees his menu as a place to exercise creativity, so he set it up with a focus on small plates that would showcase the local produce of the land and sea and evolve throughout the year. And like most chefs, Schwartz found that when customers develop favorites, there are parts of your menu that will never change.
“We have signature dishes that I’ll have a hard time getting rid of now,” he says. Such as the grilled sardines. (“We’re lucky we get a year-round supply from the Mediterranean.”) And the Crescent Farm pulled-duck barbecue served on smoked cheddar polenta. And the crab-stuffed deviled eggs. (“I don’t think we’ll ever take that off. We just did a couple hundred of them for the Obama on the Bay fund-raiser.”) Once, Schwartz abandoned his planned specials in favor of a late-afternoon delivery of black sea bass, serving the fish raw, fried and in a soup.
Schwartz grew up on Long Island, attended the New England Culinary Institute and wound up in St. Helena, California, doing an internship at the Culinary Institute’s Napa restaurant, where he started in baking and pastry arts and eventually worked at all stations. After that, he moved to Sonoma County and started a career that took him to the kitchens of local chefs—including a stage at Chez Panisse in Berkeley—where he learned all aspects of the business and became a chef himself. Along the way he met Sunita, who works in the front of the house. They set out to further their educations, he by studying viticulture and vinification at Santa Rosa Community College, she by working for Ravenswood Winery.
In the meantime, Schwartz’s parents had moved to Southold, where the couple with their daughter, Phurlamu, would visit. Soon they were bitten by the North Fork bug. “I kind of fell in love with it,” he says. “It reminded me of young Sonoma.” So they moved here in 2008 after the birth of their son, Jonas. Schwartz took over the kitchen at the Seafood Barge (now Tom Schaudel’s A Lure) and started developing the kind of menu he now serves at Noah’s: seafood-centric small plates that change with the seasons. As best he can.
“We’re definitely seasonal,” he says, adding that the menu is printed every day. “But I guess we’re more whimsical than seasonal. The seasons are so short out here. You get four seasons, but you really only get two good weeks of strawberries.”
So in late June he was cooking up specials with seared sea scallops from Shinnecock, baby carrots and shelling peas.
“Everything is popping now,” he said. On other plates were fava beans and pea shoots destined to accompany striped bass, whose market season starts July 1.
Always on the menu is the raw bar with oysters from Tom Cornell of Hog Neck Bay, Pipes Cove and Blue Point. The Long Island clam chowder is assembled à la minute, and the crab cakes are 100 percent crab with celery, fennel, lemon zest and Old Bay seasoning.
And the Schwartzes keep a good number of Long Island wines on the list, available in three- or six-ounce pours. Another favorite pairing is the Anomaly rosé by Anthony Nappa with those grilled sardines. In addition to the hard-boiled eggs, the Tastes section of the menu includes duck liver mousse, house-marinated olives, beer-and-bacon-glazed spiced almonds and Crescent Farm duck rillette, all of which pair nicely with the perfect apertif: sparkling wine. At Noah’s, the Sparkling Pointe Brut is available by the glass.
All this is going on with a construction crew pounding away next door. The plans include extending the existing sea glass–speckled bar into a U-shape and adding lounge seating in the front by the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows that look out on Front Street. In the back will be a space for private parties and much-needed storage, including a temperature-controlled wine room.
Schwartz stands in the south-facing window before getting behind the stove to prep for the coming evening’s meal. Village residents walk by and wave. Schwartz waves back, just like he’s always been here.