East End Eats: The North Fork and Cork

It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk country
The Greenport carousel is a perennial favorite site to visit on a North Fork jaunt. Laura Donnelly

A trip to the North Fork is always a treat at this time of year. It is a reassuring pleasure to see the flat landscape along Routes 48 and 25 dotted with many vineyards, farms, wineries, and the occasional patch of hop trellises along the side of the road. These poles reach higher than 30 feet because the hops plants can grow just as high and as much as a foot per day. It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk country. The clouds and sky are different from the South Fork and the mums and pumpkins are cheaper!

Although I usually make a stop at the better-known Briermere Farms in Riverhead for pies and dumplings, this time I made a pilgrimage to the tiny but well stocked Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs in Jamesport. This is the home of the best strudels around, and it is a good idea to reserve one in advance because they sell out quickly in the morning. The cases are packed with a jumble of cookies and other confections, but another item caught my eye and I’m glad I bought it: a tiny but mile-high lemon meringue pie. The crust was crisp, the lemon filling tart, and the meringue was coated on the sides with crunchy bits of I-don’t-know-what. It was divine.

It is unfortunate that the speed limit is mostly 45 to 50 miles per hour between villages, because every time I saw something that looked worthwhile (“Southern fried chicken dinner this Sunday”), I was well past it before it registered. There were quite a few party limousines on Route 25, the passengers responsibly enjoying the winery tours. One amusing sight along the side of the road was a pedal party — a.k.a. fietscafe, bierfiets, or bier bike — a contraption that holds about 8 to 10 passengers, all pedaling the vehicle, bundled up, imbibing local wines, with a sober steerer. This party bike was invented by Het Fietscafe of the Netherlands in 1997.

In Mattituck, it is always worth a trip down Love Lane, a mere block or two of small brick buildings with charming boutiques, restaurants, and the Village Cheese Shop.

Driving east or west on Route 25 you will find more wineries to pop into, some of the best being Pellegrini in Cutchogue, Old Field in Southold, and Paumanok in Aquebogue. On Route 48, One Woman Winery in Southold, Palmer in Northville, and Lieb Cellars in Cutchogue are all excellent. At the border of the Towns of Riverhead and Southold on 48 (Middle Road) you will no doubt hit the Harbes Family Farm pumpkin picking, hayride, live music frenzy traffic, so be forewarned. It is like Hank’s Pumpkintown on steroids.

Heading back to my most favorite village of all, Greenport, I was debating with a friend on where we should eat. Little Creek Oyster Farm? Noah’s? 1943 Pizza? The choices are endless. We decided to try Olive Branch, a charming Turkish restaurant that is one year old. It is made up of two buildings inside the courtyard on Front Street across from the carousel. There is a dining room, a shop, and tables outside in the courtyard. The weather was pleasant enough for us to sit outside. 

But first I had to stop by Basso Cicchetti in Sterling Square. This is a tiny wine bar with just a few stools, some fine gourmet items from Italy, and a few prepared foods like roasted red peppers, fennel salad, marinated artichokes, and huge meatballs topped with ricotta and gravy on the bar. On this day, the owner, Nick DeCillis, was hanging out with some buddies, grilling steaks and Brussels sprouts on the outdoor grill and manning the Berkel flywheel meat slicer that had a big hunk of prosciutto on it. I shared a glass of wine with them while I waited for a few pizzas to go from 1943 across the square (New Haven pizza with mashed potatoes, garlic, and bacon, and an Iberico chorizo, red onion, and basil pizza). I couldn’t resist getting one of the monster meatballs from Basso, along with a few slices of prosciutto. The meatball was the size of a baseball, fluffy and garlicky, made with local pork and sausage.

Then it was on to the Olive Branch, opened in August 2017 and open every day all year round. The chef-owner Yusuf Alptekin hails from Turkey, and he and his wife, Michelle, are as warm and welcoming as can be. We thoroughly enjoyed some muhammara, a red pepper, walnut, and garlic spread served with warm pita bread slices. Then babaganoush and spinach “kopita,” their version of spanakopita. This rendition was very thin layers of phyllo dough with fresh spinach leaves and dil peyniri, a type of Turkish string cheese. (The menu says feta, but Yusuf told us he used the string cheese.) It was like a thin quesadilla and utterly delicious.

The drive home required a quick stop at Marie Eiffel Market on Shelter Island for a baguette, tomato sauce, and French butter. This place has the best ham, Gruyere, and butter sandwiches on housemade baguettes.

It would take weeks to cover every nook and cranny and tasting room and diner and church supper on the North Fork, and I wish I could. It never fails to charm, and it remains agrarian and pastoral. So hop on the ferries and see for yourself, from Catapano goat cheese to Southold Shindig oysters to crisp chenin blanc, this is the perfect fall foray.

Many of the enticements of a trip to the North Fork are food and drink related. Above, the legendary apple strudel of Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs in Jamesport; below, the Olive Branch in Greenport, where Yusuf Alptekin can be seen outside harvesting his own herbs.
Above, the prosciutto at Greenport’s Basso Cicchetti e Specialita; below, a side trip to Marie Eiffel on Shelter Island for the French specialties.
Wine tastings at vineyards such as Kontokosta Winery in Greenport.Laura Donnelly Photos