Fresh & Local: Greenport’s Food Revolution
By Rachel Bosworth
A once significant whaling port and shipbuilding hub, Greenport has a deep and meaningful nautical history that lends itself to much of the village’s modern day culture. As one of the North Fork’s furthest points east, fisheries have found success within the seaside community’s harbors; their daily catches and harvests populating local menus on the East End and into Manhattan, and even further.
With the changing North Fork foodscape, trends like farm-to-table have shifted from movements to mainstays. Food is a cornerstone in East End culture; farming and winemaking are respected careers, contributing to the area’s restaurants where passionate chefs are local celebrities. With five new restaurants opening this summer in Greenport alone, the North Fork continues to see a welcoming progression in a diversifying restaurant industry.
“Now to be considered decent or good, you have to be sourcing from the best, freshest farms and using seasonally appropriate goods; it’s a must,” says Chef Stephan Bogardus of the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold. The critically acclaimed restaurant has had long standing success on the East End since its opening in 2005 by the late Gerry Hayden and his wife, Claudia Fleming. The pair were considered to be at the forefront of farm-to-table dining on the North Fork. “Aspiring to be the best creates a need to constantly evaluate what you are doing and how the guest receives it.”
Chef Bogardus shares that the restaurant attempts to give an identity to the North Fork. “We have spent over a decade forming relationships with the top producers to blend the pristine bounty of the North Fork and the finest produce in the world,” he says. “When you look at a plate coming out of our kitchen you will be able to know when and where you are because of what you are eating. What motivates me to work as hard as we do is feeling the beauty and love within the North Fork community. That same feeling is what we try to convey to our guests through gastronomy.”
It is the strong sense of community that has been the driving force behind the success of North Fork restaurants, and something many new establishments want to transcend to not just locals, but the increasing summer population. “We want to have it be something that’s more casual and comfortable,” says Andy Harbin, who recently signed a lease to open Andy’s, a gastropub-style eatery this summer. “This is a place where you can just show up as you are,” added his business partner and Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts.
With their wives, Sharon and Mary respectively, the Greenport residents plan to create a family-friendly place that focuses on comfort food with local, organic products. “We’re not calorie-free, but we’re chemical-free,” Harbin laughs. “Some trends are more than a trend, they’re a change.”
Harbin feels there are a lot of excellent restaurants in the village that cater to a higher end clientele, but few places that cater to families, especially during lunch. “There are a lot of people coming off boats in the summer, and they are very casual,” Harbin says. “I don’t think there’s enough places even for them.”
Though still in the developmental stages, Harbin’s namesake restaurant will focus on locally sourced food and beverage in a brighter and airier space than its former Front Street occupant. “We’re in a sea town, we’re going to have seafood, as local as you can get,” he says, nodding to the village’s vast seafaring history. “That’s the beauty of food, especially out here. We’ll have staple items, but there’s going to be a lot of our menu that’s going to change with the seasons.”
Keith and Ali Bavaro also have a profound understanding of what people expect living and visiting the East End. The owners of SALT on Shelter Island are opening a second waterfront location called PORT. Nestled between Mitchell Park Marina and the North Ferry, the duo say they are taking what they’ve learned on Shelter Island to bring to Greenport.
“We want people to feel comfortable coming in for lunch right off their boat, to feel like the bartender is an old friend and the wait staff is fun, local and knowledgeable,” the pair say of the new restaurant slated to open in time for Memorial Day weekend. Aiming to offer approachable food in a comfortable atmosphere, the Bavaros have teamed up with Chef Michael Fortino and Nikki Kefalas Fortino from the U.S. Virgin Islands to bring Caribbean flair to the local scene.
“[Chef Fortino] is excited to try a few new preparations of our local seafood,” share the Bavaros. “[ Fortino’s] sense of enlightened hospitality will ensure that each guest squeezes every last drop of fun from those long summer days.”
It’s the idea of being approachable, sustainable and filling niches the village is currently lacking that the new restaurants are hoping to achieve. A sense of being founded on the community is something those new to the East End are striving for as well, alongside some places that have been around for generations.
“I don’t want to compete with what is already out here on the North Fork,” says Chef Frank DeCarlo, who will open Barba Bianca in the former Scrimshaw restaurant overlooking Greenport harbor this June. “I’m going to be doing stuff that is multi-regional but really focusing on Liguria, Puglia, Veneto and Sardegna; the coastal regions where the food is so diverse. I want people to feel like they took a trip to a coastal town in Italy when they eat with us.”
The restaurant’s name is a nod to Greenport’s maritime history, as it means “White Beard,” and references the naming of pirates by the color of their beard and white bearded fisherman in old photos and paintings. Chef DeCarlo, whose own beard is white, says Barba Bianca will be different than his established restaurant, Peasant located in Nolita, in that it will showcase less common local seafood like whelk, razor clams, mantis shrimp, bluefish, skate, and eel.
“We want to showcase the seafood most people don’t get to experience because it’s not mainstream, but it’s delicious and more importantly not overfished,” says Chef DeCarlo. “The only meat we will serve will be local and environmentally friendly, like rabbit, chicken, duck, and guinea hens.”
A seasoned Greenport chef and restaurant owner, Robby Beaver of The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, also feels farm-to-table has become the norm. As the face of food continues to change on the North Fork, a new development he has noticed is the dietary restrictions for both health and wellness. “The ability to accommodate various food allergies has become increasingly important, but has also evolved into developing menu options with a focus on health. We see a real change in mindset when it comes to wellness as more and more people are making the choice to avoid dairy or eat vegan, for example,” Chef Beaver shares.
This is something that resonates with Chef Beaver personally, as his youngest child’s food intolerance led the family to take an entirely new approach to how they eat. “Everyone is educating themselves on where their food comes from, what’s in their food, and how it affects their health. We’ve always been really intentional about that here at Frisky with how we source and prepare our menus.”
Chef Beaver also feels that his restaurant embodies the nature of the North Fork. “From our open-air lounge overlooking busy Front Street, to our cocktails and wines, to the menus; everything is a reflection of the bounty and beauty of the North Fork,” he says. “We source the freshest, local, seasonal ingredients, and we make everything in-house; from the fresh juice in your cocktail, to the ice cream in your dessert, we take a whole lot of pride in the authenticity that is the essence of the North Fork.”
The Olive Branch Café in the Front Street courtyard across from Mitchell Park will have a cafeteria, full-service restaurant, and outdoor seating serving authentic homemade Mediterranean fare. They also plan to offer a delivery service, something that is rare on the North Fork as a whole.
“The North Fork has carved its niche by contributing stellar community relationships between producers, restaurants, and delivering a premier guest experiences,” Chef Bogardus says. “Growing up on the North Fork and seeing what we have achieved is both humbling and highly inspiring.”