Finding the Love in Mattituck

Isla McLean at Magic Fountain. Christian McLean photos
Isla McLean at Magic Fountain. Christian McLean photos

By Emily J. Weitz

Good Morning

The North Fork of Long Island is comprised of a string of towns, each with its own quaint charm, stitched together by one long road that stretches from Riverhead to Orient. But one town has an advantage that most of the others lack: Mattituck’s shops, cafes, and markets are off the main drag, cozily nestled on the aptly named Love Lane. This makes Mattituck the destination for strolling, for sitting on a bench, for enjoying the village life. And it also creates a sense of community that is palpable.

When my husband and I ventured to Mattituck with our two young daughters, we kicked it off with a place with a sense of history. Ammirati’s of Love Lane may have only opened a couple years ago, but the two brothers, Gregory and Stephen Ammirati, have been steeped in the culinary tradition of the town for their whole lives. Their parents ran Ammirati’s Cupboard, a gourmet deli just down the block, for a decade when the boys were growing up. Then, both boys got jobs at the market that is now Lombardi’s. Opening a place of their own seemed to have been written in their destiny.

“Unfortunately it’s in our blood,” laughed Gregory from behind the counter as he served up our bacon, egg, and cheeses. “We always

Breakfast at Ammirati's.
Breakfast at Ammirati’s.

wanted to come home to Love Lane.”

The neighborhood has changed a lot since they were kids, and Gregory attributes Love Lane Kitchen (more on that at lunchtime) to the transformation.

“We knew we wanted to be on Love Lane,” he repeated. “We didn’t know what Love Lane would be, but we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Pictures of the boys growing up, of their friends and family and history in Mattituck, are framed on the walls. It’s the kind of place that belongs in a town, where the guys working behind the counter have witnessed the changes, and have brought a grounding force to those changes. Ammirati’s is a reminder that Mattituck will always be about community.

And by the way, the egg sandwiches were perfect, achieving that harmonious moment when the cheese melts into the egg yolk so delicately that you can’t quite figure out where one ends and the other begins. Good morning.

A Stitch and Espresso in Time

At Lombardi's
At Lombardi’s

Once our bellies were filled, we meandered across the street to Lombardi’s market for a look at the espresso bar. Towards the back, beyond the cases of prepared Italian specialties and imported meats and cheeses, there’s a marble counter with a few bar stools. Kathy Lorenzo, one of the managers, served up a strong latte for me and a neat espresso for Christian as the girls drew pictures of steaming cups of coffee.

“This is a destination street,” Lorenzo said of Love Lane.

Even though it seemed awfully small, it was beginning to feel like we could spend the whole day on that one block without leaving. We carried our caffeinated beverages back across the street to Altman’s Needlearts, where a knitting class was in full swing. A dozen or so women sat around an oval table as a teacher walked among them, offering tips and guidance over the pleasant hum of easy conversation.

Kate Altman, the owner, joined me on a bench outside while my seven-year-old gawked at the selection of yarn. The shop, she explained, has been on Love Lane for three and a half years, and she’s felt welcomed and supported by the Mattituck community.

“Needlearts creates community,” said Altman. “People who make things together make their own community. We inspire, teach, and encourage.”

There are classes at Altman’s almost every day, and Altman herself teaches children after school regularly. They’ll start by talking about what the child might want to make, and then they’ll see a project through.

Altman has been coming to Mattituck for 30 years, though she’s only lived here year-round for seven. She’s been excited by the changes that have come to town in recent years, including lots of new shops on Pike Street, which intersects Love Lane.

“Change is hard,” she said, “but it’s healthy. People from all over the world come here. It’s a real town with a post office, a hair dresser, a market. People enjoy being part of the community, if only for a day.”

Altman gave my daughter Isla a needlepoint project, and sat with her in one of the cozy armchairs inside to show her how to use the needle. She let her pick out a new thread (she chose bright red) and showed her the delicate stitching. Isla carried it with her all day, taking it out every chance she got.

Yarn at Altman's Needlearts
Yarn at Altman’s Needlearts

Down by the Bay

There had been a lot of talk of the new shops on Pike Street: everyone loved The Greek Market and The Repurpose Project so we rounded the corner to see what it was all about. There was The Broken Down Valise, a perfect dive bar across from the train station, and Goodfood, which claimed to have the best coffee in town. I picked up a second cup, since we were on vacation. Then we hopped in the car for the five minute ride to the beaches.

The family at Veteran's Park Beach.
The family at Veteran’s Park Beach.

Once you pull up to the sparkling water and the white sandy beaches of Mattituck, you’re reminded that, for all the sweetness in the villages, it’s the beaches that makes Long Island magical. Mattituck is no exception.

Right off Route 25, beyond the shopping plazas and the Starbucks, you can once again find your slice of paradise: the sound of lapping salt water and the occasional shout of a child. Because what’s better than making cement out of sand and water and dropping it on your mother’s bare foot? What’s better than sand warmed by a morning of unadulterated sunshine?

Perhaps the fact that the massive playground, which has a section for older kids and another for the little ones, is right there. After sandcastle making and shell-collecting grows weary, kids get a new shot of life in the jungle gym under the shady trees.

A Break for Lunch

After a heated game of “troll under the bridge”, we were able to rationalize eating again, so we headed back to Love Lane for lunch at the anchor of the town: the Love Lane Kitchen. We weren’t the only ones, so we waited about 20 minutes on the outdoor patio for a table to open up. A couple ordered beers in the early afternoon, a pair of women grazed on giant bowls of quinoa salad.

We sat at a four-top in the window, and I took in the ambience: ceiling fans revolved slowly and signs like “Love goes on and on…” hung on the walls. The menu was mouth-watering, but I knew I couldn’t resist the lobster roll, with big chunks of claw and tail meat served on a brioche bun. Christian had the fish tacos, livened up with cubes of mango and avocado. His iced coffee had the thoughtful touch of ice cubes made of coffee – a clever way to keep the caffeine flowing. My glass of sauvignon blanc was a perfect balance to the lobster roll. The kids were happy with their chicken fingers and burgers, and we were right there with everybody else at Love Lane Kitchen, enjoying a perfect Saturday afternoon over delicious food.

Fish tacos at Love Lane Kitchen.
Fish tacos at Love Lane Kitchen.

A Lesson in Vinefera

At Roanoke Vineyard.
At Roanoke Vineyard.

After lunch we crossed Love Lane for the umpteenth time to step into the storefront of Roanoke Vineyard. Now a wine club, the vineyard itself has 1000 members who can go to the grounds for tastings and gatherings. But this wine bar on Love Lane is open to the public for tastings and retail, and the knowledgeable sommelier Robin Epperson McCarthy was on hand for any questions.

McCarthy, who grew up in Mattituck before exploring the world on a winemaker’s journey from New Zealand to California and back to Long Island, thinks this place is unique for wine lovers.

“There aren’t many places where you can grow this many varieties,” she said, “where there are this many characters, and where there’s this evolving culinary scene. It’s all happening now, and it’s exciting to be a sommelier talking to chefs, watching things become regional specialties.”

Candy and Wine

The Love Lane Sweet Shop had been hanging over our heads all day, so I mournfully passed by the cheese shop, which has a wine bar and expansive selection of imported and local cheeses. But everything brightened when we stepped in to the sweet shop, which was lined with cases of candies and chocolates, lollipops and caramels. Kids in a candy shop don’t know where to look first. Everything is so colorful and shiny, sweet and enticing. One whole case was devoted to Godiva chocolates, and retro candies overflowed from orchard baskets.

At Love Lane Sweet Shoppe.
At Love Lane Sweet Shoppe.

Once the kids settled on their treats (saltwater taffy for Isla and Nina’s first ring pop), we left Love Lane for a short drive to Shinn Estate Vineyard, where the owners Barbara Shinn and David Page welcomed us. The tasting room felt home-grown and loved. Hand-painted signs with single provocative words like “grounding” and “wild” hung on the walls. I sampled a flight that included a white, a rose, and two reds. The reds were the best, a Merlot from 2013 and the Wild Boar Doe, which was a blend of five varieties including merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdeaux, and Malbec. The grapes are grown with an ear to the earth. The owners care greatly about their impact, which is why they are certified sustainable, and they employ energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels to power the farm.

“We produce all the electricity we need,” said Barbara Shinn, “and then we feed it back into the grid.”

They use biodynamic and organic principles in their farming, and the only ingredients they put into their oak barrels are grapes and natural yeast.

“When we harvest, the grapes have a life force,” said Shinn, “and they are fermented in a natural yeast from the vineyard which grows on the grapes. We believe nature should be able to express itself with minimal intervention.”

Dessert and Nostalgia

My husband came to Mattituck as a child, and a day would not be complete without a stop at Magic Fountain, which has been there since then. The homemade ice cream, the creative flavors, and the building itself, which looks like it should come with roller skating waitresses, are deeply embedded in his memories. So even though we didn’t need it, and our girls needed it less, we stopped for a few scoops. Isla’s blue cookie monster cone, packed with Oreos and chocolate chip cookies, ended up mostly on her smiling face. Christian went all out with scoops of peanut butter and toffee, and Nina and I shared a cookie dough cone. We sat on the bench outside as the sky turned pink over Mattituck, reflecting back on a day well spent.

The author's husband's favorite childhood haunt.
The author’s husband’s favorite childhood haunt.