Whenever I heard about the Hamptons I couldn’t help but conjure images of sandy beaches, grassy sand dunes, palatial houses and utter wealth. It’s a place that the average person, I would think, has undoubtedly seen on television or in the movies. A place where the rich and famous have their holiday homes, or duck away for the weekend.
Well, this pair is far from rich and famous. Having New York as a base meant we could pick up a hire car and spend a couple of days in the Hamptons and see what really goes down. Some of it is true. It really is a playground for the privileged, but there’s also a down-to-earth side to the area as well.
One word of advice is to go midweek when hotels have lower rates. Unless of course you have your own driver and piddly things like money just don’t matter.
Home for us was in Southampton, at an un-fancy motel a short walk from the main shopping district. The small village features multiple Laura Ashley-style shops stocked with all things beige and sea blue, and out on the street people wear white and pastel, even kids selling homemade lemonade on the sidewalk. Perhaps I should have purchased a cardigan to sling over my shoulders.
It was that time of day when both of us was craving an alcoholic beverage, and thanks to turning a corner off Main Street, we stumbled upon this place. Fellingham’s. It’s a sports bar, it’s a restaurant and it’s a far cry from the pomp of the main drag in the village.
Back in the 1830’s the building in which Fellingham’s resides served as a carriage house. It later became a meat market, then somewhere to grab a sandwich, and later it was a law office. The building has had many lives and those walls and trophy-laden wooden beams have probably seen a thing or two since its inception.
As a non-local I’m always unsure as to what kind of beer to order. I wanted something light, and the mere mention of a pilsner to the waitress caused a bit of a cut and dry response.
“We don’t do no fancy fancy beers here” she says in her broad accent.
I kind of felt like I’d been reprimanded by my mother in a blunt “I ain’t got no time for this” tone. Budweiser it was. The only American beer I knew and felt comfortable ordering. Plus I don’t mind the stuff. Who knows, maybe it’s like an American going to small-town Australia and ordering a Fosters.
Several Buds later, plus a skewer of garlic shrimp (7.95) with lime and sweet chilli, and we were already feeling like one of the locals. One of the locals that wasn’t driving a $100 000 car, that is.
Having a car is a must when you’re visiting the Hamptons, as each village is too far to walk to. Unless you can be bothered with public transport. There aren’t many roads in the area and thanks to them being single lane, the congestion can be beyond a joke. The traffic seriously is a killer.
Eventually we get to East Hampton, another manicured village teeming with big name fashion brands and more Laura Ashley-type stores. The main shopping district didn’t appeal to us, but parking the rental and walking along the southern end of Main Street was a good way to gawk at the big houses and historic buildings around Town Green.
The house above is actually one of the mansions along Gin Lane, Southampton. This one is somewhere around the 305 house numbers. If you have a car I’d strongly recommend a slow drive along this road and all along Meadow Lane as far as you can go. It’s a real eye-opener when it comes to real estate!
It’s at Town Green that you’ll find the Mulford Farm, one of the country’s most significant intact colonial farmsteads, complete with a windmill. If you’re into wandering about graveyards, the 17th Century South End Cemetery across the road has a prime location overlooking the town pond with its own resident white swans. The age of the cemetery predates the practice of marking graves with headstones and it’s said that bedposts and a crossbeam were put over the graves to indicate the person was sleeping. How novel!
Dinner on our first night came recommended by the guy that runs the motel we stayed at. Red | Bar Brasserie may not look like much from the outside, but when you look at the main dining room you’re reminded of your whereabouts. A wrap-around of windows, wooden floorboards, bentwood chairs and pressed white tablecloths. It’s oh-so Hamptons, darling.
We were about to be seated inside but the voice decibels were so high that we asked to have a table outside. Much nicer to be seated in what’s effectively the carpark than have to scream to the person next to me.
Dining at 6-6.45pm Sunday to Thursday offers a great value prix fixe menu – Two courses $29 or Three for $34. A bit of a bargain, even if it is an early time slot. A very simple salad of arugula, grapes, marcona almonds and shaved Manchego. For an additional $4 I went with a tuna tartar, served over slices of cucumber with crispy wonton wrappers. The Asian flavours continued with wasabi, ginger and shallots mixed in with the tuna.
Jumbo shrimp are next, standing on their necks in a shallow pool of horseradish beurre blanc. A moulded mound of red flannel hash and wilted spinach added the vegetable component, altogether a relatively light and enjoyable dish.
The crispy branzino was another good choice. Served up with a mash of artichoke and potato, some roasted beets and shaved fennel.
Our first Hamptons dinner ended with a couple of traditional-type desserts. A delicious pear & blackberry financier tart and retro baked Alaska with fruit and rum. A decent round-up for a great value meal.
A short drive along the highway northeast of East Hampton is the hamlet of Montauk, located just shy of the very tip of Long Island. The town itself doesn’t quite match the dollar-polished appearance of East Hampton, Sag Harbor and the like, and thanks to the rain and mist we didn’t hang around too long.
Up at the mouth of Lake Montauk is Gosman’s Fish Market, a bit of a one-stop-shop for locally caught seafood available right on the waterfront. There’s even a selection of deli-style goods, breads & pastries and fresh produce. It doesn’t end there. The Gosman empire extends along the dock, harnessing the tourist by offering shops, a restaurant, cafe, clam bar and ice cream shop.
Any coffee lover simply can’t leave town without stopping by Coffee Tauk, a small cafe that saw us twice and gave us quite possibly the best macchiato we’ve had anywhere we’ve been in the States. Flat white drinkers can even rejoice as it’s up there on the menu. Not for us, however. It was macchiato all the way, made just like the hipster barista’s make them at home in Sydney. Absolute perfection.
Montauk Lake has a few eating options along its shores, using the location as a drawcard for waterfront noshing. The Cross Eyed Clam prefers to harness its clientele by offering a late night bar with cocktails, flat screen televisions and entertainment. The late night party scene is a distant memory for this pair, so a more laid back lunch during the quiet midday hour was more fitting.
Some delicious shrimp stuffed baked clams (12); all buttery with a briny bread stuffing. How about a plate of fish tacos (15), sensibly loaded with cod, Napa cabbage and salsa. Nice touch with the hand-cut chips and bean salad.
Or then there’s the baked Blue Point oysters (12) done Rockefeller style. These were some big oysters! Other baked oyster options are lemon caper butter or cilantro pesto.
Dessert-wise, I thought the options were as bleak as the incessant rain outside. I went with the most interesting sounding option of chocolate mountain cheesecake (6). Layers of chocolate cheesecake, rich chocolate cake topped with chunks of devils food cake and chocolate ganache. Layer upon layer of chocolate in one form or another. The verdict? A right old mess of chocolate and sugar. A mess I could have done without.
Breakfast options are aplenty in any Hamptons village and if a bit of a bagel fix is in order, many gravitate to Goldberg’s Famous Bagels in Southampton. Lox spread on an everything bagel did it for me, but there’s also a bunch of regular eggy and hashy breakfast options up for grabs as well. It may not be the in the best of locations, along a busy highway, but at least there’s parking and a few seats inside for those that prefer to eat in.
The Golden Pear Cafe has its fingers in several of the Hamptons villages and it was the Southampton outlet that saw us for breakfast one morning. There’s a variety of filter coffee for those that drink it, sweet scones, cakes and muffins clumsily piled in a display cabinet and cafeteria-style fresh food on the menu.
A breakfast sandwich made it our way, filled with turkey bacon and scrambled eggs. I went with the 7 grain waffle (14.95), generously topped with banana and berries. Nothing incredible. Just sufficient.
Gabby Karan De Felice made her mark in the Hamptons dining scene in Sag Harbor with the ever-popular Tutto Il Giorno, wooing diners with elegant Italian food in equally elegant surroundings. This lady probably knows the Hamptons like the best of them, thanks to being taken there by mother Donna Karan ever since she was a child.
Tutto Il Giorno’s other location is in Southampton, filling the previous digs of a cafe. And it fills the space quite nicely as well. Beige fabrics, raw timbers, white orchids, candles and white table cloths. Sitting inside is a nice option, but the leafy courtyard has the same refined serenity, minus the loud voices.
Many good things have been said about the polpo (21); a cast iron skillet brimming with fingerling potatoes, olives and cipollini onions. The star of the show, grilled octopus, comes as a pair of semi-charred tentacles twisting over the root vegetables. Pity the octopus was dry and overcooked and required a lot more knife and chewing action than expected. So not much of a star in this instance.
The mattonato (29) is much more impressive, size and flavour-wise. This “chicken under a brick” comes piled high with artichoke, new potatoes and preserved lemons. Tender meat, gorgeous skin and a lot to get through.
Something you don’t see on menus all that often is bottarga; dried, salt-cured and pressed fish roe that’s shaved and either eaten on its own or mixed with other ingredients. I tried it with tagliatelle (28) tossed with heat-less chilli, pine nuts and lemon zest. Very subtle flavours, quite delicious, and a hint of “fishiness” when you hit a piece of the bottarga.
Desserts were a simple affair. A pretty standard tiramisu and a rather moreish bowl of peaches & cream. The latter was something you could easily eat for breakfast, thanks to the yoghurt and honey. Delicious food in a delicious setting.