It’s not immediately clear why there is a mural of Albert Einstein in shorts on the wall of the eponymous Einstein Square, basically the outdoor section of the café and gourmet market Southold General in the town of that name on Long Island’s North Fork. But it seems that the spot has history as does Southold itself, the hamlet named as the oldest English settlement in New York State, dating from 1640. Einstein discovered its quiet beauty, bordering both Long Island Sound on the north and Peconic Bay on the south and spent summers here in the late 1930’s, sometimes playing his violin in the town’s musical evenings. He also shopped in Rothman’s Department Store, the building that is now Southold General in the center of what has become a sophisticated, gastronomically elevated town as well as a breezy summer escape.
Figuring in significantly to the culinary status is the presence of James Beard Award winning French pastry master and chef Francois Payard, who previously operated Payard Patisserie in New York following stints at La Tour d’Argent and Lucas Carton in Paris and Le Bernardin and Restaurant Daniel in New York. Locals line up for his pastries at Southold General—almond and chocolate croissants, artisan muffins, peach and pear tarts among them-along with sandwiches such as Black Angus steak and porchetta with broccoli rabe and fontina and salads such as a classic Niçoise, most prepared from local ingredients. On June 10th, he opened a restaurant Southold Social on Main Road just past the cluster of stores geared to appeal to locals with a something for everyone menu including steamed mussels in a spicy marinara, black squid ink linguine with shrimp, parsley and lobster bisque, crisp half Marrakesh chicken with raisins, olives, cured lemon and harissa and a lobster roll that gets its flavor from pure lobster, not mayonnaise.
Guests who stay at the casual, 20 suite hotel The Shoals which opened in May on an active marina on Peconic Bay also have access to Payard’s creations. The breakfast laid out in the lounge overlooking the bay prominently features a tray of his croissants and muffins and the hotel’s food truck parked alongside offers a selection of local wines, Payard’s lobster roll and Niçoise salad among other choices. The hotel also has an arrangement with Little Ram Oyster Company located in an adjacent building and owned by Elizabeth Peeples and Stefanie Bassett, former New York City professionals who started oyster farming here four years ago. They do a tasting at The Shoals on Wednesday nights and offer tours and shucking lessons. They’re worth checking out—it would be hard to imagine oysters that are fresher and more vibrant than theirs.
Self-described as a “boatel,” The Shoals also has 20 slips that can be rented, giving guests the opportunity to arrive by boat on the bay, and a 30 foot Chris-Craft speedboat that can be chartered to tool around the bay or be dropped on nearby Shelter Island, different beaches, even Montauk, a 40 minute cruise away. The hotel also offers car and bicycle/walk-on beach passes for the beaches in and around Southold Town (from Cutchogue to Greenport) including Goose Creek Beach, Founders Landing (which is best for kids), Kenney’s Road Beach, Horton Point Beach and Town Beach.
When not on or near the water, guests also explore the area’s farm stands and wineries along with other culinary stops. The hotel’s owners also own North Fork Table & Inn where chef John Fraser creates succulent dishes such as 8 Hands Farm grilled pork loin with flageolet bean ragout and roasted Long Island duck with creamy polenta, roasted pearl onions and rhubarb compote. It also has its own food truck in the parking lot of the restaurant offering choices such as a Smoke heritage pork burger with bourbon mustard BBQ and pickled cabbage, fried chicken with horseradish ranch coleslaw and a choice of hot or cold lobster rolls with confit of fennel, celery, salt and chives.
Three miles up the road, just over the line in Greenport West, The Halyard overlooking Long Island Sound combines picture perfect sunset views from its outdoor deck with an absolutely luscious menu—I thought it was an excellent place for dinner when I visited two years ago; it might be even better now. On the current menu: fluke, miso, yuzu and cucumber combine for a vivid crudo as do the Hamachi sashimi, preserved radish and radish gastrique as starters. Equally flavorful is the Atlantic Yellowfin tuna with bok choy, marinated mushrooms and miso.
Back in Southold, diners can drop into the Southold Fish Market for lunch for dishes such as crispy BBQ salmon tacos or grilled striped bass with pickled red onion in a cumin lime sauce and then survey the array of fish caught that morning to bring home for dinner. A stop at the store About Food to survey and stock up on owner Gerard Lane’s array of condiments and provisions will enhance anyone’s cooking, he asserts. There are oils, vinegars, chutneys, preserves, sauces, etc.-some local, some international, some he creates himself such as mustard with deli brown beer honey, French tarragon or Dijon. And then anyone returning home should do another stop in Southold General across the street to pick up one of Francois Payard’s pastries as a reminder breakfast treat for the next day.