Over the past several months, much has been written — both in the local Long Island press and in response to those stories — about the idea of food at wineries. I’m firmly in favor of food being available at wineries.
The New York State Liquor Authority requires licensed wineries — though not farm wineries, which is what most Long Island wineries are — to have food available for sale or service to customers if they pour wines for consumption on premises. That’s the legal side of it, but the logical side of it is even more compelling.
Most Long Island winery tasting rooms open just before lunchtime on weekends; 11 a.m. seems to be the default opening time. Does anyone think it’s smart to have people drinking — yes, most people drink rather than just taste — at tasting rooms without any food in their stomachs? I sure don’t.
I’ve heard a lot of the arguments against it. I’ve read the comments on Facebook and in stories that I and others have published online. I’m a pragmatist and don’t find them all that convincing. Some of what I’ve seen is pure myth. You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, folks.
With that somewhat in mind, my family and I paid a visit to Macari Vineyards’ Mattituck tasting room several weeks ago, where we’d reserved a table on Macari’s covered deck and, because my 11-year-old son is never not hungry, we decided to order some pizza from Avelino, Eddie Macari’s wood-fired pizza truck parked outside the tasting room. (Note: the truck is now closed for the winter months)
Before I get to the first food truck myth that I’d like to dispel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that these pizzas are incredible. Some of the best I’ve ever had and by far the best pizza I’ve had on the North Fork. If you go, get the pesto pie, which has pistachios and mortadella — although, with the great ingredients they’re using, all the pies were delicious.
But back to one of the worst myths I’ve read about food — and food trucks in particular — at wineries. It’s been suggested that “wineries like Macari are basically running restaurants now.”
We were sitting at a table. That’s true. It’s also true that hospitality is front and center at Macari. The customer experience matters to them and our server that day was great — but she didn’t have anything to do with the pizza.
Ordering pizza from Avelino is far from a sit-down restaurant experience. You order and pay at the truck itself, then go back to wait at your table, or wherever you are tasting. You’ll (hopefully) hear your name when it’s called, indicating that your pizza is ready. You go get it, along with a fist full of paper plates and napkins. The operations are completely separate.
I should mention that I’m not even against wineries having restaurants, but that’s not what this is. It’s like having a pizza place next door and a winery that lets you bring the pizza to its tasting room.
The second myth I’d like to dispel is this: that wineries serving casual lunch fare are killing restaurants on the North Fork. This line of mythology suggests that because winery visitors can get food at the wineries, they aren’t going to local restaurants.
On its face, this seems logical. A few years ago, when most wineries allowed visitors to bring lunch with them, this would have been a stronger argument. But gone are the days of stopping at a cheese shop or deli or, yes, pizzeria, and bringing your purchases to a tasting room to eat while you taste.
I can only speak for myself and friends I’ve talked to about this, but even before food trucks, we started to just eat the charcuterie-type stuff most wineries have offered for some time. We’ve never left a winery to stop at a restaurant and then go to another winery. I think we’re like a lot of people and we’ve always been more likely to go out to dinner after a day of tasting. And guess what? Most wineries close by 5 or 6 p.m., which means those food trucks stop serving then, too.
What options does that leave winery visitors for dinner? That’s right — local restaurants.
The focus at winery tasting rooms should always be on the wine. I’m not advocating for wine festival-style tasting room operations where slushies, live music and the like are the primary draws. But let’s not let phantom problems keep food out of winery tasting rooms.
A version of this story first appeared in the Suffolk Times/northforker.com