As much as I feel a part of the Long Island wine community, I don’t actually live there. So, I’m not really part of it.
I live in Miller Place — about half an hour west of Roanoke Vineyards — with my wife, two kids and dog. We’d love to live in wine country, of course, but my wife and I work in Commack and Islandia, respectively, so our commutes are already 45 minutes-plus each way. I have no desire to extend that.
There are many reasons we love the East End. The wineries, of course, lead the way, but also the restaurants and small-town feel. Once you get beyond Riverhead, you don’t see chain stores and restaurants. The restaurants in particular are appealing — in part because of how they have embraced and contribute to the culinary and wine culture of the region.
There are a lot of great places to eat and drink in wine country.
Get west of Riverhead, however, and those options dwindle until you get to Nassau County, at best, and Manhattan, at worst.
Where I live, it’s almost all chain restaurants and they-are-all-the-same Italian-American joints. I call it a culinary wasteland. Any sort of wine culture that has been developed and nurtured by the local wine industry just doesn’t extend this far west. Awful — and often over-priced — wine lists are the norm. Most of the time they are clearly either chosen with only profits in mind, or a distributor does the picking for the under-educated bar managers. Don’t even look for a sommelier.
When we go out for an adult meal (meaning without our kids) we usually go to one of the great BYOB options in the area. We have one, Orto, that is a half-mile from our home. That’s walking distance if we need it to be.
Over the past couple years, we’ve found two other great places that have the kind of food we love, but also drinks to match. It’s a few years old now, but Beers Burgers and Desserts — known to most simply as BBDs — in Rocky Point has the best craft beer selection for many miles. Owner-chef Ralph Perrazzo is a local who has cooked in great kitchens all over, including working with Jean George Vongerichten in Manhattan. Everything is made from scratch in-house and, while the burgers might be the draw, I’m particularly fond of his duck or spicy chicken ramen and the various styles of wings on offer. My wife doesn’t drink beer, but luckily they always have Macari Vineyards Estate Chardonnay by the glass.
When we want to go out for a glass of wine that we don’t bring from our own cellar, we go to Madiran The Wine Bar in East Setauket. Lawyer-turned-sommelier/owner Jacqueline Malenda has created a wine lover’s oasis in what amounts to a strip mall. The wine list leans Old World — France and Italy are clear favorites — but the list has options from every corner of the world, including a few local options.
On a recent visit to celebrate my wife’s birthday with friends, we drank bottles from French regions like Crozes-Hermitage, Jasnières, Saumur-Champigny, Fleurie and Jura, as well as wines from Austria, Etna and even Hungary. Best of all, the prices are incredibly fair — we didn’t pay more than $65 for any of those bottles. The wine is served with simply prepared fare like roasted bone marrow, warm white beans with pancetta, grilled skewers of pork and charcuterie and cheese boards.
Both BBDs and Madiran are worth the drive west from the East End. It’s exciting to see restaurants like this in these parts. They were sorely needed.