Hamptons Food Scene
WRITTEN BY ALEX LEHNEN AKA ALEX VON SALAD
The “Hamptons,” which is not what the locals call this area and most likely never will, has an abundance of excellent food sources.
Whether getting vegetables at the farm stand or going to a great local restaurant, there is something for everyone. However, knowing which farm stands are selling their own produce and experiencing great local food prepared by our top-notch East End chefs is a complicated task because not everything in your rear-view mirror is locally sourced.
There is nothing wrong with eating other good things that are not local, but if you’re already fighting traffic on Friday afternoons to get out of the city heat in the middle of the summer or maybe Blade it to Easthampton airport, then why not eat local? Experience what local chefs and local farmers have in store for you. After all, the “Hamptons” got its start as a farming, fishing and whaling community way back in the 1640s.
I first came out East the summer of 1997. I was running a nightclub in the city and was asked by the owners to come out on weekends to man the door at the Tavern nightclub on Tuckahoe Lane (an old potato barn) in Southampton.
The Tavern was the epitome of NYC-Hamptons nightlife. It has a great crowd with many celebrities, models, photographers and artists.
Friday afternoons I’d jump in my ’69 Triumph and head east on the LIE. Sunday afternoons I returned. I was officially a Hampton weekend commuter except I came out to work, not to vacation. I got to experience a few local restaurants and slowly got the feel for one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I fell in love with the Hamptons and have been ever since.
My first real culinary experience was 1999 at Pacific East in Amagansett which was then helmed by Alexander Duff & Chef Michael Castino who had successfully launched Pacific Time on Lincoln Road, one of the best restaurants on Miami Beach at the time together with Jonathan Eismann.
Their Hamptons outlet was superb. Pan-Asian cuisine which was the style of the moment in the late nineties.
It was also the year I opened my first restaurant in NYC in the Flatiron District. “Von’s Aura” was a true Supper Club where the menu changed daily dependent on the ingredients I found at the Union Square Farmers Market that day.
Over the years I was involved in a few East End Eateries, one being Banzai Burger on the Napeague Stretch and a pop-up Japanese summer spot on Shelter Island called Katana. Both were multi concepts Japanese Driven.
After a stint out West, I took my new-found food philosophy and started my own catering company out East until last summer when I decided to buy a farm in the Hudson Valley and grow my own Japanese specialty vegetables.
Over my 20+ summers in the Hamptons I was fortunate to meet many amazing chefs and many great farmers. I have worked with many hand in hand and have used local ingredients strictly for all my clients and events.
One of my favorite farm stands during the summer is the Babinksi Farm stand in Sagaponack (not to be mixed up with the Babinski Farm Stand in Watermill). Same name, but unrelated. Babinski in Sagaponack is run mainly by Andy, the patriarch, and has an ever-rotating seasonally dependent selection of local vegetables and fruit. That counts for all farm stands by the way. Of course, they will sell other items during the summer, which they source from other farmers on Long Island. Edible East End is a great source if you want to find out what’s available at the time depending on the growing season.
Another favorite of mine is the Fairview Mecox Farm owned and run by the Ludlow Brothers. Here you can find anything, and I like the one-stop-shop possibilities.
They also bring in amazing grass-fed meats from one of their cousins upstate and they have amazing gluten free natural ice cream. Did I mention the pies?
Anyway, there is an abundance of fresh ingredients available at a lot of farm stands. Keep in mind it takes time to get to each of them during the crazy summertime traffic. Hence, my preference of visiting some that have a good variety of product. Another favorite spot is the Amagansett Farmers Market which has been there forever. We used to get lunch there during the Pac East times. There you have local produce and gourmet items and the lunch sandwiches are divine.
If you’re already out that way, a must stop is the Aquaculture Fish Farm towards Lazy Point on Cranberry Hole Road. You’ll be able to pick up some of the freshest fish in the East End along with some Goose as they also have geese pens—this is an interesting combo, but a very symbiotic relationship. They’ve been farming fish since 1974. The cool thing there is you can bring a bottle of rosé and order some fresh take-out and then truck your goodies home that you want to cook. It’s an absolute must stop—but beware—this is not your white cloth Hamptons fish market; this is a very relaxed, casual place. Think flip-flops and shorts, also a great bike ride coming from Amagansett, but watch out for the ridgebacks!
If you’re headed to the North Fork there is one farm I really like because they specialize in Asian vegetables and I used to shop there for my Shelter Island pop-up Sushi bar. They’re called Sang Lee Farms in Peconic and they are lovely people. If you’re over that way you must stop at Southold Fish Market which in my opinion is the best fish money can buy unless you catch it yourself or are friends with some of the pirates in Montauk.
Tell Charlie I said hello.