On Leaving The Strong Island & Heading Into The Land of Pleasant Living

I have had this blog post in my head for too long. It's time for me, however I can, to get it out to you. It will be genuine for I haven't put too much thought into it. It will ramble, as my adventures do. It will not be pretty, but it will be real. That much I can say.

When I came to Long Island several years ago, I found a place growing with life and energy. From the hipsters in Brooklyn to brewers and chefs in Greenport, it felt as though everything was coming to a beautiful point of realizing the importance of local artisan food and drink. For me, who had just moved from San Francisco, it felt comfortable and exciting.

This blog emerged from that excitement and grew in many parts due to the relationships that were created through my adventures around the island. The growers, the farmers, the winemakers, the brewers, the chefs, the gardeners, the foodies, the beer geeks, the wine geeks, the media folks, the writers, the photographers...all of them steeped in a similar passion for a place and its creations.

Of course, these people have names and lives. Some work day jobs to pursue their passion on their off time, some have been doing exactly what they love for decades. I have learned so much from all of you, and I cannot thank you enough for the love and attention you gave me, the support and encouragement, the knowledge and insight I gained from you.

And so now (belatedly), I bid all of you farewell.

(That is, until I come up there next spring or summer and start bothering you again for food, wine, and beer).

I move to pursue my own passion for food, community, and place. They call it The Land of Pleasant Living, "Bawdamore", most people call it Baltimore. My wife's family is all from the area, and we met in Annapolis, MD, along the banks of the Chesapeake. I go from one special place to another. Here things are beginning to grow as well...seeds are being planted that I am excited to see blossom.

This blog will adapt and change. It will continue to grow perhaps in a different way, but that is yet to be seen. There's lots of food adventures around the brick-lined corners of Baltimore. So you'll just have to stay tuned and I'll be back with what I've found.

The Legend of The Heady Topper & The Maple Creemee, or A Vermont Food Adventure

With the October fall rains upon us, it's hard to remember back to the warmer days of summer when the oppressing humidity of the East Coast bathed us in its embrace. It was during those days that my wife, daughter, and I decided to head north to cooler climates, to Ludlow and then Waterbury, Vermont, to visit some dear friends of ours, who run a beautiful and fabulous wine bar there.

However even before we left for the north country, I was given strick orders to bring back as many cans of Heady Topper that I could. For those not surrounded by beer geeks, "Heady Topper," brewed by an equally mystical name - The Alchemist Brewery- is currently rated in the top 5 beers in the world. It's a hefty Imperial India Pale Ale that's loaded with hoppy goodness. Of course, at the time I had no idea what I was about to get myself into to...

Apparently, there's a lot (wait...A LOT) of hype around the Heady Topper. Similar to the likes of Russian River Brewing's Pliny The Elder, also an Imperial IPA, the Heady Topper garners most of its mythic status by both the taste and the incredible inability for people to get their hands on the stuff. Since The Alchemist lost their brewpub in the Vermont floods of 2011, they luckily have been able to reconstruct a new brewing facility, but have struggled to keep up with the unquenchable demand for their Heady Topper.

As I sat on the ferry heading over to Connecticut, I read on their website that they had been selling out whenever they release a new batch and that their disribution had been drawn back to only about 20 miles outside of Waterbury. However, as the legend of tasting this brew took ahold of me, there was no turning back.

The next day after a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, we headed north another two hours from Ludlow. Traveling up Rt. 100 in Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful drives in America. Small farms, creameries, and towns slipped by as we weaved our way through the hills and mountains. At the same time, remnants of the floods still littered the roadside. In some of the towns hardest hit, whole houses were wiped off their foundations, still dilapidated on rocky flood plains - a tragic juxtaposition to the beauty that surrounded us.

We arrived in Waterbury just after one o'clock and headed for the The Alchemist's Tasting Room. But as we turned into the dirt driveway, the inevitable had come true. A sign was already posted, "Sold Out Of All Heady Topper." It had sold out by 11:20am and they'd opened at 11. Luckily, however, they still had a keg for tastings. So, I headed to the small bar and sipped one of the best beers in the world.

Creamy, citrus aromas with lasting pine and hop notes washed over my palate, and yes, it is truly that good. It makes sense this beer is nearly sacred. It is a perfectly balanced example of an Imperial I.P.A. There's really nothing else to it. Simple, amazing beer. We finished our three allowed tastings and took a look around the Brewery. I inquired about the blend of hops used for the Heady Topper, but like any good legend its true secret is never revealed. And so, yearning for another taste, we left the brewery with a pint glass, but no beer.

But the quest was far from over. We went to visit with our friends at Cork Wine Bar in the small center of town. Housed in a beautiful brick building, it is completely worth a visit if you're up this way. We chatted for a while over glasses of wine, beers, and a beautiful local charcuterie plate, then headed out of town to a bonfire and barbecue in the woods - VT style partying.

The next morning, dazed and tired from the evening's festivities, my friend and I drove to a small bakery just down the road to get some breakfast. Heady Topper was still on my mind. I had tasted the fountain of glorious hoppiness and now there was no going back. I needed another fix. I had yet to find any 4-packs to bring home, but my friend assured me that there might be a few local shops that carried it, and we made plans to continue our search after breakfast.

The breakfast spot was classic Vermont - a wine shop meets organic bakery meets coffeeshop. I was focused on getting some coffee as I walked through the door. When all of a sudden, the silver cans caught my eye. I double taked. There in a small beer fridge were three four packs of Heady Topper. Giddy with excitement, I shamelessly bought all of them.

With breakfast and some Heady in the bag, it seemed as though our mission was accomplished, and yet as many food adventures go, another quest was on the horizon. During the prior evening's bonfire, we had been given yet another elusive food quest...to find the classic Vermont Maple Creamee.

Most people know a Creamee as Soft Serve, but apparently north of Massachussetts, they're called Creamees. Where to find the best Maple Creamee is a subject of much debate in Vermont (Hence this post), but one thing is definite - it must be made with real maple syrup. We had been assured that we could find a spot on Rt. 100, but no one was exactly sure where. So, we set out heading south, our eyes pealed for Creamee signs.

Now there are no shortage of Creemee spots between Waterbury and Ludlow. Believe me, because we stopped AT EVERY SINGLE ONE and I kid you not every single one gave us directions "just down the road" to the next shop that "might have maple creemees." We took ridiculous pictures, enjoyed the cool Green Mountain air, but every spot fueled our undying need to taste this illustrious dessert.

We went through many emotions on that adventure - disappointment, frustration, bewilderment, laughter, tears. It was all we could do to contain our desire for this enigmatic combination of maple and cream. And then on our 6th, maybe 7th, creemee stop, we were directed again "just down the road." I was close to losing it, I told my wife. If this wasn't it, I was folding. She assured me this was it and sure enough (as she is most of the time) she was right.

There on the side of the road was a sign to the promise land. My wife hopped out and went inside to order our spoils. She emerged carrying a massive cone of slightly tan soft serve. She took the first bite, and it was all over for the both of us. Carrying the wonderful flavor of maple syrup and ice cream throughout the whole bite, it was yet another experience I will continue to dream about.
Think silky cream with the sweet smokiness of real maple syrup. In my book, it's all kinds of perfect.

From the Heady Topper to the Maple Creemee, these are the culinary gems I adventure for. In random snack shacks, wine bar/bakeries, and off the beaten path, these finds are waiting for all of us. The search, the journey, not only makes the find that much sweeter, but it also connects us to the place where they're found. We had driven through beautiful mountains and forests, experienced heartbreak at the sight of the flood disaster, and chatted with a myriad of Creamee shop owners. At the end of a food adventure, there will always be food. What we experience getting there...that's what makes it interesting.

Another Summer North Fork Adventure: From Orient To Jamesport & All In Between, Part III

In my family, we do a lot of talking about eating "on the water." It usually sounds something like this:

"I wish there were more good places on the water." 
"Well there's [blank]." 
"Yeah, but I don't feel like [blank]. And the scene there is wierd." 
"What about [blank]?"
"No, that's too far."
"Yeah, I wish there were more good places on the water."

So, when we're near a spot where you can watch the water, feel the wind, and enjoy a beautiful meal, we jump at the chance. Yes, the rain clouds were gathering, but that wasn't about to stop us from a dinner on the Peconic Bay. Without much debate, after our lunch at Sunset Beach, we found ourselves at one of the best waterside restaurants on Long Island, Scrimshaw, The Waterside Restaurant

We sat excited to try a whole meal prepared by the traveled and talented Rosa Ross. If you haven't heard of Rosa, you should get to know her. One of the founding members of the James Beard Foundation and international chef extraordinaire, she now graces the small town of Greenport and her guests at Scrimshaw with her unique asian-american inspired cuisine. 

As waves lapped against the dock, we decided to start with her braised pork belly steam buns. Now, I'm a huge fan of anything pork belly (as I'm sure most of my readers are) and combined with a perfectly steamed bun, it can be heavenly. The standard for pork buns, in my opinion, are David Chang's at The Momofuku Ssam Bar. Almost melt in your mouth steamed buns give way to salty, smokey pork that is equally as tender. Ross' dish was close. The buns were beautifully steamed, but the portion of pork lost me. While the asian spiced flavor was fabulous, there just wasn't enough of it. Just a bit more, please, Rosa?

I took a sip of my Maker's Manhattan and looked forward to my next course, Crescent Farm duck confit with chard and quinoa. 

The duck was impressively good. Moist and tender, the duck's juices soaked throughout the chard and quinoa creating a beautiful combination of flavors. It's easy to love a well cooked duck confit, and easy to hate a bad one. Not surprisingly in the hands of Chef Ross, this long island duck was a perfect example of what duck confit can be.

As it began to sprinkle, we finished up our meal full and pleased with our dining experience.   We had a round of coffees, a couple glasses of scotch and were set for the evening. Rustic, yet modern, western, but with an eastern flair, Scrimshaw is completely worth a visit when in Greenport for any foodie looking for the perfect waterfront meal.

The next day, our last day on the North Fork, we did the obligatory visit to Greenport Brewing Company after a late breakfast. This is a must for anyone who hasn't been there. They're skilled at what they do, but unfortunately for me I'd tried all their beers that were being served. No worries, I'll never pass up a good beer and so we paid our money, got our glass, and drank our fill.

This day was dubbed our tasting day and starting from Greenport is always a great way to start a tasting tour of North Fork wineries. Although we didn't have a ton of time, we were able to stop at One Woman Vineyards, Shinn Estate, and thanks to the beautiful Sara at Shinn's recommendation, hit up Grana, an up and coming woodfire pizza spot, in Jamesport.

As we drove up the small dirt path to the little red tasting room at One Woman, I was gitty with excitement to try winemaker Claudia Purita's 2010 GrĂ¼ner. I had spent the day before reading about it and now my palate was ready to give it a taste.

The small tasting room was a buzz with visitors like ourselves. Claudia popped in and out for a moment, her pruning clippers sheathed on her hip and four wheeler keys clinking against the bar as she chatted with her guests. Our wine was poured by her daughter, who happily told us about each of the vintages.

The Gruner lived up to all my expectations. Slightly peppery aroma gives way to a beautiful texture with hints of citrus on the finish. I was surprised at how well the Gruner complemented the general "grassy" notes of most Long Island whites. While some whites can be overtaken by the terroir's dominant notes, some complement and utilize those notes to round out the flavors of the wine. I'm sure it's mostly the winemaker's skill, but also that the varietal is able to adapt well to Long Island's wet, windy, seaside climate. All in all, the Gruner alone is worth pulling off at One Woman just before you get to Greenport on County Rd. 48.

For our next stop, we headed to Shinn Estate Vineyard, my unabashedly favorite winery on the North Fork. I've been asked several times why I like it so much, and I think it boils down to three things. First is consistency. Their wines are always good. It might not be exactly what I'm looking for at the moment, but they're well balanced and full of complex flavors. Second is their commitment to sustainability. Talk to David Page or Barbara Shinn for a moment and you'll instantly come away more knowledgeable about growing wine biodynamically and sustainably. Not to mention, their tasting room staff are some of the friendliest you'll find. And lastly, it's a beautiful place off the main drag of wine tasting. It is always a breath of fresh air when I take the turn onto Oregon Road.

As the day winded down, we started thinking towards dinner and thanks to the recommendation from the tasting room at Shinn, headed to Grana in Jamesport, a relatively new woodfire pizza/italian restaurant. 

I'd spied the restaurant on previous trips, but hadn't known what it was all about. Well, it was worth the find. With a menu boasting homemade pasta and some incredible woodfire pizza recipes, there's something for everyone on the menu. Their wine list is locally focused and offers wine tasters a nice recap on their winery visits. I definitely start craving pizza when I'm wine tasting, and apparently so do many people as the place was packed. Luckily though, we found a table for two and soon we're chowing on a beautiful fig and arugula salad and fennel sausage pizza. 

It was the perfect closure to an amazing weekend on the North Fork of Long Island, a place full of passionate people, beautiful wine and food, and a sense of what it means to truly relax and enjoy life to it's fullest.

If you liked this post, be sure to check out the previous posts about this adventure, Part I and Part II.

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