09/07/13 4:00pm
09/07/2013 4:00 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Downtown Riverhead restaurant Cliff's Rendezvous, which closed at the end of June due to damage from a kitchen fire, reopened its doors Sept. 7.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Downtown Riverhead restaurant Cliff’s Rendezvous, which closed at the end of June due to damage from a kitchen fire, reopened its doors Sept. 7.

A little more than two months after a small kitchen fire forced Cliff’s Rendezvous to close its doors, the downtown Riverhead restaurant reopened for business today with little fanfare but heaps of happy customers.

Christina Saunders, whose husband, Cliff Saunders, owns the casual bar and eatery, said Saturday afternoon she and her husband didn’t know until “the last minute” when the restaurant would be able to reopen.

“We had to make sure everything was in place,” she said. “We got all the permits and all the inspections done. Everybody gave us the green light, so as of yesterday we said, ‘That’s it! We can do it.’ We’ve been waiting a very long time.’ ”

A grease fire broke out at the popular restaurant June 25 when, Mr. Saunders said, one of the chefs in the kitchen left a pan of bacon unattended near the oven and boiler. Although it suffered minor damage, a small section of the restaurant’s roof near the chimney was charred as a result of the fire and carpeting in the lower dining room was damaged and needed to be replaced as well, Mr. Saunders said.

While Cliff’s Rendezvous was closed, Ms. Saunders said, she and the crew took time to give the restaurant a deep cleaning and make some repairs. Both the upper and lower dining room’s carpeted floors were replaced with ceramic tile that looks like hardwood flooring.

“We made good use of the time,” she said.

Lou Welsh, who has been the bartender at Cliff’s Rendezvous for the past 17 years, said between customers he was happy the restaurant had reopened.

“It’s been a long time,” he said.

To thank the firefighters who helped extinguish the fire, Ms. Saunders said the restaurant plans to host a dinner for the Riverhead Fire Department Monday evening.

“[The fire] was in the middle of that heat wave and some of the firefighters were in full uniform,” Ms. Saunders said. “We’ve been here a long time and they came out for us, and it’s nice to be able to say thank you.”

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08/13/13 2:30pm
08/13/2013 2:30 PM

DAWN WATSON PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SOUTHAMPTON PRESS| The scene at the 2012 Harvest East End. The event moves to Cutchogue for the first time this year.

We’re raffling off two tickets to Harvest East End and you have less than two days to enter the contest on northforker.com.

The event features 42 wineries and 34 restaurants helping to celebrate 40 years of Long Island winemaking. The event benefits East End Hospice, Group for the East End, The Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Foundation.

Harvest East End takes place Aug. 24 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at McCall Vineyards.

Click here to view the instructions and enter the raffle.

07/03/13 12:00pm
07/03/2013 12:00 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Vine & Hops Café is expected to open on East Main Street in downtown Riverhead later this summer.

A Jamesport couple plans to open a new wine, beer and coffee shop called Vines & Hops Café in downtown Riverhead next month.

Jeff McKay, a strength and conditioning coach who will be operating the 2,200 square-foot café with his wife, physical therapist Christine McKay, told the News-Review the East Main Street café will offer wine from the North Fork and California along with gourmet coffee and a variety of local craft beers.

“I’ve always wanted to get into the hospitality business and it just formulated in my head because there was nothing out here on the East End like this,” Mr. McKay said.

Artisan food prepared by the North Fork Chocolate Company including cheese platters, flatbread, chocolates and truffles will also be on the menu, which Mr. McKay said will change slightly according to season.

The space will also include couches, televisions in the “beer section,” and a gift shop area where customers can purchase gift baskets.The business will only serve wine that has a 90-point or higher distinction of greatness from Wine Spectator magazine.

“We want to bring quality products,” Mr. McKay said of the café, which he describes as having a “European feel, right down to the lighting.”

“The prices will be extremely affordable, though,” he said.

Vines & Hops Café will be located next to TheWarStore.com, a game shop that opened last month. Both rental properties, along with Twin Forks Bicycles, are owned by Riverhead Enterprises.

“This is the sixth new lease in an 18-month period that we’ve signed,” said Sheldon Gordon, the managing general partner of Riverhead Enterprises. “It’s been remarkable what the interest coming to downtown has been. It’s quite gratifying.”

In Mr. McKay’s estimation, downtown Riverhead is close to being an ideal location for Vines & Hops Café.

“We looked at [opening the shop] in Greenport but it didn’t appeal to us because the winters are so slow there,” Mr. McKay said. “With the theater open and businesses are starting to pop up, we thought, ‘Let’s take advantage of the opportunity and settle into downtown Riverhead.’”

Once the shop opens, Mr. McKay and his wife plan to encourage customers to kick back and relax with their favorite drink.

“We consider ourselves the ‘before’ and ‘after’ place – you can come here before a show or a movie,” Mr. McKay said. “People will be able to come and recognize their favorite beverage and have it in a comfortable atmosphere. It’s not a bar and it’s not a restaurant.

“It’ll be as if you’re home in your living room.”

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06/12/13 10:30am
06/12/2013 10:30 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Strawberries from Patty’s Berries & Bunches in Mattituck on Tuesday.

A little — OK, a lot — of rain put a damper on the much anticipated North Fork strawberry season now underway.

Local farm stands said they’re pressing on despite heavy rainfall that has beleaguered the region of late and is threatening to make the berries rot before they can be sold.

“It’s not prime weather for a super strawberry crop just yet,” said Katie Reeve, the farm stand manager at Bay View Farm Market in Aquebogue. Ms. Reeve said Bay View’s strawberry patch hasn’t been opened to the public yet because of rain and that she expects it to open this weekend.

“The rain makes [the berries] almost melt a little faster,” she said. “They need a lot of sun and heat to make them nice and red and super sweet.”

[Related: How about a strawberry rhubarb pie?]

Eve Kaplan, the owner of Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market in Riverhead, had similar things to say about the strawberries at her U-Pick patch.

“They kind of get really soft and eventually they get gooey,” Ms. Kaplan said.

Tom Wickham, whose family has owned Wickham Fruit Stand in Cutchogue since the 1940s, said harvesting strawberries on the North Fork has always been a challenge. He said the season only lasts about three weeks.

“You can buy strawberries from the West Coast for months in a time at supermarkets because those farmers don’t have to deal with heavy rain,” Mr. Wickham said. “In our case, the rain always seems to be followed by hot, humid weather, just when the crop is being harvested.”

The result is berries ripen suddenly and then become soft.

“There’s nothing new to this,” Mr. Wickham said. “That’s been the nature of strawberry growing here on Long Island for at least the last 50 years. Every summer it’s the same thing. The hot, humid weather is actually worse than the rain in turn of softening up the fruit and making it susceptible to rot.”

Growers can spray fungicide on strawberries to help shield them against the disease organisms that cause rot, Mr. Wickham said, but it’s a practice he finds costly, with marginal benefit to the fruit.

“Growers of strawberries here have learned to live with, and consumers seem to understand, that they are wonderful, flavorful berries,” Mr. Wickham said. “They’re not big but they’re packed with flavor.”

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05/13/13 8:00am
05/13/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | A bartender at the Experimental Cocktail Club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side adds an orange peel to a white negroni made with Atsby vermouth.

Atsby. Among those with literary leanings, the name, lacking just one key letter, is explicably linked to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic hero, Jay Gatsby.

Atsby Vermouth, however, is far from a lamentable case. The Mattituck distillery, which opened last fall and makes its eponymous product with locally sourced chardonnay, Finger Lakes apple brandy and exotic botanicals, was recently selected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be featured at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic May 17-21.

Jill Filipovic, Atsby’s social media manager, recently sat down with The Suffolk Times to talk hooch history, how to make the perfect Manhattan and what’s next for the brand.

Q: How did Atsby originate?

A: Our owner, Adam Ford, went on the Tour de Mont Blanc and tried a lot of vermouths in Italy. He decided to come home and essentially play “mad scientist” in his Tribeca kitchen and worked with a certified sommelier to invent a delicious vermouth.

Q: The company’s tagline is ‘Bringing Vermouth Home.’ What does that mean?

A: Vermouth in New York has an incredibly long and rich history. Around the turn of the century, vermouth was “the cool thing” to drink. Atsby’s name is actually a loose acronym of the Assembly Theater on lower Broadway, which spurred cocktail culture in Manhattan. Vermouth fell out of fashion in the 1960s and ’70s, so what we’re trying to do is remind New York that vermouth is very much a part of our local culture.

Q: How was Mattituck chosen as a production site?

A: Adam Ford went to a variety of winemaking facilities. Making vermouth is quite a process, and Premium Wine Group was incredibly accommodating and came up with a lot of creative solutions to make sure everything we were doing was done the right way.

Q: Vermouth production has traditionally been the domain of European countries. How does the West compete?

A: We definitely took a very New World approach to this product. We looked at the way vermouth has been made for centuries and applied the local craft distillery ideals to those processes. Instead of using a base wine, we tested out a bunch of different vintages to see what worked best. We also sourced our botanicals from all over the world so we were getting the best of each thing. Instead of using simple syrup or sugar to sweeten the vermouth, we used raw summer honey in our Amberthorn and then Indian Muscovado sugar that we spin into a caramel for our Armadillo Cake. We’re very inspired by the French and Italian vermouths but wanted to take a very New York perspective on the product. New York is a great melting pot. We feel the product is as well.

Q: Any tips for making an exceptional cocktail?

A: The key is to use really good products. Cocktails tend not to have a ton of ingredients so whatever you’re putting in them really matters. If you’re cutting corners on the drink, you’re going to taste that.

Q: What’s your favorite cocktail recipe?

A: My personal favorite is just the Manhattan. It’s classic and really easy to make. Make it with Armadillo Cake and Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey. The vermouth really stands up to the whiskey. Normally with a Manhattan you’d add bitters to it, but this vermouth is so herbal you don’t need to add them at all. Combine equal parts vermouth and whiskey, shake and enjoy.

Q: What foods should be paired with Atsby vermouths?

A: Amberthorn is crisp and bright, so I love it with oysters on the half shell. Armadillo is really nice as an after-dinner drink or with a really stinky cheese.

Q: This is Atsby’s first time at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. How do you feel?

A: We’re incredibly excited. We just launched at the end of 2012 so we’re very new to the scene, but the Cocktail Classic has so many amazing bartenders and industry people. We’re excited to see all the great things people in Manhattan and around New York State are doing.

Q: Anything new on the horizon?

A: Right now we’re focusing specifically on these two vermouths but in the coming months we’ll start making our second batch, which we’re excited about. And, since vermouth is similar to wine, every batch will be slightly different. It’ll probably be ready to go to market late this fall.

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05/12/13 12:00pm
05/12/2013 12:00 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Jimmy Lin at Sakura, his new sushi restaurant, on Front Street in Greenport.

Greenport has a new sushi and hibachi restaurant.

Jimmy Lin, owner of Sakura Japanese Restaurant on Route 58 in Riverhead, has opened a second location on Front Street, across from the post office. Sakura, which opened April 28, took over the space formerly occupied by Andy’s Unbelievable Burgers and Seafood.

“I’ve lived in Greenport for 15 years and wanted to bring a professional Japanese restaurant here,” Mr. Lin said. Sakura opened its Riverhead location in 2010.

The menu at Greenport’s Sakura includes a variety of lunch and dinner specials as well as sushi and hibachi meals. Unlike the Riverhead location, hibachi grills have not been integrated into the dining room and all food is cooked in Sakura’s kitchen, said Mr. Lin, who also owns New China restaurant on Front Street.

He said that if business goes well at the new Sakura, then he’ll consider expanding the restaurant to add a second dining room that can accommodate hibachi grills so customers can watch their food being prepared in front of them.

“We’ll see how the summer goes,” Mr. Lin said. “We had plenty of customers last week.”

Sakura Japanese Restaurant is located at 204 Front Street in Greenport and offers dine-in, catering and takeout. It does not make deliveries. Call 477-3888 for more information.

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05/08/13 1:00pm
05/08/2013 1:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO |  Luke Gustafson, a Hampton Bays senior, prepares his prize-winning dish at Suffolk Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center.

The kitchen was heating up at Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center in Riverhead Tuesday afternoon, where four high school student chefs were competing for a $1,500 scholarship to the culinary program.

Hampton Bays High School senior Luke Gustafson, 18, cooked the prize-winning dish: sliced chicken breast in a tomato-mushroom sauce served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed French green beans.

To make it to the competition, he and the other aspiring chefs had to compete against culinary students from their own high schools. The winner from each participating school then moved on to the SCCC competition.

Now in its fifth year, the contest was created to support student learning and encourage promising students. It’s also a way to show off the culinary talent Long Island has to offer.

Similar to the Food Network’s cooking competition show “Chopped,” the students were given a mystery basket full of ingredients — and 90 minutes to turn them into a delectable dish.

College instructors kept a watchful eye on the students from start to finish, judging them on cooking techniques, use of ingredients, cleanliness, presentation, taste and creativity. The secret ingredients: chicken, potatoes and fresh green beans.

“They are the most common. If they can take these items and make something good out of them, they’ve accomplished the task,” said Richard Freilich, director of SCCC’s culinary arts program. “We don’t want to make it too difficult; we really just want to see their skill level.”

Other competitors were Daniel Insoyna, 17, a Southold High School junior; Ruben Bernacet, 19, a senior at Bellport High School; and Charles Alifano, 17, a senior at Floral Park Memorial High School.

Each student was accompanied by a culinary teacher from his high school, who came along for support.

Luke and Daniel are both enrolled in the Eastern Suffolk BOCES culinary program in Riverhead, spending 2 1/2 hours per day, five days a week learning different aspects of cooking.

“We’ve used all of the ingredients before,” said BOCES culinary teacher Tom Hashagen, a resident of Shelter Island. “We do a lot of instruction with chicken because it’s the cheapest thing to use. I told the kids it’s what they would probably have.”

Mr. Hashagen described Daniel, who took second place in the competition, as a quick learner. “He’s one of those kids that, once he comes in, you know he’s going to be good,” he said.

“Luke is sort of intense,” Mr. Hashagen continued. “He finds out what he needs to do and attacks it fairly well. He also shows some good leadership qualities we are trying to work on and foster.”

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05/05/13 11:45am
05/05/2013 11:45 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Chef Roy Wohlars of The Riverhead Project (left) and owner Dennis McDermott in the lounge area of the restaurant.

The Riverhead Project has a new executive chef and will debut its revamped, seafood-centric menu later this week.

Roy Wohlars, the former executive chef at Montauk’s South Edison, signed on as head chef of the downtown Riverhead restaurant just days ago, owner Dennis McDermott said.

Mr. Wohlars said the new menu, set to be unveiled Tuesday, is “75 percent seafood.”

“We’ll use the local waters of Long Island including oysters, clams, sea scallops and striped bass,” he said. “When the local farmers start producing vegetables those will also be on the menu.”

Chicken and duck make up the rest of the 2-year-old restaurant’s latest offerings. Menu items of note include a Szechuan-infused version of chicken and waffles and a smoked blue fish pierogi with house made crema, dill and pickled ramps.

Mr. McDermott, who formerly owned The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, is optimistic that Mr. Wohlars’ presence will further enhance revitalization efforts in downtown Riverhead.

“The Frisky Oyster definitely changed the landscape of dining in Greenport and the North Fork,” he said. “When the Riverhead Project came to Riverhead two years ago it did the same thing, and the addition of Roy to the restaurant really puts Riverhead on the map.”

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