We took a big circular route of fifty miles for what would be a short walk a few miles across the water. In a fun little car, top down, the clouds high above us, we start on Noyac Road to 38, to 27 to 24 to 105 and a right onto 25. All those numbers are impersonal compared to the beauty of the landscape. I guess efficiency and codification are important when it comes to roads, but I prefer less formal designations: North Sea, Sunrise Highway, Flanders Road, Cross River Drive, Sound Avenue, and Main Road. We pass without really seeing: Noyac Bay, Little Peconic Bay, Great Peconic Bay (I think briefly of the two-week Peconic Bay scallop season – more on that in November), and around Flanders Bay into and away from Riverhead now passing the same bodies of the water, only they are to the south instead of north. The trip is a giant horseshoe. You never really see all the water in its majesty, the coastline with endless nooks and crannies — I sound like an English muffin commercial — which are a kayakers dream. Glimpses of the water appear suddenly through the trees or small, but now rarer clearings as developers attempt to parcel out the landscape.
Our mission: meander around the North Fork of LI, stop at the Modern Snack Bar for a soft shell crab sandwich, and then to Briermere Farms. I called ahead, and they still had white peaches that day; they couldn’t guarantee that their famous peach cream pie would be available. Briermere’s grow their own peaches, bake the pies on site; they are only in season for a few weeks. Get’em while you can an old-timer said to me once. And so I do, by the bushel.
The main debate on the drive is what kind of beer goes best with soft shell crab. I prefer a nuttier darker beer, slightly bitter, a toasted lager to go with the sweet crabs, my companion pale ale. The debate would be settled soon enough. I was confident I would be right, and so was she. It was the best kind of disagreement, where pleasure would be the outcome either way.
The Modern Snack Bar (MSB) (http://modernsnackbar.com) has been around for over sixty years. Until recently the wait staff, all women, wore 1950’s style uniforms: dresses, little white aprons and a kind of nurse’s hat that I am sure have a name. I always felt I was walking in a time warp, and figured if I sat quietly at the counter, Biff, hair slicked back, sporting his letter sweater, and Brenda, in tow, wearing bobby socks and carrying pompons (or is it pompoms?) would materialize from the dining room. Brenda is gushing about the pin he’d just given her, the Saturday dance, and the planned drive to moonlight point over Peconic Bay. (The only reason MSB changed the uniforms is because the owner cannot find a source for them anymore.) There is serenity and assurance at the MSB. It comes from doing something very well for many years. It comes from a family feeding a community, and the community in turn loving the family for the respect and great food provided. If you have heard A Prairie Home Companion, and who hasn’t…it is the North Fork’s Chatterbox Café. The menu is simple, and good. It is comfort food before the term became a new American chic. Open faced Turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, brisket, seafood platters, the local catch of the day broiled or baked, dressed or naked. Daily specials exist of course. The mashed turnips are sinfully good. You can take them to go…if you do, buy at least two quarts. They have a real lobster salad at $48 per pound, and it is all lobster — a bargain. I order a Blue Point Toasted lager in anticipation of what is to come, for I always have the same thing now: a soft shell crab sandwich, lightly battered (no they won’t tell you with what – are you kidding?) served with lettuce, tomato, coleslaw, tartar sauce, on a roll. “Pickle or no?” “Two of them please.” The sandwich arrives and I immediately pick off a leg or two and pop them in my mouth. You can still see the crab through the translucent batter. It is blistering hot, and the crab juices explode in my mouth. I build the sandwich…tartar sauce, salt, pepper, Tabasco® and the coleslaw along with the lettuce and tomato. I am right where I want to be at that moment. We eat our sandwiches in silence, and my companion asks for another sip of my beer. Victory! A concession to the darker beer’s superiority with the dish. On the other hand maybe it was because I bought lunch.
On the East End where drinks are usually twelve to fifteen bucks, at MSB, the Bloody Mary’s are five, and a good martini seven. No BS here. They have pies galore , and I almost always have a slice of the local berry pie. The lemon meringue pie, I sometimes take one to go, is a monument to excess. It cannot fit into the regular pie box; they have to use a deep cake box. The baker gets a little excited building great Everest meringue. I am glad the family continues to keep up the tradition and take care of wayward strangers as well as faithful neighbors.
We double back on Main Road, and zip up Cross River Drive to Sound Ave.and turn into Briermere Farms (http://briermere.com ). It is midweek, so it isn’t the zoo it can be. Even the North Fork, a calm cousin to the South Fork has its mob scenes. We go straight for the white peaches. One bushel please…there is a pause as if I am joking. I repeat myself. They are just coming in. Next week they will be better but this bushel will be long gone by then: white peach preserves, grilled white peaches with basil and Sauterne, just plain while sitting by the pool with peach juice dribbling down my chin…maybe white peach iced-cream…a myriad of potential. I walk into the store letting my companion negotiate the bushel — each peach selected individually, and ask if there is a peach cream pie left. I am in luck. “Do you have a cooler?” they ask. “It needs to stay cold.” I do not, but conveniently they have a pop-up cooler and ice for sale. Even for six bucks it is well worth it. Note to self: bring a frigging cooler next time. The pie looks like a porcupine of peach slices on top of lightly sweetened firmly whipped cream. If it were whipped much more it might turn into butter. I think of those crazy Phyllis Diller hats from TV-Land long ago. We are in peach heaven. This will be dessert tonight.
Instead of driving back the long way, we treat ourselves to the ferries across Shelter Island. At Greenport, on the North Ferry side, there is no line and the seven minute ride is easy with a light breeze. The clouds have descended somewhat and are threatening rain, but not quite yet. We cross Shelter Island, with a quick stop at Crescent Beach and the famous, or infamous, Sunset Beach Hotel and Bar. It is a place to people watch on weekends. The food it outrageously expensive, not that great, and the drinks are Manhattan night-club pricey. I usually go to the beach side a little west of the bar and bring a bottle of wine and oysters and grilled kielbasa. It is fun to look at the tourists on my own terms. We have a quick swim in the bay, and finish the crossing on the South Ferry to the South Fork, an even shorter ride than the North, but at a cost of a dollar more. Who comes up with these rates? I suppose it is like the two hot dog vendors in front of the Metropolitan Museum. The concession price is almost double on the north side of the museum because there is higher pedestrian traffic coming from the 86th street subways. Go figure…
As we arrive home, the rain that has threatened begins to fall. A nap was definitely in order.