Spending a vacation day in downtown Riverhead

Downtown Riverhead looking south. (Credit: Andrew LePre/ LePre Media)

A view from above downtown Riverhead, facing south. (Credit: Andrew LePre/ LePre Media)

Humorously nicknamed the “big city” by its more rural North Fork neighbors to the east, Riverhead is a hub of commerce, dining and leisure. And while it is perhaps best known for being home to Tanger Outlets and Splish Splash, the city’s Main Street is increasingly becoming a destination all its own. 

Fishing, kayaking, hiking, bowling, heading to the beach or catching a show at the historic Suffolk Theater are all fantastic ways to make the most of your trip to Riverhead. And while experiencing all the city has to offer requires a car, there are plenty of attractions within walking distance of the downtown area.

Blue Duck Bakery cookies. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Blue Duck Bakery cookies. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

The morning of your visit, fuel up at Blue Duck Bakery Café on East Main Street. Whether you’re in the mood for a soup, apple strudel or artisan turkey and avocado sandwich with havarti cheese, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot to grab a casual breakfast or early lunch than this nationally recognized local bakery and café, which lives up to its reputation. In fact, Dessert Professional Magazine recently named co-owner Keith Kouris one of the “Top 10 Bread Makers in North America.”

Looking for a more substantial meal? The Birchwood of Polish Town, located on nearby Pulaski Street, offers a hearty Sunday brunch.

Steps away from Blue Duck, you’ll find the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center. Its popular interactive and educational exhibits give visitors the chance to meet penguins, while the more adventurous can dive into the 120,000-gallon Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit. In addition to seals, exotic fish, sea lions and a wide array of aquatic life, the aquarium is also home to bats, reptiles and monkeys.

A Giant Atlas Moth from Southeast Asia. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A Giant Atlas Moth from Southeast Asia. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

For a truly enchanting experience, stop by the aquarium’s exhibition center, where hundreds of butterflies flutter freely. Just watch your step, as they are known to land in unexpected places.

Yes, one could spend hours exploring the aquarium, which also offers family-friendly programs and events throughout the year.

Time to get something to eat. While downtown boasts a number of great lunch spots, Jerry & the Mermaid on East Main Street is an attractive option. Delicious, affordable and conveniently located next door to the aquarium, this eatery is the ideal place to order local seafood or a juicy burger. Jerry’s fish and chips dish is also a winner. A robust portion of golden beer-battered haddock is served alongside a heaping pile of crispy waffle fries and coleslaw. You won’t be hungry. If you’re in the mood for an adult beverage, the restaurant offers a local beer and wine list. As a bonus, you can take in beautiful views of the Peconic River on Jerry’s outdoor patio while you nosh and sip.

Taps lined up at the Long Ireland tasting room on Pulaski Street. (Courtesy photo)

Taps lined up at the Long Ireland tasting room on Pulaski Street. (Courtesy photo)

You might want to skip the North Fork wine trail in favor of Riverhead’s booming craft beer scene. Three local breweries are located within walking distance of one another, all of which offer a distinct vibe. Riverhead’s first brewery, Long Ireland Beer Company, opened more than five years ago on Pulaski Street. Owners Greg Martin and Dan Burke’s dream of pouring local brews caught on and Crooked Ladder Brewing Company (West Main Street) and Moustache Brewing Company (Hallett Avenue) opened shortly after. Long Ireland’s flagship Celtic Ale goes down easy, but you can try a flight of everything on tap. Crooked Ladder and Moustache also offer both flights and pints.

Before dinner, you’ll have time to watch the sunset as you stroll along the Peconic riverfront boardwalk, which is often the site of fairs and community events during the summer months (check northforker.com/event for current listings).

As previously mentioned, downtown Riverhead offers a variety of dining options. Craving falafel or swordfish shish kebabs? Turkuaz Grill serves authentic Mediterranean cuisine on the riverfront. If you’re more in the mood for a Killarney shepherd’s pie, Digger’s Ales and Eats is the ticket. And for a casual yet refined dining experience, PeraBell Food Bar is an unbeatable choice.

Inside PeraBell in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Inside PeraBell in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Since opening its doors in 2015, PeraBell Food Bar has become a go-to restaurant. Owners John Peragine and Scott Campbell revamped a former barbecue and bar into a more upscale Main Street eatery. The menu, which incorporates seasonal ingredients grown on the East End, is similar to PeraBell’s flagship location in Patchogue.

From the moment you walk through PeraBell’s doors, its 7,000-pound pizza oven imported from Naples, Italy, will catch your attention. And while they make incredible thin-crust pizzas, PeraBell’s menu is dynamic. The specials have a farm-to-table influence, but the mainstays are also not to be missed. Perabell’s gorgonzola-crusted 10-ounce flatiron steak, served with caramelized onion hashed potatoes, is a definite highlight. Even better? The meal is plated beside what is possibly the best creamed spinach you’ll ever taste.