At the intersection of First and South streets in the Village of Greenport, there’s a lovely old house; all windows and garden, with a homey vibe that begs you to “find your way” in.
It’s First and South, the five-year-old bar and eatery that has become a center for the collaborative, community-based style of hospitality championed by partner and manager Sarah Phillips.
She calls it “the blend.”
“Farmers, boat-builders, second-home owners, it’s so great to get people together. Food and drink is a pretty good common ground,” she said.
Phillips grew up in Babylon, Long Island, a small place with a seafaring tradition, not unlike Greenport. “In Babylon, you knew what everyone was having for dinner and whether their grandma was coming over to eat,” she said.
Her father was a teacher, ran a bar on the side and worked as a lifeguard for over 50 years. Phillips grew up with fishing and sports and, although she did some catering even before studying at the International Culinary Institute in New York, her main work during the decade before she got into the restaurant industry was also lifeguarding.
After culinary school, Phillips was living in New York and working as a consultant to restaurants when she realized she had gone astray. One hot night in June 2011, she was stuck on an L train that was completely lacking the refreshing smell of the sea she remembered from Long Island summers. “I couldn’t believe I was in the city. It felt so wrong,” she recalled.
By July 4th weekend, Phillips made it happen. Visiting the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport she noticed the restaurant was short-staffed and offered her resume for consideration.
“Are you a restaurant angel?” the general manager asked, hiring her as beverage manager and later general manager. Jedediah Hawkins was exactly the track change her career needed, introducing her to all the best of North Fork food and wine and leading her to the Greenport property that would become First and South, her delicious community fishbowl.
Ivo Duarte is chef de cuisine at First and South and Phillips said his experience working at Sang Lee Farms enriches what he brings to her kitchen. “We got a whole new perspective,” she said, “because he was working hands-on at the farms.”
Bartender April Uihlein works one day a week with Ira Haspel at KK’s The Farm, harvesting greens on Thursday for First and South to serve on Friday. It gives Phillips a pipepline to her main vegetable provider that’s the next best thing to a kitchen garden. During a recent spinach-harvest, Uihlein texted Phillips from the field to ask, “Do you want the small, fine spinach or do you want the larger leaves?”
These are not unimportant questions. First and South goes through 22 pounds of lettuce in a weekend and menus are planned around what’s in season “I want to do some zucchini fritters, and a local summer crudité with a warm crab dip. But I need really great, fresh zucchini to do that,” she said.
From Surrey Lane Farms, the June crop of scallion scapes found their way into the striped bass and the steak frites and nasturtium blooms are adding zest and “a beautiful touch of femininity” to the Negroni.
The transition of the North Fork from a land of potato and duck farms to wineries, diversified farms and specialty foods has made it a food destination; a land where the fruity perfection of Briermere’s apple pie lives side by side with the dark chocoholism of Blackbottom Oat Pie from Orient’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds. At First and South, Phillips serves these signature products that make the North Fork food scene so vibrant. “People come out to Greenport without a car. These are brands they can’t get hold of easily,” she said.
A trained sommelier and a devotee of North Fork wines, Phillips is especially happy to include her favorite winemakers in the First and South collaboration. “At Macari, Kelly Urbanik takes it up a level every year,” she said. “Anthony Nappa is doing an incredible cabernet franc.”
“We like to showcase varietals that are outstanding,” she added, ticking off a list that includes chenin blanc from Paumanok Vineyards, McCall Wines’ 2013 Chardonnay and the grüner veltliner from One Woman Wines & Vineyard.
“Wines that pair well with our food,” she said.
Phillips sees the restaurant as a place where people who share an interest in the food and drink of the North Fork can develop and move forward. “This place was always intended as a platform for people who want to be in this industry,” she said.
She’s also a booster for former First and South colleagues, including her former chefs: Taylor Knapp started the pop-up restaurant PawPaw in Greenport and farms snails at Peconic Escargot, and Scott Leventhal went on to make beautiful blue smoke at North Fork Smoked Fish Company.
On Monday nights in the spring and fall, the main dining room becomes a dance floor with Phillips’ friend Blake Hobby, a champion swing dancer, leading the celebration. On Monday nights in the summer, Phillips pairs a pig from Wells Farms and beer from a local brewery to reach for the pinnacle of traditional American outdoor cooking: the pig roast. “We have fun together and highlight each other’s businesses,” she said adding, “There is a lot of Tetris here.”
Phillips has become the ringmaster of this group of local farmers, fishers, artists, dancers and pie- and winemakers, who work with her to create a rich experience of North Fork hospitality at the corner of First and South.