Northforker Neighborhoods: Riverhead is more than just our most populated hamlet

Despite being the largest, most populated hamlet on the North Fork, Riverhead also has a bit of an underdog tag.

With a sprawling commercial business corridor that skews more big box than mom and pop, and a downtown in a forever state of revitalization, it’s easy to overlook so many of the qualities that make Riverhead a special place. 

On one hand, it’s Goliath, bigger and louder than its neighbors to the east.

But as you start to pay closer attention to the progress made downtown as it introduces new restaurants, better lodging options, tourist attractions, a focus on the arts and a growing number of affordable rentals, Riverhead becomes a place you start to root for.

There is a pride among Riverhead residents that rivals any other community — and for good reason.

The Long Island Aquarium, The Suffolk Theater, Splish Splash and Tanger Outlet Center are all major draws for visitors to the East End, based right in Riverhead. The Riverhead Business Improvement District, East End Arts and other organizations also host events throughout the year that bring people downtown for community and culture — the Carboard Boat Race, Holiday Bonfire, Polish Town Fair and Community Mosaic Street Painting Festival are among our favorites.

With each of these events and attractions, visitors of Riverhead are exposed to a food scene that rivals the rest of the North Fork, even if it doesn’t get as much attention.

For breakfast, there’s Sunny’s Riverhead Diner & Grill, Star Confectionary (aka Papa Nick’s) and Lolly’s Hut.

Farm Country Kitchen and Maple Tree BBQ are top lunch destinations.

And if it’s a casual dinner experience you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with Turkuaz Grill, Mazi and Pera Bell Food Bar East — or dial it up a notch for a more formal dinner at Preston House.

While several wineries dot the northeastern edge of town (which we talked about in a previous neighborhood profile) Riverhead proper is all about the suds. A downtown to Polish Town walking tour of breweries is a great way to spend an afternoon here, checking out what’s on tap at Long Ireland, Moustache, North Fork Brewing Co. and Crooked Ladder. (Or get some fresh air and work off the beer with a Brew Crew Cycles tour).

Of course, a trip to Riverhead wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the farm stand, so be sure to stop by Garden of Eve Organic Farm or pick up some local horseradish from Schmitt’s Family Farm.

If it’s the outdoors you seek, be sure to rent a kayak from Peconic Paddler or experience camping at the beach at Indian Island.       

Riverhead might not always get the credit it deserves as a North Fork destination, but the more time you spend there, the harder it is to ignore just how much there is to experience.