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Owners and husband and wife team Mike and Nikki Fortino in front of their restaurant, Fortino’s Tavern (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

Mike and Nikki Fortino never thought they would be opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, but on July 3, Fortino’s Tavern opened its doors where the popular Barba Bianca used to be on Preston’s Dock in Greenport.

After spending all winter in negotiations to buy the place, the coronavirus epidemic hit, and the couple decided to sublet the space for the summer with a plan to buy in the winter. 

The Fortinos met in 2013 in the U.S. Virgin Islands when Nikki moved to there to open a bar. Mike had already been living in the Caribbean for over a decade working as a chef in an Italian restaurant. After getting the opportunity to help friends open up PORT Waterfront Bar and Grill, the couple cashed out of the Virgin Islands and moved to Long Island. 

“[It] was kind of like divine intervention,” Mike said. “We left the islands, and three months later they had the two [category] five storms. Both of our businesses were flattened.”

During their years at PORT, the Fortinos were on the hunt for a space of their own as Mike was eager to stretch his creative legs. After landing on the Barba Bianca space, with its unique wrap-around water views, they decided to keep the menu small.

“I’ve been cooking for 30 years professionally. So I just wanted to have a place that was kind of an eclectic melt,” Mike said. “Here, this is kind of like that first time where I can just cook. And I am very excited to just cook what’s in season.”

The lobster cannelloni, Mediterranean trio and key lime pie at Fortino’s Tavern in Greenport (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

“It’s fun for us because he gets to play, and then I get to be out on the floor with a smaller dining room to be able to entertain everybody,” Nikki added. “It’s kind of the perfect duo. He gets to showcase his food while I get to talk.”

The menu now has about nine items, with a rotating list of four to five specials each week. Some of their popular items have been the scallops rockefeller, the lobster cannelloni made with housemade ricotta and the lemongrass chicken banh mi. For apps, they have the Medditeranean trio served with toasted cashew skordalia, grilled eggplant hummus and lemon cucumber tzatziki, and an interpretation of the classic meat and cheese plate. 

“Pig and cheese is a play on the charcuterie board,” Mike said. “It’s four different kinds of pig, house-made ricotta, provolone and chicharrone out of pork skins.” 

Both Mike and Nikki hope for Fortino’s Tavern to become more than just a summer spot, but a place for the locals, too. Depending on indoor dining regulations, they hope to be open through the winter.

“We just wanted a friendly neighborhood restaurant,” Mike said. “We wanted someplace where a fisherman can come in here and get a nice fat sandwich or a couple on their wedding anniversary dinner could come in here and get a fat steak.” 

“Where you could get a nice glass of wine or a Bud,” Nikki added. “We wanted a place for everybody.”

Fortino’s Tavern is open Thursday 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 12 p.m.-9 p.m., and Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday 12 p.m.-8:45 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.

102 Main St, Greenport, 333-2600