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Samy Sabil enjoying a steak sandwich at Love Lane Kitchen (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

Welcome to the very first First Date with Felicia! In our new monthly series, lifestyle reporter Felicia LaLomia sits down with North Forkers to discuss their lives and experiences over a meal of their choosing. Today Felicia’s lunch date is Samy Sabil, co-owner of the North Fork Shack in Southold.

“Do you get to do this often? Eat out at other restaurants?” I say, sitting down at a wire rod table outside Love Lane Kitchen.

“Sadly, not in the summer,” Samy Sabil, co-owner of North Fork Shack, says, sitting across from me. “When the summer is over, this is where we like to spend our money — letting other people cook for us.”

It’s one of the first fall days, not technically in terms of the date, but definitely in terms of the weather. Before arriving, I had to dig in the back of my closet for my leather jacket, something I haven’t thrown on since spring.

“How long have you been out on the North Fork?” I ask as an ice breaker.

“Since 2005,” Sabil answers. “I was born and raised in Morocco. I never really thought about leaving the country. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with cancer and after that, I was put into a bubble. Once I finished high school, I wanted to go out on my own for a little bit and just have a little bit of freedom. I had a friend of a friend who lived in Atlanta, and he was gonna host me for a week or so. I came here and fell in love with the country and the culture and applied for college.”

After three years at Georgia State earning a degree in computer science, Sabil moved to Nashville to open a long distance phone company.

“I realized in doing that that I don’t want a desk job,” he says. “But I just wasted three years on the computer side. So, I was kind of lost and I made my way up to New York just to try something new.”

While figuring out what he should go back to school for, Sabil decided to get a weekend job on the North Fork. He was 22 years old and North Fork Table and Inn was just opening so he got a job there in the front of the house.

“Every time I tried something there, I wanted to make it at home,” he said. “I also got really into the wine. So, I decided to go back to the city five times a week for sommelier classes.”

Buzz. I looked down at my phone to see a text from the restaurant. Our food was ready. 

“I’ll get it,” Sabil said. A few moments later, he comes back with a paper bag and the smell hits me. Horseradish and rosemary from his steak sandwich, spicy mustard and rye from my pastrami sandwich. It was two o’clock and I hadn’t eaten in hours. 

We take a few moments to savor our sandwiches. 

“Have you ever been here for breakfast?” he asks me.

“No, that’s actually the only meal I haven’t had here,” I say, popping a tiny, garlic and herb fry in my mouth.

“The corned beef hash, oh my god,” he says, throwing his hands up in praise. “That’s probably my favorite breakfast.” I make a mental note to try that at a later date.

Then, he returns to his life story. At North Fork Table and Inn, Sabil met his best friend, Ryan Flatley. When the restaurant closed in every January, the two would travel together.

“At home, we just started making dinners and having people over — family and friends,” Sabil says, in between bites of the rosemary focaccia that hold the small pieces of steak. “Then, one of our friends told her family about us and her mom was looking to get her a Christmas party catered in Bay Shore. It was one of the biggest snow storms we ever had, but it was our first job ever, the first time someone was paying us. It took us two hours to get there, but we had such a high from doing the event. On the drive back, we stopped and had dinner at a steakhouse. It cost us more to have dinner there than what we charged to cook dinner for 20 people.”

Eventually, the business grew into a full fledged caterer. The two started prepping out of where North Fork Shack currently is in Southold for their catering events and during the season, would open the space for casual dining.

I sat back for a minute, taking in the long answer to a simple question I had just posed. “Do you think you’ve had to go through all that to get to where you are now?” I ask, wiping my hands on the pastrami remnants, half the sandwich still in the metal disk.

“I’m not really open about the whole cancer thing. But that really is the one thing I would never want to take off if I had to do it again. It really changed me. I was an asshole as a kid, a complete douchebag. The cancer I had was rhabdomyosarcoma”—that’s a rare type of soft tissue cancer—”and at the time, especially in a country like Morocco, the survival rate was below 15 percent,” he says, opening up what’s left of the bread to eat the steak pieces with a fork.

“Going through it just kind of depleted me. It literally just hit a reset button for me. Even my palate. I used to love sweets. I hate sweets now. I eat healthy because I enjoy it, not because I want to be skinny or anything. I’ve always wanted to be fat. I swear to God, I’ve always wanted to have a gut. I just want to do this,” he says, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his belly, Santa style. “It feels like a friend.” After a big lunch late in the day, I can relate.

“I feel like that changing palette made me appreciate the simple food. And also my grandmother,” he says. “I think her kitchen was maybe 10 by 10. She had one or two knives and a little stool at a little table. But the best food came out of that kitchen, and it’s always just simple. There’s a picture in my mind when I walk in the kitchen. It’s just bowls of cut up vegetables and meat is separate. When she starts cooking and then you start smelling everything while you are playing outside —that’s when you know when it’s ready.”