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The patio at American Beech made for cozy outdoor dining in all weather. (Credit: American Beech)

The North Fork has always been a great place to eat al fresco, whether you want a four-star meal overlooking the Sound or a bacon egg and cheese served out of a food truck on a farm. But in 2020 — as the COVID pandemic forced restrictions on indoor capacity — outdoor dining went from a nice bonus to a matter of survival for local restaurants. It was also a lifeline for residents made stir-crazy by a spring spent locked at home.

Starting Memorial Day weekend, Greenport unveiled 9,000 feet of “parklets” allowing for street-side dining and shopping. After the ghost-town like vibe of early spring, the vibrant downtown scene that resulted from the parklets won the Greenport Business Improvement District a People of the Year Award from the Suffolk Times.

On the harbor in Greenport, Claudio’s rolled down some turf and transformed a parking lot into a festive dockside beer garden. First and South Restaurant created a backyard summer camp themed space with weekly movie nights. The Sound View opened a bar on the beach, Green Hill Kitchen served bbq on a vintage charter boat and the vegan bakers behind For Goodness Cakes Co. did gangbuster business out of a truck at Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm.

The igloos at Claudio’s beer garden were one of many new outdoor dining options on the North Fork. (Credit: Sara Austin)

Once cooler weather arrived, things got cozy quickly. Igloos abounded and American Beech even erected heated glass “casitas” — like a mini greenhouse just for your bubble. Fall traditions were saved when the Preston House & Hotel celebrated Oktoberfest on its front lawn and sports bars like Andy’s in Greenport set up TVs on tented patios so you could still enjoy a game and a beer on Sundays.

As the year came to a close, the Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island had decked out its heated igloos for the holidays and First and South was staging A Christmas Carol on its front porch — with both efforts funneling money to local charities.

COVID can’t leave our lives soon enough, but pandemic-inspired outdoor dining is a trend that can stick around as long as it likes.