It takes a lot to drag us off the North Fork. So trust us when we say these new foodie destinations — reachable in about two hours or less — are good enough to make us put the top down and hit the highway.
A bacon haven in Glen Cove
In the five years between 2007 and 2012, chef Harry Schwartz had three heart attacks and was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He also started making his wife different flavors of bacon. Now in remission, he ran an idea to create a restaurant that served flavored, artisanal bacon by a friend. “They said they loved it,” Schwartz said. Garden of Bacon opened in Glen Cove in December.
So yes, a triple heart attack survivor is the genius behind a pork-centric restaurant. But Schwartz knows better than anyone that life is short, so you might as well indulge in some cherry maple-flavored bacon while you can. Schwartz says the not-too-sweet flavor, made with tart cherry juice, is a favorite of customers, who love it in the shop’s house-made BLTs and cubanos.
The artisanal strips come in a range of flavors (Asian sesame, Buffalo BBQ), thicknesses and levels of spiciness, but ultimately, Schwartz said, it’s all about the bacon: “Even our hottest flavors, I want you to taste bacon first. I want the finish to be the flavor we created.”
Before you leave, pick up something to bring home to your pup: Gourmet bacon dog biscuits are available. — Beth Ann Mayer
Mexican with a twist in Mystic
A ferry ride from Orient Point helps connect you to Rio Salado, a vibrant new spot for Mexican food in Mystic, Conn. “The ingredients are authentic to Mexican cuisine,” said executive chef Frances Medina, “but elevated with a modern twist.”
The biggest twist may be the chef herself, who relishes upending expectations. “When people find out I’m a Puerto Rican woman rocking out super authentic Mexican food, there are always some surprising reactions,” said Medina. “It’s such a complex cuisine that I’m constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge.”
Order the chef’s favorite pairing of puerco de cochinita pibil, a dish from the Yucatán featuring pork slow braised in bitter orange and achiote, and Piña Asada, a cocktail of house-infused habanero tequila, lime, vanilla and grilled pineapple. Then, for after-dinner drinks or dessert, head to Mix at Sift, above Sift Bake Shop in downtown Mystic. The pretty new rooftop cocktail lounge is a summer dream. — Michelina Da Fonte
Authentic Italian from a familiar chef in Smithtown
If bagels are the unofficial breakfast food of Long Island, Italian is our region’s dinner of choice. But chef Marco Pellegrini has a secret for you: Most of it isn’t authentic. “If you travel to Italy today, you won’t find spaghetti and meatballs,” says Pellegrini.
Pellegrini isn’t judging. But he would know what real Italian tastes like. He had a 26-year career as a chef in Italy before moving stateside about eight years ago. North Forkers will remember him: He served as the chef at Caci North Fork in Southold until it closed in 2018.
Now, the Umbrian native is living his American dream and serving authentic Italian fare in Smithtown as co-owner and chef of Osteria Umbra. Guests can watch their meats, like veal and steak, cook on a 13-foot wood-fired stove in the dining room. Pastas, including homemade ravioli with ricotta cheese and a black truffle sauce, are all homemade. Pellegrini is hard-pressed to dish on which one he likes best. “It’s like if you were to ask me which one is my favorite son,” he said with a laugh. — B.A.M.
Instagram influenced comfort food in Huntington
Sal DiBenedetto, known to Instagram as @thegrubfather, rose to fame for his double-tap-worthy food and travel content. But these days, people are traveling to Huntington to take photos of (and eat) the comfort food made in his first restaurant, The Grub Shop. The cheesesteaks have become an overnight success; guests can choose from the ribeye or chicken made with a proprietary cheese blend.
“I’ve worked with some of the best restaurants around the world and have become so inspired by the industry that I knew it was finally time to paint my own picture,” DiBenedetto said.
That picture includes a large mural of the late, adventurous chef Anthony Bourdain inside the restaurant. “Anthony Bourdain changed my life and showed me that food goes well beyond just flavor and presentation, but also tells a story,” DiBenedetto said. “His work is the reason I got into what I do.” — B.A.M.
A Korean food crawl in Manhattan
Yes, restaurants are still opening in New York City in 2021, and one of the biggest trends is what you might call “creative Korean.” Inspired by Korean street food and informed by other cuisines, these restaurants are full of flavor and flat-out fun. Start on the Upper East Side at Kjun, a unique Korean-Cajun takeout-only concept from chef Jae Jung, who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants. Take her food to go and have a socially distanced picnic in Central Park.
At Ssäm Bar from Momofuku, newly relocated to scenic South Street Seaport, another young woman chef, Eunjo Park, is serving up dishes like white pepper wings, “extremely spicy” scallop kimbap and the signature ssäm (Korean lettuce wraps) filled with skirt steak, crispy hake and grilled pork belly.
Or enjoy a city stroll while chomping on a Korean corn dog, which come doused in spicy sauces and over-the-top toppings like crispy rice, potato cubes and injeolmi, a sweet rice cake. Competing chains Snowy Village (in Times Square and the Meatpacking District) and Two Hands (in the East Village, with two more NYC locations promised soon) ensure you’re never too far away from your next snack. — Sara Austin
Small plates with big flavor in Roslyn
When it comes to Greek food on Long Island, Roslyn is at the head of the table: The town has Kyma, Limani and now, Limani Mezze. Headed up by the same group that runs Limani, this Greek eatery centers on a foodie trend-turned-mainstay: small plates.
The menu features about three dozen options to mix and match, including octopus and moussaka spring rolls. They’re designed to share and spark conversations, making for a lively choice as diners emerge safely from the last year of quarantine.
The wine list boasts plenty of Greek options for those looking for an authentic Mediterranean experience. Clinking glasses in the whitewashed room with light blue and wooden accents feels like a great escape, even if it’s only about an hour from Riverhead. — B.A.M.