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Steven Schnee shares his favorite North Fork things. (Photo credit: David Benthal)

The owner of Founders Oyster Farm is thoroughly enjoying a second act on the North Fork, farming oysters and leading private cruises on his lovingly restored 1936 Chris-Craft yacht. It’s no surprise that many of his NOFO favs involve boats, lots of boats. 


During an extraordinary career as a journalist and television news producer, Steven Schnee has traveled and lived all over the world. “My family and I lived in London for 10 years, and I worked overseas covering news in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I’ve covered a lot of exciting and world-changing events over the years. I was in Berlin when the wall came down, and in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.”

Schnee first discovered and fell in love with, the North Fork by boat. “When we lived in Manhattan, we’d take our boat to the North Fork quite often on family trips, and when our kids went off to college, my wife and I eventually made Southold our full-time home. The stars aligned and we found a new, wonderful life here.” That life includes two passion projects that have become full-on second and third careers.

“I learned about the art and science of oyster farming from the wonderful teachers at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s SPAT [Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training] program. I eventually decided to kick it up a notch and turn oyster farming into a commercial enterprise about nine years ago and started Founders Oyster Farm. It’s very much a labor of love.” So is The Half Shell, his 1936 Chris-Craft yacht that he takes out for private sunset cruises, which include sparkling wine and Founders’ oysters, naturally. “I spent over six months fixing the mahogany hull and restoring the boat, and this will be The Half Shell’s second season on the water.” 

“I’m working a lot harder and a lot more in retirement,” Schnee said, “but I love every minute of it. The North Fork is such an unspoiled combination of farms, vineyards and water. I’m actually on the Southold Town Agricultural Advisory Committee, which advises the Town Board on maintaining the agricultural history and integrity of the North Fork, to try to keep it quaint, agrarian, and beautiful.” 

These are Steven’s favorite North Fork things: 


I love boating on the Peconic Bay. It’s the greatest place to sail, and I often take part in the Wednesday Night Sailboat Races out of New Suffolk. It’s a lot of fun, and the most exciting part is the start when every boat is jockeying for position. It gets very hairy, with boats coming within a foot or two of each other. It’s an adrenaline rush. You can watch it all from the New Suffolk Waterfront at about 6 p.m. 


We usually stop at Magic Fountain Homemade Ice Cream for a couple of quarts of ice cream when we’re driving to and from Riverhead. They have an incredible variety of flavors, but my favorite is the salted caramel. 


Owner Charlie Manwaring has the freshest catch and the best choices of seafood at Southold Fish Market, and the staff really knows their stuff. I often get a whole fish to put on the grill, or soft-shell crabs when they’re in season, or pick up a bunch of fresh clams for my wife’s amazing spaghetti alle vongole.


First & South in Greenport is our favorite local spot. They always make you feel welcome and the food is consistently great. We love to get their moules frites on Mussel Mondays, but they also make an excellent tuna burger, and the desserts — especially the panna cotta — are spectacular. 


I’ll usually shuck and sell our oysters at local wineries on the weekends, and one of my favorites is Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. It’s the largest family-owned vineyard and winery in Long Island, and it’s a destination with over 500 acres of land. You can bring the family out for a day, have a picnic lunch, listen to live music, buy some great wine — and Founders Oyster Farm oysters. 


You want to drink something that brings out the flavor and the marine ‘merroir,’ or growing conditions, of fresh raw oysters. I love Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s light, summery Haus Pils pilsner beer. The crisp sauvignon blanc from Bedell Cellars compliments the oysters’ salinity and minerality. Dry sparkling wines like Sparkling Pointe’s Brut and Pindar’s Premier Cuvée add to the sensual, bubbly magic of the experience. It’s all about slurp, sip, slurp! 


On a summer evening, it’s fun to walk onto the Shelter Island Ferry in Greenport, and then stroll up the hill from the Shelter Island dock to Isola for dinner. We don’t take the car. It’s more fun to walk on the ferry, have a really good meal, and then wander back down the hill to ride the boat back. Isola has delicious Italian food, a terrific selection of pizzas, and it’s lovely to sit outside on their porch on a warm summer night. 


Different North Fork farms have different local specialties: Sang Lee Farms has the most delicious tomatoes. Mimi Edelman at I & Me Farm in Orient grows gourmet greens, herbs, and edible flowers. 8 Hands Farm has delectable pâté. For all kinds of organic produce, we stop by Jamesport Farmstead and Deep Roots Farm in Southold which also has really good pork and chicken. 


We like to anchor our boat in West Neck Harbor on the west side of Shelter Island. It’s a protected area that doesn’t get too windy, so it’s a great place for a picnic lunch on the water. We also love to watch the sunset from onboard our boat at the cove at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island. This can be a crazy scene on land because of Sunset Beach Hotel, but offshore, it’s the perfect perch to watch the sun go down.