Now that the summer is over *sniff* I thought I’d give you an idea for a day trip to the Hamptons that is cheap, fun, and will leave you full and warm.
First let me say that the Long Island Railroad advertises itself as a way to see the Hamptons while leaving your car at home. They have pretty pictures in the subway cars of Manhattan showing pictures of Jones Beach, the Fire Island Light House, and another that says something like “Market Hopping.” Something that gives the impression that you can get on the train, get off at your destination and walk around and see stuff. This is absolutely untrue. The best case scenario is that you get left off in the middle of a town, not a pumpkin patch, or “market.” This happens east of the Hampton Bays stop on the Montauk line. West of HB, however, you’re basically dropped off in the woods with a couple of cabbies looking to make some money off a tourist who fell for a poster. Sure, I’ll take you to a pumpkin patch. That’ll be 50 bucks.
So? Drive. Take your car, or a zipcar, or borrow a car. You’ll have more fun because you’ll actually be able to see some of those pumpkins from the pictures.
Assuming you have a car, head to the east end of Long Island aiming for Route 27, also known as Sunrise Highway. Route 27 starts in Brooklyn, though and it will be a really long drive if you get on there. I take Southern Parkway to the Robert Moses Causeway, south, and that will meet up with Sunrise.
Head east through the lovely Pine Barrens, Southampton, and Water Mill. Drive through the quaint town of Bridgehampton, and at the light on the east side of town, turn left onto the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. Turn left again onto Scuttlehole Road, about 2.5 miles. You’ll see the sign for Channing Daughters Winery out on the road. Turn left into the driveway and slowly roll up the driveway through the grapevines, which are immaculately groomed by hand and depending on the season offer a beautiful view of the origin of Bacchus’ favorite drink.
Leave your cell phone and dog in the car and head in to the tasting room, admiring the wood sculptures along the way. Out in the vineyard beyond the parking lot are the upside-down trees you’ll recognize on some of the wine labels inside, that make you think “how did they do that?” There’s whimsical sculptures (look for the asparagus, the pencil and the octopus) sensual ones, and one of hanging grapes that again will make you wonder how they did that.
At the counter work the most friendly, knowledgeable and approachable wine lovers around. Let anyone of them walk you through a flight of tastings, and provide detailed information on the heritage of each bottle. Want to know which grapes from the driveway are now in your mouth? They can tell you. Why should you love the funkiness of the Blaufrankish grape, renamed by my mother Frau Blankish? They can tell you something about that too. Make sure you get a taste of the Mosaico. This is the Gourmand’s favorite wine, ever, from anywhere. I think its the lilac gentleness of Muscat Ottonel, but the folks at Channing will let you come to your own decision. Just remember to let someone draw the short straw and drive you home safely.
In addition to the tastings, you can purchase a glass of wine and sit outside on the patio and watch the sun set off to the west of the vines. You can also join their Wine Club. In exchange for permission to charge your credit card, you’ll receive 2-bottle shipments six times a year, have access to purchase new releases before the general public (especially important when the tre rosati are released in the spring,) invitations to members-only events, like the annual sculpture garden walk, and best of all, you get to do the wine tastings for free, and so do your guests. Non-wine club members pay a small fee.
Feeling warmed up? Head to your car, designated driver in place and listen to your palate. Did you like the whites or the reds? The tart or the sweet? The oaked or the minerally? Have a zen moment of reflection. This is how you start to learn how to taste wine. Resist the urge to talk out loud and spend a moment meditating with your tastebuds. Enjoy the view while you are chauffeured to Townline BBQ.
Let me preface my review by saying that I just ate at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester (yes, yes, I know I promised a review) and that place for me is the barometer of good ‘que. However, Rochester is far cry from Sagaponack and while its no Dinosaur, its worth the drive. To get there, leave Channing Daughters, turn right out of the driveway, head back south on the Turnpike. When you get back Route 27, turn left. You’ll see Townline on the right about a mile east.
The building is new and the restaurant is part of an East End eatery dynasty that includes Nick & Toni’s and La Fondita. The architecture is classic Hamptons rustic. You feel like your in a BBQ shack, but its a million-dollar shack.
There is no table service so you have to decide if you want to order from the food counter first, or should you go to the next room to get a drink over which to contemplate your meal options. At first this was fine. We got our drinks, then went back to order food. About halfway through the meal though, when another round was in order, a cocktail waitress would have been awesome so that those who remained at the table didn’t feel obligated to stop eating while the others went to procure drinks.
About those drinks, I broke up with tequila a long time ago, but I hear that the margaritas are delicious. The key to a great margarita is no sour mix. (I once went to a bar in NYC and asked the bartender if she used sour mix in her margaritas. She said, “How else would I make a margarita?” Doh! With lime juice and a splash of simple syrup. Sour mix is chemically goodness at best and should be consumed only at… I was going to say sorority keggers, but even then, I’d stick to beer.) I had an MTO glass of sangria. That’s what it says on the menu and you get, for $9, a tall, Made To Order cocktail that I swear had a splash of Duckwalk Vineyards Blueberry Port in it, but I can’t be sure.
Drinks in hand, we returned to the main room to order food from a menu that the Gourmand described as “limited, without missing anything.” There are sandwich classics (pulled pork, brisket,) ribs (either 1 short rib, or rack or 1/2 rack of pork ribs) house-made keilbasa, (which I will order next time) and an array of sides that are the stars of the meal. Prepare your arteries for a serving of deep fried macaroni and cheese, collard greens braised with pickled peppers, fried onions (reminiscent of the onion rings served at the now-defunct Shnack in Brooklyn) and baked beans that inspired me to buy a bean pot at a nearby garage sale on the drive home, in order to try to recreate the flavor. Was it sorgum that offered that caramel sweetness and color?
Finally, dessert. Normally, I skip dessert. I consider the calories from the aforementioned meal to be quite plentiful and since exercise isn’t my favorite past time, I survive on small tastes of other people’s sweets and finish my drink. When something called “Deep Fried Cherry Pie” is on the menu though, all bets are off. And since there was five of us, one dessert wouldn’t be enough, of course, so we got the Ice Box cake as well.
Unlike the mac & cheese, the pie wasn’t breaded. Instead, a round of pastry was piled with the cherry filling, folded over, edges crimped and dropped into the fryer. Then, the finished pie was dusted generously, on both sides with confectioner’s sugar. The Ice Box cake was a plastic cup filled with a chocolate pudding and graham cracker parfait, topped with fresh whipped cream. If you should know anything about me, it is that I am powerless against graham crackers. Especially when they are paired with chocolate.
All of this food, drinks all around, at a restaurant in the Hamptons for the grand total of about $140 for five people! No need to wait for restaurant week to enjoy this joint. If you’re looking for three-star service and tablecloths, you won’t find them here. However, if its paper boats of fried things and smoked meats, and lots of sticky fingers you seek, look no further.
Lucky for you both Channing Daughters and Townline are open year round. Don’t wait for Memorial Day to spend hours on the road in a long line of cars. Go off season and enjoy having the Hamptons virtually to yourself.