Gustavson Column: The North Fork’s a moveable feast

There may have been more perfect Labor Day weekends hereabouts in the past, but I can’t remember one. The weather was perfect, our friends and family were perfect and the venues where we chose to spend our time were perfect.

Those first two factors (weather, friends/family) are certainly worthy of column-izing, but it is the venues I’d like to highlight here. Each is representative, I think, of what makes life here uniquely special.

So, without further ado, here are the places we visited this weekend, in the order we visited them:

The Southold Town Beach at New Suffolk: Actually, we went there on Thursday, the day before the official weekend commenced, but it was a great place to get into the holiday spirit. With no offense intended toward places visited later in the weekend, it’s arguably the best beach in Southold Town, with more than adequate public parking, a real sand beach, a lifeguard on duty and a deep-water swimming area protected by buoys.

Shinn Estate Vineyards and Croteaux Rosé Vineyards: On Friday, the former Joan Giger Walker and I decided to play tourists, kicking off the weekend with visits to two of the North Fork’s off-the-beaten-path but noteworthy vineyards. Barbara Shinn and her husband/partner, David Page, were there to greet us at their farm (and inn!) on Oregon Road in Mattituck. They helped us choose a sampling of their current whites, including a very interesting — and, as it turned out, very tasty — pear cider made with their grapes and pears from Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue.

By the time we made it over to Croteaux on South Harbor Road in Southold, we were joined by some out-of-town guests who do back flips for Croteaux’s rosé wines. The lovely setting — particularly on a perfect day like Friday — makes visitors feel as if they were smack dab in the middle of Provence. And there, too, we received a warm welcome from an on-the-scene owner, Paula Croteau.

Alice’s Fish Market: This is not to suggest that visiting Alice’s at the foot of Atlantic Avenue in Greenport is akin to visiting a vineyard — after all, it’s a working fish market — but the products they offer are every bit as representative of our region as grapes.

On Friday night, faced with an impromptu dinner party for 11, we opted for two of Alice’s specialties, pre-cooked lobsters and pre-opened oysters. It’s safe to say that nobody in the house was disappointed with their dinner, which also featured fresh corn from Latham’s and Sep’s and a short after-dinner stroll to Orient’s Idle Hour for ice cream treats.

Orient Beach State Park and 67 Steps, Greenport: Sunday was another beach day. It began with a short boat ride to Long Beach, at the far western tip of the state park. Gone are the days when park rangers would check for beach permits, so we anchored the boat just off shore and set up our umbrella and chairs for a quiet afternoon of reading and relaxation.

Then, as a lovely day transitioned into a lovely evening, we joined a group of fellow 60-something hippies on the beach at 67 Steps, at the north end of Sound Road in Greenport. The food was potluck, the wine flowed freely and rarely have I seen as many Obama bumper stickers in one parking area.

Goose Creek Bridge Beach, Southold: As if we hadn’t visited enough beaches already, Labor Day itself was dedicated to a bumpy boat ride to and from a somewhat-hidden gem, the sandy point just outside the Goose Creek Bridge on North Bayview Road, near the Southold Yacht Club. It’s a place where in-the-know locals do their beaching, and for a while there Monday I felt like we were at a Southold High School reunion. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.

You need a Southold Town parking sticker to get there by land, but it couldn’t be more convenient if you go by (small) boat, because you can pull right up to the beach and drop an anchor on shore.

Other than a few bottles of wine, 11 lobsters, three dozen oysters, a dozen ears of corn and a few gallons of gas, it was not a super-expensive weekend. Instead, it was a moveable feast that reminded us, once again, why we have chosen to make Long Island’s North Fork our home for the past 35 years.

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