I’m a sandwich man.
Whether it’s ham and cheese, a hamburger, pulled pork or a lamb gyro, I’m often happier at lunch than I am at dinner.
Even when I’m out to dinner, I find myself ordering from the restaurant’s sandwich menu. Sometimes my fellow diners take this as a signal that we’re all supposed to order burgers or chicken sandwiches instead of entrées to save money on the total dinner bill. Not true. I just happen to prefer a fistful of buffalo chicken sandwich — its brightly colored mix of orange sauce and blue cheese overflowing from the bun — to a slab of meat with broccoli placed alongside it. I not only love sandwiches, I love any variation of meat and bread that you can eat without a fork and knife. These include empanadas, Jamaican beef patties and countless Mexican dishes.
There was a time in my lunch-going career here at the newspaper when my daytime dining options were very limited. My fellow Times/Review journalists and I basically had two options within a short drive: pizzeria or delicatessen. (I’m not big into Chinese food for lunch.) While solid options to be sure, going to just one of three or four places to eat over the course of several years tends to get old after a while.
But things have changed drastically within the last year.
My lunch crew has seen its two main haunts — Mattituck and Main Street, Riverhead — add a gourmet deli (Ammirati’s, Mattituck), an Italian specialty market (Lombardi’s, Mattituck), a Greek restaurant (Greek Bites, Mattituck), a Mexican eatery (Taqueria Cielito Lindo, Riverhead) and a chicken and ribs restaurant (J&L’s Chicken, Fish and Ribs, Riverhead) in recent months to enthusiastic patrons. Soon, Gula Gula Empanadas will open near Love Lane in Mattituck. Empanadas!
My apologies to the mainstay eateries, but it’s worth noting that with all the options of worldly food fare newly available in the area, we’ve suddenly found ourselves living in something like Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center or New York City. Just to overstate it a bit more, if I stuffed a Chamber of Commerce suggestion box with my dream list of available and varied dining options, I couldn’t be doing much better than right now for lunch.
So what are we to glean from this critical mass of culinary delights?
I guess it’s safe to say it was bound to happen, given a variety of factors that include but aren’t limited to more weekend visitors to the region, second homeowners extending time spent on the North Fork and a resurgent downtown Riverhead. Aside from providing more options for hungry North Forkers, these additions also mean a more thriving business community composed of an increasingly diverse group — in age, race and ethnicity — of entrepreneurs.
Some are fledgling, like Gula Gula owner Luchi Masliah, who gained a local following serving up empanadas at the Riverhead Farmers Market, and some are more experienced, like lifelong Riverheader and well-known caterer Leroy Hines. Mr. Hines had been a fixture at local fairs and markets for 28 years before opening his first brick-and-mortar East Main Street restaurant this past weekend. It appeared this week that his timing couldn’t have been better, as the eatery was packed when we visited for lunch on Monday. I ordered a more modern variation on the American sandwich: a wrap.
Now, before you call me a sandwich sellout and a hippie, this particular wrap was stuffed with crispy fried chicken, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes and came with a spicy mustard dipping sauce. No goat cheese, heirloom eggplants or transparent dressing to be found here.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement in our little lunchtime Mecca. So I’m putting a very public call out here for a made-to-order, gourmet hamburger joint. It’s a guaranteed success.
Here’s hoping Danny Meyer of Shake Shack fame is a reader.
Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.