As a born, raised, and proud Long Islander, I’m sad to say this may be my last summer here. My parents, deservingly so, are planning to head south to spend their retired years, meaning our Oyster Bay nest will be on the market and my summer days of sun, salt, and fried clam strips at the Shack are numbered. I’ve always treated Long Island like it will always be here, with plenty of sights still on my list to try. But now it’s less that Long Island may, barring any environmental disasters, disappear from my life and more that I’m the one doing the leaving.
Sure, I could buy my own house here or rent a place to continue my sandy summers, but as any Long Islander knows, these towns have become prohibitively expensive. Billy Joel, my neighbor across the bay, was nearly 30 years early when he crooned “You can’t make a living as a bayman anymore / There ain’t much future for a man who works the sea / But there ain’t no island left for Islanders like me”. In the spirit of The Downeaster “Alexa”, I’m making this summer on the Island count. Won’t you join me?
To Eat & Drink
I mentioned this above, but I really can’t get enough of this roadside spot. My dad first dragged us here in the early 2000s, braving the breakneck corner on which the scrappy restaurant sits, for heaping plates of clams (steamed, fried, and raw), corn on the cob, and lobster rolls. This is the first place I bring out-of-towners and is the reason my bikini body is so well-rounded.
When my family first moved to Oyster Bay from Freeport, we didn’t have a proper kitchen due to a fire in our home and spent those first few months eating out—which is to say I ate a lot of Bonanza hot dogs as a second grader. The shack (hey, I’ve got a type) on the corner of Main Street was first referred to me as Chink’s, which, even as a second grader, sounded mildly offensive until I learned the hot dog and Italian ice spot earned this misnomer after the founder, John “Chick” Bonanza, suffered a long, mispronunciation of his nickname. Their chili-cheese fries and the original lemon ice still hit the spot any day of the week.
“Hello Susanna,” is exactly what I hear every time I walk into this Oyster Bay burger house. I grew up in this Greek diner, eating there at least once a week—usually on chicken pot pie night—and getting to know the waitstaff as my friends. I always land in Jerry’s section and we talk about his wife, for whom he buys two dozen roses weekly, while I dive into my Junior cheeseburger, Greek salad, and onion rings. For breakfast, it’s all about the omelette + side pancake because who doesn’t need a little something sweet? During visits home while I was living in Honduras, the mostly-Catracho staff would quiz me on their home country in between bussing tables.
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King Umberto of New Hyde Park
South Floral Park
Don’t be mislead by the name. King Umberto is actually in Elmont. But no matter its zip code, this is one of the only Italian restaurants my family deigns to eat in. For birthdays, funerals, anniversaries, graduations, and the random Sunday dinner when my mom or grandmas did not cook at home, we were at Umberto’s. Going there for so many years, it became the kind of spot where we didn’t require menus—or even the task of ordering. Quickly after sitting down, their fried capellini and antipasti was presented without much flair. Getting the last bite of the chicken rollatini sparks many a fight between my brother and we rarely left without eating half of the dessert menu or, at the least, two orders of tiramisu. Every Italian family has their restaurant and this one is ours.
Because rosé. Long before it started appearing on the city’s wine lists and friend’s counters, Wölffer has been my local wine of choice. Drives out east are incomplete without a stop at the Wine Stand on Montauk Highway, both to have a drink and stock up for the weekend. My mom is partial to the Table White while I’m a sucker for the rosé—both the cider and table wine. The family-run vineyard welcomes both locals and passersby in the always-packed tasting room. But if you’d prefer to sip in a slightly less jovial setting, Wölffer Kitchen, with locations in Amagansett and Sag Harbor, offers a menu that perfectly complements their grapes.
Montauk Brewing Co.
I can’t lie. I was initially drawn to the local-owner brewery because the three founders are total babes. What can I say? Spending summers in Montauk helped me develop an affinity for surfers. But the brewery doesn’t stand on looks alone. Their beers, with the original Driftwood and Summer Ales, have evolved and surprised me in the five years they’ve been operating. Throughout the Hamptons and the city, you can find their brews on tap or in cans at restaurants and bars. Plus cases are readily available at both Whole Foods and local 7-11s, in case you can’t make it all the way out to The End.
Every Islander has their own preferred beach; mine is Lido. My earliest memories involve my dad swinging me through the air when a wave crashed onto the shore at Lido and my mom wrapping me in a towel, still covered in sand from my day spent rolling around like a breaded chicken cutlet. This is the spot where I fell in love with open water and learned to fearlessly dive in and wade all afternoon. The end of each beach day came with an ice cream eaten under the iconic Mushrooms before passing out as the sun set on the car ride home. No longer a Town of Hempstead resident, I’m still willing to fork over the $25 to park for the day. Sorry TOBAY.
For as long as I’ve lived in Oyster Bay, our July 4 firework display has always been a battle of brawn. Between Islanders owner Charles Wang and Knicks owner James Dolan, the Fourth is never a dull holiday. Throngs of people fill up the beaches in Oyster Bay, Bayville, Centre Island, and Laurel Hollow to watch these two millionaires duke it out over a sky filled with fire and light. Recently, Billy Joel entered the rat race, shooting off the colorful burst from a barge in front of his Centre Island home to remind us that he’s the real reason we’ve all grown to love “a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island”.
My family is huge. My paternal grandfather was one of seven and between him and his siblings, they have a lot of kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. When we’re together, we tend to break local noise ordinances, which is why many years ago our family started hosting picnics in Eisenhower Park. My grandfather would arrive early to start grilling bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches for the early birds, and move on to lunch and dinner when the rest of our motley crew arrived. Now that we’ve all grown up and everyone’s started their own families, our gatherings have slimmed down but a few stragglers, still loud enough to make up for our absent family members, post up with food and drink for one of the park’s free summer concerts.
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Camp Hero is where I go when I want to scare myself stupid while also getting a history lesson and a workout. Yeah, it’s a triple threat. It’s the sight of (possible) government experiments in mind control and time travel, WWI coastal defense network against Germany, and hundreds of acres of hiking and riding trails. Standing on the edge of the quickly eroding cliffs truly makes you feel like Camp Hero is the only place in the world.