City Chefs Want to Civilize Long Island Restaurants

Jesse Schenker—of 2 Spring in Oyster Bay—is just one of the many chefs who have made the move from Manhattan to Long Island. • Photo by Evan Sung

Each Memorial Day, we Long Islanders are accustomed to the flood of city dwellers returning to their summer homes. Ready to feed them are some of the island’s best chefs, like Joe Realmuto of Nick and Toni’s or Stephan Bogardus of North Fork Table and Inn. And sometimes city chefs and restaurateurs close up shop and dust off their own Summer House to serve their year-round clientele.

Other parts of the island remain largely unchanged by the passing of seasons. They are, after all, the island’s Gold Coast—the inspiration behind Fitzgerald’s West and East Eggs, towns of wealth and good taste. The real life versions on which his characters were based rushed toward the decadence of the east.

No longer are there nightly masquerades or highfalutin games of croquet. But Long Island remains a year round retreat for many. Still there are golf matches and beach days and sails through the Sound. Our families nurture us with home cooked meals where good taste is the only thing not lacking; our home-spun cocktails, filled with local spirits, are balanced and smooth; our restaurants greet us pleasantly, with minimal fanfare or agenda. We are happy living the way we do, in no need of guidance from Emily Post, James Beard, or city dwellers.

But still, there are some people who think we need saving, like Michael and Claudia Taglich, who are on a mission to civilize one of our island’s most affluent seaside towns. The family, Claudia, Michael, and their children, left their home in Sag Harbor looking for a change of pace and purchased the Trousdell House on Cove Road in Oyster Bay, bringing the necessary capital to revive the colonial mansion that had fallen into disrepair (according to Newsday, the renovations cost upwards of $2M). His real estate interests then extended to restaurant ownership when he bought the buildings on 2 and 4 Spring Street. The shuttered restaurant on the corner of Audrey Avenue and Spring Street was next on their list of revitalizing the town. The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, which is likely why the Taglichs enlisted a couple from Manhattan, Jesse Schenker, the chef of now-shuttered recette, which received acclaim during its years in the city, and his wife Lindsay.

The formerly shuttered restaurant on the corner of Audrey Avenue and Spring Street has been reborn as 2 Spring. •  Photo courtesy of 2 Spring

Yet what they failed to see when they happened upon Oyster Bay is a town buried in tradition, with a level of refinement that you may miss on first glance.

The historic town was a stage for the American Revolution, Civil War, and Presidential summers. The monuments to the past, scattered over one and a half square miles, are rough with age, but solid. The same can be said of the people living in Oyster Bay. Most families have weathered many storms in this town—some going back three or more generations. The frayed edges of their jeans bear witness to spring days dragged down the pavement on Main Street enjoying vintage car shows and fall afternoons spent soaking in the remaining sunny hours before the clocks turn back. Members of the community are rough around the edges, despite the great wealth that built this town and continues to prop it up. They appreciate the significance Oyster Bay holds, they’re proud of their history but they’re at ease. They are not in need of civilizing.

In the past few years, the town has slowly transformed. The general store selling stockings, marbled notebooks, and Hi-Bounce Pinky balls is now a brewery, introducing a fresh new watering hole to the town’s list of stale dives. The brewery’s original home (which in my almost 30 years in this town was once a pizzeria and then a Mexican restaurant) is now an Italian restaurant boasting locally sourced fare. A long-vacant storefront on Audrey Avenue is now a coffee shop owned by a 30-something who returned home after years roasting and brewing coffee in the best shops in the city. Another young business owner chose to open her yoga studio a short walk from the elementary school where she learned the freedom of moving your body and clearing your mind. Oyster Bay is a town people come back to and where newcomers see the majesty of small-town living in the shadow of Manhattan.

Members of the community are rough around the edges, despite the great wealth that built this town and continues to prop it up. They appreciate the significance Oyster Bay holds, they’re proud of their history but they’re at ease. They are not in need of civilizing.

If our scrappy appearance tells you anything, it’s that we’re loyal to a fault, an “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” bunch, so change adverse that we blindly vote for corrupt politicians until their mugshots are inked across daily papers. The entry of these new businesses was slow and steady as locals dipped a toe in, seeing if the they were worth diverting from their long-held routines. Eventually, they became integral parts of the community.

Then there are the remnants of the town’s past, like the empty Snouder’s, reminding us that an independent drugstore cannot survive alongside CVS and Rite Aid, but can also not be rented to someone else due to the enormity of the cost needed to revive the space. Longtime favorite Cafe al Dente was shuttered after 20 years in business for egregious code violations. For four years, the paint chipped and vinyl awning faded while we hoped someone would swoop in and make our red sauce joint whole again.

It was the Taglichs and Schenkers who took on the project.

It took nearly two years of renovations before 2 Spring opened its doors on January 10. • Photo courtesy of 2 Spring

In an interview, Mr. Taglich quipped about the town being a dump, while Mr. Schenker noted its lack of quality food, a sentiment he recently repeated in conversation with Long Island Pulse

“The diners out here want to eat well,” said Mr. Schenker. “They can handle it. Most of the people that call here are calling from Manhattan, they work in the city. They know what it’s like…I think the diners out here are ready for this and want this badly.”

2 Spring’s goal, then, has been clear from the beginning: to create a restaurant that was a destination for the masses, perhaps worthy of a visit from restaurant critics like Ryan Sutton and Pete Wells. It took nearly two years of renovations before they opened their doors on January 10.

At a preview for the restaurant that took place in late August 2017, Schenker offered a tasting of the food and drink that would appear on the restaurant’s menu. The plates listed felt familiar; the wine list, while including plenty of weird and interesting bottles for this food writer, is extensive and expensive—perhaps overwhelmingly so. But their prices are made all the more palatable by the excellent Fusilli with Braised Veal and the restaurant’s real standout—a deconstructed S’more that’ll transport you back to your childhood summers at camp.

Since opening, 2 Spring has enjoyed a positive review in the New York Times. • Photo courtesy of 2 Spring

When asked if they would utilize local products, such as single origin coffee from Southdown or Sagamore Dark Lager from Oyster Bay Brewery, they responded to say they “only source the best,” failing to see the refinement these businesses and others already bring to the table—without making a show of it.

Owning a business goes beyond selling a product. It is about being an extension of the community, rather than a community growing out of you. For years, Verrelli’s Market has allowed customers to establish credit with the store, helping out families when money is tight. Despite the raucous crowds, the Homestead continues to open their doors, lending their bar and patio to Oyster Fest-goers who want to continue their party long after the booths lining Audrey Avenue close. Taby’s remains the family-owned Greek diner where, if you’re a regular, they’ll reserve a Chicken Pot Pie for you on a Saturday night before it sells out. When Southdown Coffee arrived to Oyster Bay, consistent feedback from customers led owner Mark Boccard to expand his offerings to include a darker roast, which is uncommon (and, by some, frowned upon) in the craft coffee world. Osteria Leana brought the familiarity of simple Italian fare to the town while utilizing local purveyors for their produce, protein, and beverages—and offering a Monday night discount to Oyster Bay residents. When Billy Joel needed a new home for several dozen of his motorcycles, he rented a storefront in the heart of Oyster Bay, opening it to the public every weekend. Though our most famous resident, he throws on a T-shirt and collects trash with the rest of the town to clean up Oyster Bay Harbor.

While not every business owner wants to be the Cheers version of themselves, it’s what gives them roots—and longevity. 2 Spring has not been open for long, so we look forward to seeing how its relationship with the community develops. However, early conversations with the minds behind the operation left me feeling wary of their opinion toward Oyster Bay, overly critical of the community’s tastes and its current roster of businesses. What I learned in my years of operating restaurants is that the first few months of business are ripe with opportunity. You’ll admit defeat when you realize your preferences do not match the needs of your customers. Rather than teaching your customers, they educate you with their questions (and demands). The Taglichs and Schenkers chose a truly special place for their new venture and for that, we feel proud and want to see them succeed. So, I’ll leave with kernel of wisdom I carried with me through my own time as a restaurant operator: you are here to serve.

We’re looking forward to it.

Editor’s Note: Since Suzanne Zuppello’s interview with 2 Spring—conducted in August 2017, prior to its opening—the restaurant has added beer from Oyster Bay Brewery to their drink offerings.