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Outdoor DIning

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Sitting at a bistro table on the sidewalk in Port Jefferson village this morning, sipping my coffee and people-watching, it occurred to me I could be anywhere enjoying such a scene. I was lingering on after a breakfast business meeting, and now alone, I relaxed with this thought. I could be in the many shoreline villages strung along the New England coast or any of the Atlantic fishing ports of the United States, or for that matter, those on the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. I could even be in Paris or Rome, although those are not portside locations.

That’s what summer will do to you. The warmth of the sun and the caressing breeze encourage daydreaming.

I saw residents walking their dogs, who, in turn, seemed more interested in what I was eating than in getting exercise. I greeted people I know, but haven’t seen in too long due to COVID, as they strolled by. A friend rolled down his window and waved on his drive up the block, calling out to me from the far lane to ask how I was. Customers at the next table started chatting with me and showing off their young baby, their first. The waitress came out to check on me and asked, “Can I get you anything more or would you just like to enjoy the moment?” Smart young woman, she understood.

We live in a wonderful place with many delightful offerings, but we probably don’t take the time to dwell on that fact. For example, even this past Thursday alone, we could have attended the opening night of the Stony Brook Film Festival, screening indie movies from throughout the world at the Staller Center on the campus of Stony Brook University. Or we might have tapped our feet and kept time with a performance at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook village. The Huntington Summer Arts Festival has ongoing performances, this past Thursday featuring Lakecia Benjamin & Pursuance that started at 8 p.m. in Heckscher Park.

Also, on Thursday evening, there was the Smithtown Library concert, a lecture on the much-in-the-news sharks at the Whaling Museum in Cold Spring Harbor, a concert in the Show Mobile at Harborfront Park in the village of Port Jefferson, and in Northport Village Park the Northport Community Band continued its summer concert series. The Huntington Manor Fireman’s Fair, Long Island’s largest, started on Thursday at the Henry L. Stimson Middle School in Huntington Station.

And, as they say, so much more.

I’m not even mentioning the movie showings in the moonlight, the largesse of theaters, the art galleries, the farmers’ markets, the U-Pick opportunities, the wineries, the plethora of restaurants and opportunities for boutique shopping, and the glorious beaches to be enjoyed during the day and under the stars at night that are available at different times and days on our Island.

And try the local corn on the cob. This week it has been fabulous.

This may sound daffy to you, but when the weather becomes unbearably hot and humid, and I just want to get out on the water, I have even been known to ride the rear deck of the ferry to Bridgeport and back to Port Jefferson for a poor person’s afternoon cruise. And if you find yourself in need of a little exercise, walk the wooden pathway around Port Jefferson harbor, with or without your dog.

Next week is already August, and soon the summer will be gone, along with many of these attractions. While certainly others remain, we don’t have quite the leisure of mind to enjoy them that summer brings as the calendar turns.

Mirabelle Restaurant and Tavern at the Three Village Inn, 150 Main Street, Stony Brook has launched two exclusive igloos for private outdoor experiences for the fall/winter season. The heated igloos, Guy-Gloo and Noir, each feature their own theme and are decorated with twinkling lights, cozy seating and seasonal décor.

Igloos maybe be reserved for 2 hours for 6 people maximum for $150. The cost includes a chilled bottle of prosecco and an exclusive server for the 2 hour duration. The full Mirabelle menu is available for purchase in the igloo which are are sanitized every two hours after each party exits.

Igloos are available Wednesday to Sunday starting Nov. 10 and reservations may be made now by calling 631-751-0555.

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Richared Harris and Kathianne Snaden join Joey Zangrillo in his new outdoor dining spot located behind his restaurant, Joey Z’s. Photo by Julianne Mosher

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Long Island in March of last year, restaurants had to shut their doors and come up with creative ways to survive.

At first, they utilized contactless, curbside pickup, and then as the summer approached, the warm weather opened up impromptu outdoor dining.

“It was a scary time,” Village of Port Jefferson trustee Kathianne Snaden said. “But the attitude with outdoor dining was whatever they need, we will make it work within reason and safety.”

Restaurants had to make use of whatever outdoor space they had — Joey Z’s, for example, be-ing just two tables on the busy sidewalk in front of its location. Others used their back parking lots, taking up space from visitors and their cars.

Snaden said they were able to relax their already-in-place outdoor dining codes to help the businesses stay open. 

“Even though it was hurriedly done, we still did everything to the standards with the fire marshal and the attorney that visited every site,” Snaden added. “We were very careful with that stuff. Our goal was for the businesses to continue doing business and stay open.”

Now that this has become the new normal, the village knew they had to prepare early for the busy season, using what they learned last year to make outdoor dining even better.

Deputy village attorney Richard Harris and Snaden began researching different accommodations the village could make. 

“We came up with a waiver form,” Harris said, “And whenever people came in for an application, for the most part we said ‘yes.’”

Using the good and the bad from what they learned early on in the pandemic, Harris and Snaden began measuring different spots that could accommodate outdoor tables, again joined by the fire marshal to make sure everything was safe, and ADA compliant. 

“We were able to take more time in identifying locations,” Snaden said, adding that this year the village again waived the $100 table fee restaurants typically need to pay for outdoor dining. 

And this year, the village is continuing to assist the restaurants which could use the extra space.

Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that indoor dining could seat at 75% capacity, but some restaurants Down Port are small spaces that still cannot make a profit without a full house. 

So, the outdoor dining helps.

Joey Z’s, located at 217 Main St., is now utilizing a small park behind his restaurant, at the bottom of the staircase by Toast Coffeehouse.

Joey Zangrillo, owner of the Greek and Italian spot, said he is grateful for the tables located within the park because he knows it’ll help his business this summer. 

“This whole place, the way it looks right now, looks perfect to me,” he said. 

And the tables will not interfere with the rest of the park, Snaden said, because benches are still available for people to take a break. 

“Everybody that requested a certain area or type of outdoor dining, they were not denied,” she added. “We worked within our parameters and what the code allows, but nobody was denied what they asked for.”

While many restaurants are beginning to utilize the outdoor dining now that spring is here, Harris said applications are still rolling in, and have been since early March. 

“If you let us know what you want, we’ll take a look at the permit and make it work for you,” he said. “We want the businesses to survive — that’s our job.”

Rigatoni with shrimp at Pasta Pasta in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Long Island Restaurant Week has created a new spin on its yearly week-long dining event — but this year takeout will be the focus due to the precautions of COVID-19.

The event is running from Jan. 24 through 31 and select restaurants will feature a $25, $35 or $42 three-course prix fixe available for takeout. Customers are still allowed to dine in if they choose to do so.  

Steve Haweeli, president of LIRW, emphasized the importance of the changes made for the event this year.

“This campaign stresses takeout,” he said. “It’s safer from a COVID-19 standpoint, and allows restaurants to save tables for those who dine in.”

A tasty calamari appetizer at Pasta Pasta. Photo by Kimberly Brown

One of the four participating restaurants in Port Jefferson is Pasta Pasta, a popular Italian trattoria that is offering the three-course prix fixe for $35. Owner, Debra Bowling, said one of the good things to come out of the pandemic was the loyalty from her customers, and knowing the support she has from them.

“The customers would come up to order takeout and say, ‘Are we helping? Are you OK?’” she said.

Bowling added that at the beginning of the pandemic, customers would visit the restaurant and give money to the workers in the kitchen because they knew their hours were cut.

“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes I get choked up. It’s a very warm feeling.”

Some of her customer’s favorites include the tortelloni stuffed with six cheeses, filet mignon, wasabi calamari and the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

“We have customers that come in for the same thing every week,” Bowling added. “It’s so funny — it never changes.” 

Wave Seafood & Steak and The Club a Public Steakhouse, are also participating in LIRW. While both are operated by Crest Hospitality, the restaurants have their own ambience.

Wave Seafood overlooks the marina, and The Club a Public Steakhouse is located on a cliff over-looking the Long Island Sound. Both spots will be offering the $35 three-course prix fixe for take-out or dine in as well. 

Outdoor insulated igloos are good balance between indoor and outside dining at Danfords. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Michael Lang, vice president of food and beverage with Crest Hospitality, explained the attributes that he considers make his restaurants stand out.

“Three simple reasons — the food, the service and the views.” he said, “We provide a great experience for people who come, and for $35 this is a great opportunity if you haven’t been to our restaurants before.”

Learning to roll with the punches of the pandemic, both restaurants also provide enclosed, heated, outdoor seating. Wave Seafood offers insulated igloos to rent, which are located on the deck. 

“Every day you learn something new,” Lang said. “You learn to manage day-to-day and go with the flow to make it work as best as you can, and we have had a lot of good successes come out of that.” 

Ruvo East is the fourth Port Jefferson restaurant joining The Club, Wave and Pasta Pasta with a $35 prix-fixe menu.

To see menus or find other restaurants across Long Island participating, visit www.longislandrestaurantweek.com.

Restaurant is first in village to attempt rooftop dining

Skipper's wants to create outdoor rooftop dining. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Skipper’s Pub of Northport Village has set its sights on the sky with plans to create rooftop dining at its Main Street eatery — but the proposal saw a bit of grounding by village zoning officials and residents on Wednesday.

Representatives of the restaurant came before the Northport Village Zoning Board of Appeals at a public hearing with hopes of gaining area and parking variances to create a 109-seat seasonal rooftop dining area atop Skipper’s. The plan raised eyebrows and exclamations from ZBA chairman Andrew Cangemi, who questioned whether the ZBA even had jurisdiction over the proposal and brought to light parking issues with the plan.

This is the first time a restaurant has attempted to gain approvals for rooftop dining in Northport Village.

“What we’re doing is a little different than a couple of tables and chairs, Mr. Chairman,” Chris Modelewski, the attorney for the applicant said.

Skipper’s needs a variance from the code for about 37 parking spots, as they want to build a 2,750 square foot rooftop deck. The deck would add 33 additional seats to its eatery and plans to remove a number of sidewalk dining seats and tables.

A view of what a proposed outdoor rooftop dining space would look like at Skipper's Pub in Northport. Photo by Rohma Abbas
A view of what a proposed outdoor rooftop dining space would look like at Skipper’s Pub in Northport. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The plan also includes adding a bar and bar stools, a stairway and fencing to the roof.

Officials and residents at the hearing questioned where those spots would come from, in a village that is already strapped for parking spots during the busy summer months.

Another issue Cangemi raised was whether the ZBA should even be reviewing the application. Modelewksi said the rooftop dining complies with the village’s outdoor dining code, which allows restaurants to create sidewalk dining for a $50 annual permit fee. Those applications don’t require ZBA variances, Cangemi said, according to the code.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

Modelewski said he needed variances for parking and other issues, and that he wanted to secure them in case the law changed in the future. Cangemi replied that the applicant basically wanted the ZBA to assume a legislative role and “play village board.”

“Chris, I hear what you’re saying, but it seems like you’re asking this board for cover.”

The representatives delved into the details of the application. When pressed on parking figures — Cangemi asked where the applicant would create 37 additional spots — Modelewski said he reasoned many of the individuals who come out to eat at night are out-of-town visitors who arrive by boats and moor up to the neighboring marinas and village dock, therefore not requiring parking. Representatives also mentioned there are available spots open to the public at Woodbine Marina.

About 10 residents weighed in on the proposal at Wednesday night’s hearing. Those who critiqued the plan did so on the parking issues. One person who spoke in favor of the plan noted that the village is home to a number of large-scale events like the farmers’ market and the Great Cow Harbor 10K Race, and people manage to find parking at those events.

Former Northport Village Trustee Tom Kehoe also made an appearance and spoke on the application. The original author of the outdoor dining legislation, Kehoe said it was initially drafted years ago when vacancies and inactivity were a common sight in Northport. Officials then were looking for ways to stimulate activity in the downtown.

He said everyone has had a hand in “the Renaissance of Northport,” turning it into a destination.

“Sometimes you just have to be careful what you wish for.”

Cangemi said the public hearing would be held open until Sept. 16 for any additional comments to be entered into the record.