All four seasons delight in their ability to cause humanity injury and mayhem, but none can compete with the extent and variety of summer’s pains, of which sunburn is only the most obvious. There is the pain of explaining poor life choices over and over at family reunions, the pain of watching helplessly as deer devour heirloom tomatoes off the vine, and, at least in my case, the exquisite pain of having your foot stomped on and disfigured by someone wearing shower shoes on the dance floor at the Island Mermaid.
Some will reflexively blame the victim, who should have had the good sense to avoid a Fire Island scene crowded with revelers half his age.
Just a few tomorrows from now, with the arrival of cooler temps, sweaters and who knows how many new viral variants, we will find ourselves dreaming of next summer, having already misremembered the current one. The good news is that this is today, not tomorrow, and summer’s pains and pleasures are still upon us, if only for a few more minutes. Here are five great ways to seize them, savor them, and make memories worth misremembering all winter long.
In February, Patchogue hailed the arrival of a new entertainment experience that its proprietors christened birdies, an apt one for a cocktail-y temple of golf simulation, and not cornhole, even though it’s the latter sport that has captured the public’s imagination this summer. After all, this is real cornhole, not simulated, and the playing space is Birdie’s vast and attractive gravelly beer garden, a lively expanse of pagoda umbrellas, string lights and starter gfs and bfs everywhere you look. To an outside observer, cornhole may just look like beanbag toss, but its competitors are serious and therefore a riot to watch. Indeed, there’s plenty to keep self-styled social observers occupied, like the giant Jenga set, where stakes are higher than the highest plank and participants inspect their edifice with the sobriety of structural engineers. Adding to the fun is the Birdie’s food truck, which is parked right on the gravel and serves up pork tacos, sliders and other vibe-appropriate fare. It all makes for a pleasant summer diversion, and one worth hurrying to visit before the weather turns ugly and we all have to go back inside for golf. More info: 17 N. Ocean Ave., Patchogue, 631-654-4653, birdiesli.com
TRUE FOOD KITCHEN, GARDEN CITY
The way some people talk, you’d think that Labor Day was about nothing more than white pants ceasing and desisting, when the real tragedy, arguably, is the end of restaurant summer menus. True Food Kitchen goes all-in on the seasonal thing, as well as the wellness thing, the anti-inflammatory thing and other tenets of goody-goodyness. I had hardly taken my seat in Garden City when a server began a lecture on the TFK ethos, bluntly announcing that “there are no French fries in this building,” a statement that sounded pretty inflammatory to these ears. “We want to make sure your gut is happy,” she added, before immediately suggesting a bourbon and peach cocktail, one that I enjoyed quite a bit despite the odd segue. I found myself a fan too of TFK’s other summer offerings, like spinach pizza loaded with mushrooms and dollops of vegan ricotta, smoky and spicy corn soup with Hatch chiles, and grilled salmon in a quasi-Thai coconut milk sauce in which both edamame and bok choy swam. TFK’s notion of a world where craveability and sustainability aren’t at war still seems quaint, but darned if the place didn’t leave my gut happy, or at least happier than I am with my gut. More info: 630 Old Country Rd., Garden City, 516-559-4728, truefoodkitchen.com
THE ISLAND MERMAID, OCEAN BEACH, FIRE ISLAND
My own episode aside, no Long Island summer is complete without a trip to that little slip of a thing known as Fire Island, and late summer Saturday evenings in Ocean Beach, where a million kindled romances go to fizzle and you can party with abandon knowing that no one will take away your keys, and if they do, you can leave your bike Kryptonite-locked in town till morning. The Island Mermaid is known by OBers as one of the oldest and most beloved bar-restaurants, and by me for serving what seemed to me the most comically bad bowl of crab bisque in the entire soup kingdom. Fingering crustaceans for the crime seems wrong, as there were almost certainly none within 50 feet of the kitchen at the time it was committed. While avoiding the Mermaid’s crabs seems prudent, however, its bar and dance floor are irresistible, thanks to a deejay with the unassuming moniker Just Joe. I did not think it was possible for one man to blend the music of multiple eras so seamlessly, or to convince hundreds of young people to stop selfie-posing and actually dance. This is music worth risking a serious foot injury over. More info: 780 Bay Walk, Ocean Beach, 631-583-8088, islandmermaid.com
BAYVIEW FARMS, RIVERHEAD
“This is the time to come, it’s very bountiful,” said the clerk at Bayview Farms & Market, sounding both modest and alarmed when I began spontaneously hyperventilating over the Riverhead farmstand’s enormous selection of fruits, vegetables, flowers and art work, and yes, that includes the pastoral scenes painted on giant buzz saw blades. But it was the still lifes that caught my eye — beefsteak tomatoes stacked like cannonballs (25 lbs. for $40), a giant plaster bicorn alerting passing cars that ears may be purchased by the bushel or roasted by the piece ($3.95), bell peppers in enough colors to match anyone’s drapes. Right now, even as I’m typing this with trembling fingers, there’s a whiteboard behind Bayview’s cashiers detailing the dozens of items grown on Bayview’s 150-acre farm or in surrounding areas, a collection to make the Garden of Eden go green — Concord grapes and donut peaches, red and yellow onions, buckets of sunflowers, stacks of canary melons. And don’t even get me started on the so-called grocery room, which features jars of jam and pickles carrying the “made for Bayview” label, frozen NoFo potpies and Long Island duck, etc. At one of Bayview’s many picnic tables, I enjoyed several delectable housemade treats, including a mixed berry pie, blueberry loaf cake, all-butter pound cake, and strawberry ice cream made with fruit grown on the premises. Drivers whizzing by on Main Rd. are still asking themselves how I was able to eat so much without the aid of utensils, and more importantly why. More info: 891 Main Rd., Riverhead, 631-722-3077, bayviewfarmmarket.com
THE WHALES TALE, NORTHPORT
Housed in a Britannia Yachting Center structure that recalls “Falcon Crest” minus the palm trees and backbiting, The Whales Tale squats gracefully on Northport’s coast (or NoPoCo as it is purportedly known). It’s a place where “music is a little louder and our hair a little saltier,” and nobody minds the extra conditioner expense because “we have no resentment, no fears and judge no one,” according to the WT website. That’s a lot to ask of any village, of course, much less a spot known mainly for tacos and tropical drinks, but this dock-and-dine restaurant is a veritable institution, the sine qua non of all happy hours north of 25-A . Its management having made the strategic decision to load flour tortillas with everything they can think of, a dozen different tacos are offered, from steak topped with crispy fried onions to nuggets of pork belly rendered candy-like by fig jam, to tuna with cotija cheese and a tarty slaw. All are best enjoyed from one of WT’s high-top tables with their FOMO-inducing views of the sparkling Britannia pool next door. Down a rum punch and all vestiges of resentment, fear and judgment do indeed vanish as advertised, along with the pool, other tables’ squabbles over guac, and the intermittent annoyances of carpenter bees. All you’re left with are boats bobbing in the bay, spectacular sunsets that go on forever — and days that won’t but absolutely should. More info: 81 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport, 631-651-8844, thewhalestalenorthport.com