COOKING FRESH, THE LIVING ROOM VIBE, WINE & LOVE LANE COMMUNITY
e cover photo and all others in this article were taken by David Benthal Photography
Q: The North Fork is home to many great restaurants. What’s the Love Lane Kitchen difference?
A: Hospitality and freshness. The vibe is very welcoming—you come in, you make your own coffee, the tables are close together, people chat with one another. There’s a wonderful living room feel. It’s very family, and I think people can feel that when they walk through the door.
Making people feel welcome, like they belong is a part of it. We have fun here. It doesn’t feel like work. Obviously some days are harder than others, but with the team we have, it’s just fun and I think people sense that. And as to freshness, well, we cook seasonally with as many local ingredients as possible.
Q: The living room feel sounds very welcoming. Do you have many regulars?
A: In the winter 60% of the people who walk through the door will be greeted by first name and we’ll know their order before they can say it. But the summer brings lots of new faces. Most of them eventually become familiar faces too. We may only see them two weeks a year, when they come out on vacation, but we’ll see them every morning for breakfast, and over time you remember them.
This really cute family came in for dinner last night, and they have two kids, I think 7 and 4 years old, and I remember when she was pregnant with the second one. They’re now part of our regular summer crowd.
Q: You mentioned cooking seasonally, with local ingredients. Does that affect the Love Lane Kitchen experience?
A: Yes–Another thing I get super excited about is our food. We are in the center of an incredible place, with all these farms around. We source locally, seasonally, and we also have great purveyors who look out for us.
That makes eating here a little quirky, because people think you’ll always have the same dishes. Every June we make a cocktail called The Organic June made with fresh strawberries. People try to make it out of season and alas, it’s just not as delicious.
We try to deal with that by just having something equally wonderful all time. It’s a little challenging getting people to understand why we don’t have something they want during their next visit, but in a way that’s the point. The reason they wanted it again was it was so amazing, and it was amazing because it was super-fresh.
People eventually adjust as they get used to it. We now have people that are excited to come in and see how the menu changes each week, try the new seasonal thing. Yes we have some staples, but for the most part the dishes change.
Q: Can you give some examples?
A: Recently we had this corn risotto that was unbelievably good, the kernels just popped with sweetness and flavor, because we were getting it off the cob from local corn. We can’t do that in January with canned corn.
Today we made a butternut squash soup that is a huge favorite. Today was the first batch of the season. Right now we’re also serving a sweet potato hash, has some spinach in it, topped by eggs, that’s a great breakfast. I also have a lovely salad on the dinner menu with local apples and Swiss chard.
When food is so fresh, when you’re eating it when it’s supposed to be eaten, you hardly need to do anything to it. People taste the difference. The freshness is just amazing.
Q: You recently introduced your own wine. What is the story behind that?
A: I worked with Alie Shaper of Brooklyn Oenology. I’ve had her wines on my list since we started, I love her wine—we tasted through a couple of different wines that we blended, and we chose a mix of chardonnay, pinot blanc and Gewurztraminer. It goes great with food, it’s a drinkable food friendly wine. It’s been fun introducing people to it, it’s been very well received.
The label is our logo with our floor tile in the background.
Q: You mentioned that you know most of your winter customers by name; so you’re open year round? Some restaurants out here are seasonal.
A: We’re open 7 days a week, breakfast and lunch year round. We do dinner 5 days a week from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. After that, dinner is Friday through Monday nights.
In the winter it gets pretty quiet on the Lane. I’m really grateful for the ebb and flow of the seasons. It gives you a great opportunity to work on every aspect of the business. It’s nice to know you can prepare for that. Also the winter gives us all the opportunity to re-connect with our regular local crowd again- they call it coming home!
Q: You said “the Lane” like it’s more than a street. Is it?
A: Love Lane is much more than a street; it’s such an amazing place to do business. I love being surrounded by owner-operated businesses. The owners are here, just rolling up their sleeves, getting it done. It really creates an amazing place. We couldn’t do it without each other. It feels so natural, to be able to wave to the shopkeeper across the street, you almost forget that this isn’t normal. So many passionate people doing what they believe in in a concentrated area. My neighbors inspire me. I really love it.
Q: Sounds like Love Lane businesses connect to each other to an unusual degree. Do you guys do any events together?
A: Yes. In recent years, besides being at the center of the big street festival the Mattituck Chamber does in July, Love Lane merchants have been doing “First Fridays”.
The evolution of Love Lane First Fridays has been really cool to watch; now it’s an evening block party crossed with a farmers’ market. We get together and work with local purveyors to offer $3 tastes and $5 sips, live music, local farms’ produce. Sometimes the street closes, people walk down the street with strollers. The last one this year—probably the last one—will be a week from Friday, on October 7th.
Q: Did you grow up on the North Fork? If not, how did you get here?
A: I grew up in East Moriches, and I went to school at Mercy in Riverhead—a lot of my classmates were from the North Fork.
In college I spent a semester in Italy; I really loved food, wine and travel. I was an English and journalism and film student, so I did a lot of writing. I wanted to be a writer, a food or travel journalist, really. I wanted to eat, drink, travel and get paid for it.
Wine was definitely the catalyst to attracting me to the North Fork. I really got into loving the North Fork when I was working at Paumanok Vineyards during college. Once I really got my connected to the people, the wine, the process, what was happening on the North Fork, it was really just so exciting.
Q: How did you get from a love of wine and the North Fork to owning and running Love Lane Kitchen?
A: Honestly it was through relationships that came from the tasting rooms, people along the wine trail, encouragement I got to further my own wine education, and my other restaurant experience out here. Along the way I took the WSET, it’s the exam you need to be a certified sommelier. I also worked for Tom Schaudel and Adam Lovitt at Jedediah Hawkins Inn, and they were so great to work for, taught me so much. Now Tom and Adam have several great restaurants between them, and other wonderful people are at Jedediah.
Over time I became very good friends with Jenilee Morris, who was managing Love Lane Kitchen, and she invited me to put together the wine list for the restaurant. When Jennilee went to start her own place, I took over managing at Love Lane Kitchen. That was in 2009. I fell in love it, with leading a team, building relationships with our customers, I loved what we did in the kitchen, where we sourced the food. Mike Avella, the original owner, he started it all, was really good at delegating so we got all this great experience. When I had the chance in 2012 to buy the Kitchen I jumped at it.
At the end of the day, I became owner of Love Lane Kitchen for the love of the food, wine, and most of all, people.