Widgets Magazine

Q&A With Sarah Phillips of First & South

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: Originally, via Jeddidah Hawkins Inn, G.Love and Roasted Pig. They were hosting a Fourth of July bbq that I attended with friends—I was living in the city, missing Long Island terribly and fell in love with their property and the idea of how special it was out here.

There’s land, space to breathe, things to raise & this amazing concert held for us next to a flower field behind a captain’s home with a famous musician, roasting pig and lamb from a farm around the corner. How do you not come out here after that?

Q: What was your first move?

A: Well, interviewed with Jeddidiah Hawkins the next day, sublet my NYC apartment two weeks later. And moved to Greenport.

That was summer 2011. I stayed with them until 2012, when this property presented itself. Opening my own restaurant was always a goal.

Q: You always wanted a restaurant? What’s your background?

A: I went to culinary school; I started studying wine when I was 26—my culinary background started first year in college. I ran seasonally based restaurants in Fire Island for seven years and simultaneously worked for the Babylon restaurant group for 10 years.

I decided that I wanted my own restaurant when I was 19, and set a goal of opening it when I was 26, but the time and place weren’t right until I was 30. I wasn’t going to do it until the opportunity was ideal, and that’s this place.

Q: What’s special about First & South?

A:  The location, first, slightly off the beaten path, and the comfortable home like setting, neither too masculine nor too feminine. Most of our employees have a culinary background, are hobbyists in agriculture, aquaculture, viniculture.

We take American food, add modern day innovation, and try and keep it fresh. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can take clam chowder add smoked fish, smoked bacon, and fresh parsley—things that do give it a new twist.

Another unique feature is our collaboration with local artists.

Right now we have an original Rich Fiedler painting, Cindy Pease Roe has an entire show hanging, and every month Kara Hoblin does our chalkboard with an original creation, a holiday scene or something seasonal. It’s fun, it changes our dining room every month—it’s kind of like rearranging your furniture at home. It adds that fresh look.

Q: Do you have a signature dish?

A: Our South Street Chowder has been on the menu since day one. Our burger is 100% USDA certified house ground. We butcher, grind, and patty fresh here on the premises. We make 130 burgers every other day.

Our French fries are triple blanched—they’re insanely good. Normally they’re done twice, but there’s a style that’s done three times. First, cut & soak the potatoes, cold water, blanche for some time at a low temperature, let them cool, then another short low temp fry, cool again, then the finale fry & serve them hot. Third time’s a charm.

Q: Do you stay open year round?

A: Each year we close for a 4-6 week stint in the winter to improve the property. This property was originally established as a small wine bar and gallery, not a 100 seat restaurant. So each year we update the building to handle our business’s capacity—anything from plumbing to electrical to redoing the floors, to adding to the aesthetic. Summer crowds take their toll on tables and chairs and floors and patios.

Q: What do you love about the North Fork?

A: Being here on the North Fork is its own gift.  Being able to collaborate with so many different aspects of a restaurant and its products so directly—that’s what happens in the most blessed agricultural parts of the world. The Oregon Valley, California, parts of South America, different regions in France, Germany, Spain—we’ve got that here.

We have viticulture, agriculture, aquaculture, harbors, bays, beaches—you’re a jitney ride from Manhattan, one of the best restaurant hubs in the world. You’ve microbreweries, independent wine makers, foragers of all kinds.

Our chef, Taylor Knapp started growing snails so that he could have the fresh ones he wanted. If his farm ever takes off  I’ll lose him to it—he really wants to be a snail farmer—but that’s ok. That’s how it should be. The collaboration and the potential that you see in so many people willing to take an idea and run with it, that gives back—I love that about the North Fork.

If you stop in here in the afternoon and have an heirloom tomato salad and a glass of McCall Sauvignon Blanc I can tell you who grew the tomatoes, when I picked them up—the same for the shishito peppers, for the grapes, when it was bottled, what Russ McCall thinks of the wine. It’s such a unique experience. We can give you an in depth profile of most of the things you eat, drink, see here. A 360 experience.