It’s an incontrovertible fact. Dining out in the Hamptons is expensive. Friends in the restaurant business tell me it’s got something to do with the seasonal market, the challenge of finding and housing year-round staff, exorbitant real estate prices, and excessive permitting requirements. You’d think the proximity to impeccable produce and seafood would help counteract this, but it doesn’t. The summer folks don’t balk at paying the prices, but the locals sometimes wonder if they deserve a deal. We’re not all realtors collecting commissions on South of the Highway McMansion flips.
Luckily, winter is the time when reservations and deals come easier at popular East End restaurants. From the $21.95, three-course prix fixe at Almond in Bridgehampton to the $25, two-course Cannonball Prix Fixe at Fresno in East Hampton to the three-course $30 meal at Jedediah’s in Jamesport, local businesses craving winter patrons are willing to meet us halfway.
Robert's in Water Mill offers a $31 prix fixe with unrestricted selection from its entire menu (all night on Thursday and Sunday and at the 6 p.m. seating on Friday and Saturday), which the restaurant’s owner calls “the best food value on the East End.” At the Plaza Café in Southampton, there’s even a “Better Than Prix Fixe,” a sort of hybrid between a prix fixe and an early bird special. Between 5:30 and 6:45 p.m., you can order from their regular menu and get a free appetizer. (Their normal prix fixe is available everyday except Saturday.)
The deals for locals aren’t just at restaurants. Provisions on Bay Street in Sag Harbor, the cafénatural food store haunt for yoga teachers, organic farmers, and the stroller set looking for a quick bite and a conversation in this old whaling village, is again offering membership in its Fruit and Nut Club, “designed to support those who support us year-round.” Until February 28, patrons can enroll for $25 and receive 10 percent off on all purchases the rest of the year.
Some restaurants fully embrace nighttime social planning by offering discounted tickets at the local cinema. (Tierra Mar in Westhampton offers a dinner and movie deal with The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center during the summer.) For the last four years, The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, a bastion of classic cuisine, has worked with the neighboring Bay Street Theatre to promote film classics. Throughout the winter, “Picture Show” attendees grab an early dinner at the hotel for the near giveaway price of $24.95, which includes the price of a ticket and a small bucket of popcorn, before seeing On the Town, Casablanca, or any number of Elvis flicks, often with commentary from local critics like Alec Baldwin and Brian Cosgrove. (Reservations should be made at 631-725-3535.)
In East Hampton, where Nick & Toni’s and Rowdy Hall have offered patrons a free ticket to the Main Street United Artist Theatre for the last six years, the deal was so popular it nearly backfired, according to general manager Bonnie Munshin: “Everyone came in for the movie dinner and ended up ordering the bare minimuma pizza and maybe a salad.” This year, Nick & Toni’s four-course, $38 prix fixe with choice of wine comes with a discounted movie ticket on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights, and on Friday and Saturday from 6 to 7 p.m., Rowdy Hall offers the discount from Thursday through Sunday.
The deals seem to improve as you move west, Italian nights on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Michael Anthony’s Food Bar in Wading River include a three-course prix fixe for $18.
And, for just a few dollars more, you can dine from the kitchen of another Michael, Michael Meehan of Michael's at Maidstone Beach in East Hampton and Michael’s at the Boardwalk at 65 East Main Street in revitalizing downtown Riverhead, where the three-course $21.95 prix fixe is an extension of the deal from Long Island Restaurant Week. (The restaurant is closed on Mondays and for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. But in an effort to build its lunch crowd, which waxes and wanes with the Supreme Court sessions nearby, Michael also added a $9.95 lunch special that includes soup or salad, and, for the main, the sandwich of the day, the lemon-chardonnay-thyme steamed mussels, or a turkey club, with ice cream or sorbet for dessert.)
Michael’s always offers a wine of the week, usually local, at a discounted price. The prix fixe menu is always changing, but one recent meal included a Satur Farm field greens salad, the fried local flounder, and the restaurant's famous Key lime pie. The butternut squash soup and vanilla-brined pork loin are also contenders. And there’s always the option of ordering from this comfortable American bistro’s regular menu, whether it’s the Polish Town kielbasa or the free-range chicken pot pie.
Obviously, there are many more deals out there. Any important ones I missed?
Brian Halweil is the editor of Edible East End, the magazine that celebrates the harvest of the Hamptons and the North Fork. He is also publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan (launching September 2008). He writes about the things we eat from the old whaling village of Sag Harbor, New York, where he and his wife tend a home garden and orchard and go clamming when the tides allow.