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With a rustic vibe, farm-to-table eateries and an influx of affluent hipsters, is the North Fork the new Brooklyn?
By Christopher Cameron | March 06, 2015 07:00AM

The ocean foam may be frozen on the beaches but the hunt for second homes on Long Island’s East End is hardly chilled. On the North Fork — the 30-mile long peninsula in Suffolk County — small vineyards, farm-to-table restaurants, microbreweries and the sea air attracts buyers year-round, hungry for a less-frenzied summer experience than what is found in the nearby Hamptons. Ironically enough, that lower-key lifestyle is big business for real estate.

Last year, the number of home sales in the North Fork surpassed 2005 levels — the height of the real estate bubble — according to a decade-long survey by the brokerage Douglas Elliman. And real estate professionals working in the area agree that many of these buyers have a common origin: Brooklyn.

“The same things that attracted people to Brooklyn are present in the North Fork,” said Kristopher Pilles, managing partner of East End Luxury, a residential brokerage based in Riverhead. “Brooklyn has become much more desirable, so naturally our more affluent buyers are coming from that area, as well as everywhere else.”

Some have called this phenomenon the “Brooklynification” of the North Fork. Just as bourgeois-bohemian Manhattanites colonized Brooklyn’s spacious brownstones and diverse community-oriented neighborhoods, educated urban professionals are shunning the glitzy Hamptons for the North Fork’s small-town atmosphere.

The trend was even parodied in HBO’s “Girls” — the controversial pop-culture case study of millennial life in Brooklyn. Last season’s infamous “Beach House” episode helped cement the North Fork’s connection to privileged creative-class Brooklynites in the minds of many.

“I can’t believe we’re in the Hamptons,” says Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet, as she steps off a bus in the episode’s opening.

“Oh no, this is the North Fork. It’s very different than the Hamptons,” Marnie, played by Allison Williams, fires back. “It’s, you know, for people who think the Hamptons are tacky, and don’t want to be on a beach that’s near a J.Crew.”

At least in this case, life imitates art. Sheri Clarry, a North Fork-based broker with Corcoran, says her Brooklyn clients regularly bring up the episode while house hunting. And while she doesn’t think Brooklyn residents are actually buying second homes because of a TV show, the episode has certainly drummed up interest. “There are tons of Brooklynites on the North Fork. I call it Brooklyn-on-the-sea,” Clarry said. “The North Fork used to be an alternative, and now it’s become a primary destination.”

And, as in Brooklyn, the question has become, a destination for whom? In the North Fork, the gentrification process is already nearing its end game, with working class families in some areas displaced by moneyed nonconformists on vacation, who are in turn being replaced by lawyers and financiers. “I’ve got everyone from finance hipsters to actors, directors, supermodels, musicians, celebrities and artists,” Clarry said, adding that, no, “finance hipster” is not an oxymoron.

“There are hipsters in finance who work in really cool, boutique hedge funds,” she said. “Finance isn’t always what it was in the ’80s and ’90s anymore. It’s changed.”

“For a lot of people, the North Fork represents an opportunity ‘to buy into something’ before prices and development reach Hamptons levels,” Pilles adds, noting that from an investment standpoint the area offers better value than the more established South Fork. (According to the Douglas Elliman report, the average home price in the North Fork last year was $690,000, compared with $1.7 million in the Hamptons.) “Right now the consensus is that the upside exists on the North Fork, and that the Hamptons is always going to be Hamptons.”

True, the Hamptons will always remain a summer mecca for Manhattan blue bloods, but the North Fork might not always retain its rustic, countryside character. And the importance of food to the ongoing transformation of the area is yet another parallel with Brooklyn that is impossible to understate.

Sandwiched between the Long Island Sound and Peconic River, the peninsula is best known for its abundance of vineyards. The combination of wine and water was a natural draw for chefs and restaurateurs, like Gramercy Tavern co-founder and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, as well as Barbara Shinn and David Page, owners of the Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse in Mattituck and former owners of Home Restaurant in Greenwich Village.

The influence of top chefs on the area has led to an increase in the number of high-end, understated restaurants over the last decade. “The North Fork really started becoming a destination in the mid-2000s when the food scene began,” Clarry said.

In Greenport, for instance, the Frisky Oyster serves cocktails at New York City prices in a sleek white room, across the street from a typical small-town dive bar. And back on Main Street, Brix & Rye, a cocktail and gourmet pizza spot operated by Rolling in Dough pizza truck owner Matt Michel, features live music from local indie bands.

“I grew up here, but spent years living in Red Hook. Everyone was leaving for Brooklyn back then,” a bartender at Brix & Rye said. “Now people are moving back because they appreciate what is happening here. It’s become really cool and artisanal.”

But increasingly, locally owned staples such as Claudio’s Restaurant in Greenport (featured in the “Girls” episode) and Tweeds Restaurant & Buffalo Bar in Riverhead (where an impressive selection of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon is on offer, ranging from $35 to $60 a pour) are competing with newer fine-dining establishments, such as the critically acclaimed North Fork Table & Inn in Southold.

At North Fork Table it’s possible to observe young bearded men and tattooed women — sporting the designer streetwear commonly seen at the Bedford Avenue L-train stop — enjoy a $75 lunch tasting menu with locally grown produce, seafood from the Peconic Bay and carefully paired wines, as evident on a recent weekend. Nearby, a wild-haired child noshes on $22 truffled mac n’ cheese. The North Fork Food Truck sits just outside, serving local and seasonal Berkshire pulled pork rolls, lobster rolls and hot dogs for those looking for a pseudo-blue collar lunch.

And while all that might sound like a scene out of Williamsburg, Pilles rejects the idea that the North Fork is growing to resemble Brooklyn. “The thought that the North Fork is somehow becoming ‘Brooklynified’ is false,” Pilles, a lifelong North Fork resident, argues. “This statement implies the opposite of what has really taken place. The reality is that the North Fork was Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn.”

According to Pilles, farm-to-table restaurants, artisanal small businesses, craft spirits and even beards have always been part of life in the East End. In other words, maybe it’s Brooklyn that’s the new North Fork. “The farm-to-table concept is nothing new to the North Fork,” Pilles said. “Families, restaurants and the supermarket have long supported local farmers. Seafood was caught earlier in the day, usually by a family member who was a bay man for a living, or the parent of one of my classmates.”

However, that doesn’t mean that the area isn’t mutating into the preferred getaway for the self-consciously rich and famous. “The North Fork has always been the less shiny more salt-of-the-earth relative to the Hamptons. There were no trendy boutiques in our villages … and no real demand for our real estate. Home ownership was possible and the Hamptons were far away,” he said. “Fast forward and potato farms become vineyards, second-home buyers like the price point, accessibility and charm of the North Fork and real estate explodes … restaurants start catering to higher-end consumers.”

Just as the divide between Manhattan and Brooklyn has blurred, “the Hamptons and the North Fork may soon become interchangeable,” he said.

Read on for a look at some of the hottest properties on the market in the East End.

HAMPTONS

51 and 55 Halsey Lane, Water Mill 

This 22,000-square-foot early 20th-century estate boasts 1,200 feet of waterfront and 15 acres. The recently restored 11-bedroom, 15-and-a-half-bathroom home combines period details with state-of-the-art technology. There’s a carriage and gate house, too. It’s listed for $85 million. Tim Davis and Peter Huffine at the Corcoran Group have the listing.

26 Actors Colony Road, North Haven 

This landscaped bayfront compound, owned by Richard Gere and known as “Strongheart,” overlooks the Peconic Bay and Mashomack Preserve. The property is composed of three separate lots, for a total of 6.3 acres. Asking $47.5 million, the estate boasts 12 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, a chef’s kitchen, two guesthouses, a gym, a basketball court, a teahouse and a 60-foot heated pool with water views. Michaela Keszler, Paul Brennan and Raymond Smith from Douglas Elliman have the listing.

32 Middle Lane, East Hampton

This 5.5-acre East Hampton estate is asking $35.5 million. Designed in 1931 by famed architect Amayar Embry II, the 8,268-square-foot home includes six bedrooms, five full and three half bathrooms, a formal dining room and gourmet kitchen, a pond, a pool, mature landscaping and “magnificent” trees. Paul Brennan, Ronald White and Scott Bartlett of Douglas Elliman share the listing. 

950 Ocean Road, Bridgehampton

This traditional Bridgehampton estate asks $12.9 million. The home sits on one acre and includes six bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, as well as oversized windows, a 1,000-plus bottle wine cellar, stadium-seat movie theatre and a mirrored-wall gym. Zachary and Cody Vichinsky of Bespoke Real Estate have the listing.

NORTH FORK

Big E Farm, Jamesport

This massive 204-acre horse farm and vineyard, located in Jamesport, is on the market for $25 million. The manor house, which is 10,236 square feet, has five bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, a chef’s kitchen, four fireplaces and a pool. Among the other 17 buildings on the grounds: nine barns, three cottages and a tasting room. Sheri Clarry at Corcoran Group has the listing.

6175 Oregon Road, Cutchogue

Set on one of the area’s premier streets in the heart of North Fork wine country, this 47-acre estate is on the market for $13.9 million. The property includes a restored five-bedroom, four-bathroom farmhouse, working vineyards, manicured farmland as well as an elongated pool and pool house. The property has been owned and maintained by the same family for over three decades. Zachary and Cody Vichinsky of Bespoke Real Estate have the listing.

505 Point Pleasant Road, Mattituck

Listed for $1.9 million, this waterfront estate features access to the Sound via a deep-water dock. The four-bedroom, four-and-half-bathroom main house includes two master bedrooms, along with an expansive covered patio and stone courtyard. The grounds boast a two-bedroom guest cottage, a 50-foot saltwater pool, a regulation tennis court and mature landscaping. Deborah Kusa of Douglas Elliman Real Estate has the listing.

2400 Ruth Road, Mattituck

Set on five private acres with 200 feet of waterfront and sandy beaches, this under-construction home in Mattituck will be ready by summer. Asking price is $3.5 million. Architectural plans call for four bedrooms, three full bathrooms, 12-foot ceilings, a wall of glass overlooking the Long Island Sound, a chef’s kitchen and a balconied master suite. Marie Beninati at Beninati Associates has the listing.