Sometimes all it takes is a weekend getaway to set yourself right again. IgoUgo Editor Cameron Siewert did just that on a recent trip to Montauk, New York, where she soaked up some strong sun and even stronger cocktails on a quest for local flavor.
Far from congested Jones Beach and Long Beach Island, Montauk’s beaches offer dramatic expanses of sand, idyllic beach-house backdrops, and rollicking waves that range from the boogie-board-friendly to the surf-perfect. With nary a flying advertisement in sight and no questionable garbage washing onto shore, one can truly lie back and relax—or enjoy a leisurely swim—along the sparsely populated, sandy stretch between Amagansett and Montauk. While parking is a small nightmare—we were busted for overstaying our welcome in a one-hour lot and owed $40 for pushing our luck—it’s an easy walk to the beach from just about anywhere. And if you’re the type who won’t last the day without a load of beach paraphernalia, you’ll be happy to know that cabs are plentiful.
It wasn’t until our last day that we finally made it to the beach, Ditch Plains, Long Island’s surfing mecca and hot spot for local beachgoers. As soon as we arrived, I commenced to kicking myself for not visiting sooner. It’s the kind of place in which you immediately feel the rhythms of everyday life: young surfers, families, and leather-skinned eccentrics greeted each other on their way to the sand; beachgoers arrived on rusty bicycles outfitted with surfboard racks; and local teenagers manned the counter at the Ditch Witch, a tiny truck that turns out icy drinks and simple eats at the access point to the beach from the small, permit-only parking lot.
We’d already eaten that morning, but we couldn’t resist trying a bite from the famous trailer cafe while we settled in to watch the surfers take to the waves. I’d heard about the Ditch Witch’s excellent breakfast burritos, but the midday hour called for a cold sesame-noodle salad and an Ab’s Brew (unsweetened black iced tea with lemon). One of my companions opted for the signature sandwich, a satisfying combination of avocado, basil, and tomato slathered on crispy panini bread. The food was clean and filling—exactly what you’re hungry for after a few hours on the beach (or a few days of eating fried seafood)—and I couldn’t stop raving about the tea. I may be the only Southerner alive who prefers unsweetened iced tea, but a refreshing cup of this made me remember why. As we sat back to watch a lazy Monday afternoon unfold, I found myself wishing we could go back to our first day in Montauk and do it all over, this time spending every day at Ditch Plains.
The catch, of course, is what we would have missed. Rewind to our first evening, when we dragged our tanned and exhausted selves down Montauk Highway to the infamous Cyril’s Fish House, known for its ridiculous drinks (the BBC, or Bailey’s Banana Colada, is a recipe for disaster) and shameless singles scene. I’d been here once before and enjoyed some excellent clam chowder and fish-and-chips; this time, I decided to roll with the restaurant’s Caribbean vibe and order a rum punch and curried goat. The food was surprisingly good and the rum punch surprisingly strong; our group even managed to give our regards to Cyril himself, a permanently sunburned, white-haired oddball known for mingling with his guests while clad in a sarong and crazy sunglasses. It’s a can’t-miss stop in every sense—you can’t miss the pileup of cars parked here on any night of the week, and you certainly can’t miss those cocktails.
On our daily hunt for the perfect lobster roll, we hit up two area favorites: the Lobster Roll, otherwise known as Lunch, and the Clam Bar, both right on Montauk Highway. Both impart a casual vibe and serve up seafood standards, mostly fried and presented alongside a heap of french fries. Ironically, it was Clam Bar’s lobster roll that won the most raves, with its meaty (not mayonnaisey) flavor and subtle tang. Even the perplexing celebrity quotes printed on The Lobster Roll/Lunch’s placemats (including “Yeah!” and “Thanks!”) couldn’t convince us otherwise. But it was our meal at Inlet Seafood that really left an impression. A sustainability-minded restaurant run by local fishermen, Inlet boasts an impressive menu of locally caught seafood, including fragrant mussels in coconut-ginger-lemongrass broth, a delicious cioppino, and a full sushi menu that included creative (and beautifully executed) specialty rolls.
The night before we finally made the trip to Ditch Plains, we took a spontaneous drive to the tip of Long Island, where the Montauk Lighthouse stands. It was closed by the time we arrived, but the walk along the ocean over giant, colorfully striated rocks was enchanting at sunset. We edged our way around the lighthouse, pausing periodically to point out our favorite rock patterns or just look across the ocean, knowing that not much stood between us and another continent. It was a beautiful way to spend an evening; I hardly cared that the lighthouse itself was closed as we took in the views and relished the cool evening breeze.
Just before we left Ditch Plains on our last day, a barefoot, swimsuit-clad teenage boy shuffled up to the Ditch Witch, looking high on sun exposure, and placed an order: “Can I have an iced tea and a quesadilla?” he asked, hardly lifting an eyelid. “Do you have money?” came the swift, sardonic reply. I snapped out of my daydreaming and laughed; how could you not love a place like this? It was sort of fitting that we’d arrived at the heart of local Montauk life at the very last moment; I knew exactly where to start when I returned.