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New York Restaurant Insider

Celebrates its Expanded Coverage into Long Island

Nick & Toni's - 136 North St., East Hampton, NY

In an area of sought-after real estate, Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton is widely recognized as the most sought-after restaurant on Long Island. Executive chef Joe Realmuto came to Nick and Toni’s as a line cook right out of culinary school 14 years ago, went back to Manhattan where he worked at a number of restaurants including several of BR Guests establishments, then returned to Long Island and Nick and Toni’s in 1996.

“I came here for the summer and fell in love with the fact that you had local guys coming in the back door with local fish, there was a big garden out back, and you get to deal with the local farmers, there was a real farm to table connection, which really fascinated me because people don’t normally think about where the food is coming from, and there’s this whole movement on paying attention to quality bringing restaurants up to the next level.”

Realmuto is currently the executive chef for all of the Honest Management Company establishments, including Nick & Toni’s, which received a three star review from The New York Times in 2001. The company’s other restaurants include Nick & Toni’s Café, Rowdy Hall, Villa Italian Specialties and La Fondita, a Mexican restaurant. Nick and Toni’s menu changes seasonally, often using produce grown in Nick & Toni’s own one-acre organic garden.

“There are ups and downs to being at a seasonal restaurant. Ups are, you have a lot of time to be creative in the winter, and do what you want to do. You have time for yourself, you’re not in that constant grind. But the downfall is you have to hire an entire staff, train them, then 8 weeks later let them go. From July 4th to Labor Day, every day is a Saturday. You go from doing 30 covers on a Thursday, to this time a year we’re doing 360 covers.”

Jeff Salaway (Nick was his nickname in college) and Toni Ross, a husband and wife team, met in Italy and started the restaurant 18 years ago. Toni’s father was Steven Ross, founder of Time Warner, so he had the connections with the movie industry and the stars that were coming here. It didn’t take long before the restaurant became known for its celebrity clientele. “When people came in they felt welcome,” says Realmuto. “For us it’s about family, and that whole side of the celebrity thing has always been that way - we always try to give them as much privacy as we can. “

When Salaway passed away in 2001 in a tragic, accidental car accident, the future of the restaurant group was never in question. People like Joe and Toni, and many others who had been working there for years, stayed together and kept the restaurant running.

Chef de Cuisine Patrick Fromm grew up in nearby Amagansett on the East End of Long Island, and worked for several Manhattan restaurants before returning to Long Island where he worked at restaurants such as the Lure at the Independent,and The Laundry with Executive Chef Andrew Engle. In 2002 Fromm was offered the executive chef position at Bamboo Restaurant and Sushi Lounge in East Hampton, where he worked for three years before coming to Nick and Toni’s in 2005.


North Fork Table Inn - 57225 Main Road, Southold, NY

 Claudia Fleming started cooking at Union Square Café after coming to New York to pursue a dancing career. Originally from Long Island, she met her future husband Gerry Hayden at Tribeca Grill, spent a year in Paris learning her craft, came back to work at a restaurant called Lux, then tried a number of other jobs, none of which were good fits for her. She was not working at the time when Tom Valenti called her and said “Tom Colliccio and Danny Meyer are opening a restaurant you have to go talk to them!” “And I thought, ‘I don’t want anything to do with that place, it’s too high-profile, too big, its way over my head,’ but Tom said ‘Go talk to them,’ so I did.”

She lost touch with Gerry for eight years, and then bumped into him at the Beard awards in 1999. It took Gerry a year to call her, and they started dating, and two years later they were married. In the meantime, she won the prestigious Beard Award for best pastry chef in 2000, and published her first cookbook in 2001.

They started planning the restaurant after buying a vacation home in Southold. Gerry sold his stake in his restaurant Amuse, and they started planning to live in Long Island full time. Once they began looking for spaces, the building that North Fork Table Inn is in was shown to them by the same real estate agent that sold them their house. It had also been a restaurant, but it was not exactly in the best condition. They began working in February of this year for a Memorial Day opening, and proceeded to work on the house themselves with their two partners to strip walls and floors, re-do the ceilings. Gerry did much of the demolition himself, and Claudia proudly showed me her tennis-elbow brace that she needs to wear from all the scrubbing and scraping and sanding.

“We had to be open for the summer season, and I imagine there will be time to develop, we want to have cooking classes here, wine tours and packages, so there’s a lot of potential for growth, there are two acres with a lot of room in the back where we plan on a bakery.”

The other partners in the restaurant are another couple from Manhattan, Mike and Mary Mraz.

 “Mike and Mary have three children and they moved out here from Manhattan,” explains Claudia. “Mary was the service director at Gramercy and Mike was the manager at Hearth. I think we’ve been in the business long enough to know that your front of the house person has to be a partner otherwise it won’t work, you have to be able to share in the glories and the defeats. So, we’re here for the long haul.”

I haven’t cooked in a couple of years, so I love being back in the kitchen. At Gramercy I had ten people on my staff, so needless to say I didn’t do that much cooking I was more of an administrator. I did as much as I could because that’s what I love to do. Here I’m by myself so I do everything, and I’m really happy to be doing it. And now, I do breakfast, so I have a whole new meal period to play with, that I didn’t have before. And the source is right here; I just go down the road to KK’s and get my raspberries.”

Certainly one of the attractions of North Fork will be to stay in one of the beautifully appointed rooms ($250 per night) and have Claudia cook a continental breakfast for you, but the real star here is the food. One of the entrees that Gerry has been doing for the past 5 years is a fluke dish he used to serve in Manhattan, when he would have to bring in the fresh fluke from the Long Island waters.

“Fluke is such as underutilized fish that I saw on a lot of sushi menus. When I finally landed here at North Fork, I was able to find the fish purveyor out here in Southold who catches locally caught fluke. It’s bled to be sushi-grade, the minute they catch it on the boat they bleed it properly so that the flesh is real clear and pristine. This fisherman also happens to be the same person who my guys in Manhattan were buying it from all along.”

After using Greenmarket Square for fresh produce for many years while he was at restaurants like Aureole, Gerry now has relationships with dozens of local farmers and fishermen to supply him with a majority of his ingredients.

“This whole area inspires the menu. I buy 90% of my fish a mile away. I buy 75% of the vegetables 1-5 miles away during the summer. Wickham Farm is right up the road, and Catapano Dairy Farm is right up the street, where we get all our goat cheese.”

The biggest difference between their Manhattan lives they left behind and their new country restaurant and Inn?

“The quality of life. The biggest difference is I don’t have to wonder if I am going to get an audience to come to dinner. I don’t have to worry about customers saying, ‘Oh this was great, but now let’s go to this new place now that just opened.’ It’s really hard to sustain a concept in New York because there are so many people waiting to see if someone else will do it well, and if it flies, then they’re on the bandwagon. Out here we’re really just doing things that are back to basics, trying to procure really good food, in a nice setting, cooking with the seasons, and being pleasantly surprised with the meal.”

North Fork Table has a wine list that is 60% comprised of Long Island wines such as Schneider Vineyards and Channing Daughters winery. Mike Mraz has hand-picked the list, and although the wineries in the area are already considered a destination, Gerry wouldn’t mind if it was also the other way around for some visitors.

“That’s what I’d like to accomplish, when I hear someone say that ‘we’re coming out to see you; then we’ll go and see the wineries.’”

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