The Brewster House in Stony Brook. Photo: Michael Contino.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine Stony Brook without Setauket. The former has the nicest shopping district while the latter has the best deli. One has a hidden jewel of a nature walk, while the other has the old-fashioned barbershop. In fact, the towns constitute two of the three “villages” — along with Old Field — that collectively form the Three Village area, originally envisioned by philanthropist Ward Melville.
The best way to explore the area is in a car, starting with one road: New York State Route 25A, the main conduit of Long Island’s Northern Shore. If the traffic gets bad, you’re still in good shape; several weaving and wending roadways allow you to slip past the congestion. Remember, this is where George Washington’s spy ring was founded; you had to be able to navigate well.
If you give yourself a weekend, get a car, and pack a healthy appetite, you can get a decent impression of the town. A visit in the spring or autumn is your best bet.
The following are my recommendations for the perfect weekend in town — in other words, everything you have to do at least once (even if not all in the same weekend).
CURATE: A Historic Tour
The highlights start with a tour of some of the oldest structures. The Stony Brook Grist Mill, built in 1751, is perhaps the most scenic of locations, with a duck pond across the street, and Avalon Park directly next door. In fact, the park will give you a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs with its eight acres of trails and forests.
There are several preserved buildings in the area, but if you’re on an abridged schedule head to the Brewster House next. It’s a 1665 structure that is the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven. In addition to being frequented by a member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring — spy Caleb Brewster was cousin to the owner Joseph Brewster —the home operated as a general store and tavern during the Revolutionary War.
Speaking of taverns, it’s time for lunch, and your destination is just a 10 minute drive away in East Setauket. The Se-Port Delicatessen is an institution in town, especially amongst the teenage residents who flock there the moment they get their driver’s licenses. Growing up in the area, I would always say, “if you want to eat lunch without running into someone you know, you should avoid Se-Port.” The concept remains true to this day, as I seem to encounter someone whenever I visit: my local assemblyman (whose office is down the street), my high school assistant principal, my junior high school gym teacher. Thanks to the food at Se-Port, I’ll keep coming back. If you only go there once, you have to try the most famous item on the menu: The Boone, a chicken cutlet with cheese, bacon and Russian dressing. Event as their menu — along with their facility — continues to expand, that sandwich remains very popular. A minor side note: my fiancée is a big fan of their butterscotch pudding.
DECORATE: Yourself & Your Home
If shopping’s on your mind, the Stony Brook Village caters to your every need: 70,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and even a post office with a mechanical eagle that flaps its wings on the hour.
A definite must-see is Robinson’s Tea Room, also in Stony Brook Village. If you’re not too stuffed from lunch, try one of the scones.
Just off the Stony Brook’s village green you’ll see the Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn, an excellent choice for a high-end dinner. The original building dates back to 1751, and after serving multiple purposes it became a tearoom in 1930 and an inn in 1939. Much like the Se-Port, this is a must-visit dining destination if you are only here for a short time.
RECREATE: Lodging | CURATE: Long Island Museum
Spend a night at the Three Village Inn, and enjoy the inn’s leisurely breakfast the following morning. Rejuvenated, make the two minute drive to the Long Island Museum. The permanent collection includes over 40,000 items dating from the late-1700s onward. It is perhaps best known for its collection of historic carriages, nearly 200 of them in fact.
If you really want to live like the locals, you can head into Setauket to Angelo’s Barber Shop. While the barbers work on your hair, you can look up and see a room decorated with antique radios. When I was younger I would look at them all and try to place them in order from oldest to newest.
In Setauket there are plenty of options for lunch, but if you’re still feeling deli — after all, you are on Long Island — Setauket Gourmet, located in the same shopping center as Angelo’s, is a great place to try. I would go for the Ward Melville or their “Famous Honey Chicken Salad.” A little farther away is the Tudor Deli on Stony Brook Road, though it’s certainly worth the drive. I’ve always enjoyed their chicken parmesan on a hero.
EDUCATE: Stony Brook University
EPICURATE: Dinner & “Dessert”
When you’re ready for dinnertime, I would recommend Italian. Head to Mario’s in Setauket, where you really can’t go wrong with their menu. The last thing I had there was linguini with broccoli rabe, and a glass of white wine. It was exactly what I was looking for and I would order it again.
After dinner head to the best bar in town, The Bench. There you can catch any game that’s on while sampling some of Long Island’s many local breweries. Start with a Blue Point, you won’t be sorry.
If you want a rowdier time, go for the Checkmate Inn. It’s located North of 25A, in Setauket and the crowd trends a little older, though you can see plenty of 20-somethings there as well.
Satisfying other States of Mind
Should any of these options not pique your interest, there are plenty of local alternatives: West Meadow Beach in Brookhaven, Kayaking and Canoeing in Setauket Harbor, or even a drive through the town of Old Field during the daytime, first looking at the beautiful homes and then arriving at Old Field Lighthouse. There will always be plenty to do in the Three Village area. They’re a great place to visit and an even nicer place to call home.