There was something nostalgic in the air that evening as my sister Julia and I sat outside on the deck of the Old Mill Inn, overlooking old commercial fishing boats docked in the Mattituck Inlet. The serenity, with only sounds of chirping birds, the occasional boat motor and quiet conversation of fellow diners, was something unparalleled. We quickly surrendered to our awe-inspiring surroundings. It seemed only right that we start off with local North Fork wine—a glass of Lieb Pinot Blanc for me and the Jamesport Sauvignon Blanc for Julia. The Pinot Blanc was, as I suppose one might expect, crisp yet mellow. The Sauvignon Blanc was “heavenly” delicate and mildly tangy, with a hint of apple.
As we sipped and swirled, one of the owners, Barbara Pepe, filled us in on some of the romantic history of the Old Mill Inn. Long before it was a restaurant, the location served as a gristmill, dating back to 1820. The stone is still visible from where it sits outside the restaurant, slightly sunk into the earth and partially covered in grasses. The mill was unique in that it was a “tidal mill,” operated by changing tides that opened the gates thus turning the mill. It was even declared by the Library of Congress as a “relatively rare engineering structure.” It was sold in 1902 to Yetter and Moore of Riverhead and converted into a tavern. Patrons carved their names into walls, which can still be seen in the pub.
The pub, I must mention, is what you first see as you enter the restaurant—instantly setting a truly authentic ambiance. The hanging lanterns are the real deal, with warm yellow bulbs, original Edisons, and there, sitting in the middle of the room, is the original pole, or spindle (for those of you familiar with mill terms). During Prohibition, boats coming down from Canada would drop booze off through a drop door in the kitchen, accessible during low tides. City folks and Long Islanders alike would stock up and then take off over the since-destroyed bridge. From where Julia and I were sitting, we could see the ruins of this bridge and almost imagine the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who frequented the Old Mill in search of privacy, speeding off in a shiny Rolls.
Indeed privacy is key here—replace the Hamptons’ Main Street scene with a view of Osprey nests; instead of beamers and Benzes, you have boats pulling up for “dock and dine.” During our shared appetizer, the award-winning Hunter’s Pan-Seared Crab Cakes, filled with big pieces of crab and a delightfully spicy and sweet aioli, a boat pulled right up alongside us, bearing the name “The Good Life.” Cheers to that.
Everything on the menu is sourced from the surrounding waters, farms and vineyards. My sister’s entrée of Pan-Seared Montauk Swordfish came with savory wild mushrooms and a butter-caper reduction. The fish was fresh, cooked just right, and the flavors of the mushrooms, butter and capers all went together magnificently. I was equally impressed, if not a little more, with my light and delicate sea bass. It was Chef Brian Pancir’s special for the night and you could tell it hadn’t been long since the fish was swimming. Topped with a chutney-like mix of cherries it was unlike anything I’d tasted before. Vegetarians would be pleased knowing that you can select four vegetable sides to be served as an entrée, or try the Farmstand Vegetarian Pasta. Meat lovers could feast on the Grilled-Dry Aged Niman Ranch New York Strip Steak or the Char-Grilled Cheese Burger. Next time. We capped our culinary and historical adventure with a taste of homemade cheesecake. It was lighter and fluffier than your typical dense cheesecake, perfect for a warm summer night.
We’ll be heading back soon for the Saturday night live music, from 9 p.m. until midnight, the 3–5 p.m. $1 oysters and clams in the pub, the weekend tiki bar, or even the big Sandra Bernhard performance in August. Old Mill Inn, 5775 West Mill Road, Mattituck. 631-298-8080 TheOldMillInn.net.