Cove Hollow Tavern is unassuming. Not flashy or avant-garde, this restaurant perched on the south side of Route 27 in East Hampton looks like a small home. And that’s part of the point.
It isn’t really an occasion restaurant — and that’s not to say that you couldn’t find an occasion to celebrate there — because extraordinary isn’t really the ethos. When you walk into the cozy, inviting space, you’re a guest at someone’s home — or that’s the way it feels, anyway. Imagine that perfect host of a friend greeting you with a plate of grilled sausage, kirby pickles, grain mustard, and barbecue sauce. Imagine a homey-yet-sophisticated plate of skillet-roasted chicken, propped up by a potato and cauliflower gratin and baby kale. Does it feel like you’re visiting old friends? It should.
Cove Hollow Tavern is the South Fork project of Terry Hartwood and Lisa Murphy, the couple who brought Vine Street Café to Shelter Island in 2003. That restaurant has known success for the same kind of environment. Vine Street is a small, sweet restaurant that serves food that you might find at a friend’s dinner party. Show up and it’s like visiting that old, familiar place where you can count on the sure thing of a great meal. Cove Hollow Tavern revisits this state-of-mind, but saves you the ferry fee.
Vine Street Café is known, among other things, for its rotating weekly specials, which are always posted, hanging from the restaurant’s wooden sign out front. Cove Hollow features such specials, too: a Berkshire pork chop with pickled onion and an arugula salad on Mondays; barbecue baby back ribs with cornbread, coleslaw, and French fries on Thursdays; lobster cioppino with littleneck clams, shrimp, halibut, and fresh sourdough bread on Fridays; a grilled rib-eye with a fennel-shishito relish and sweet potato fries on Saturdays; and veal schnitzel over greens — the ultimate comfort food — on Sundays.
If none of these specials float your boat (hard to believe, given their breadth), opt for the regular menu instead, which features the French-Mediterranean picks like potato-crusted black sea bass with braised greens, shellfish gumbo with andouille sausage, New York strip steak with herb butter, seared Atlantic halibut, or mushroom Bolognese — a creamy sauce that substitutes mushrooms for meat and that is so popular that Vine Street sells it bottled.
Appetizers are no less inviting. Firecracker shrimp is as addictive as it sounds, shrouded in a soy-sesame sauce that’s accented with jalapeño and lime. The lobster and corn chowder highlights some of the best of what the East End has to offer. The rich soup, perfect for fall, features local corn, ample chunks of lobster, Yukon potatoes, and herbed oyster crackers.
Inside, you’ll find a space that has embraced a rustic farmhouse aesthetic. Exposed beams, shiplap walls, and dark wood accents throughout create a warm restaurant space. On a cool fall evening, you may find it unexpectedly hard to get up from your candlelit seat, even after dinner has ended. And that’s OK. Cove Hollow Tavern is a place that’s perfect for an extended visit. And it’s open year-round (with the exception of Tuesdays and Wednesdays), meaning you can come when the weather is beastly, and cozy up to a plate of grilled sausage, or a bowl of chowder.
It should come as no surprise that the restaurateurs responsible for a longstanding Shelter Island eatery have replicated their method here. We can only hope that Cove Hollow enjoys the same sustained success as its island sibling.