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Posts tagged ‘Shelter Island’

A Sad Goodbye to my Second-Home: Planet Bliss Closes After 10 Seasons on SI

The Planet.

It has been a while since I last posted, as these days most of my food related resources are being put to use at Everyday Food Magazine, or working in the restaurant at L’Ecole… but this weekend a very bittersweet occasion took place that I absolutely had to make time to write about.

After almost 11 years– at least 8 of which I spent working there– Planet Bliss restaurant on Shelter Island has announced it will be closing it’s doors, and invited everyone to be a part of celebrating the past decade last Saturday.

While many things shape who we are, and who we become– those of us who are a part of the Bliss family had a mutualistic relationship with the restaurant. The personalities of owners Julie and Sebastian, the staff throughout the years, and all of the regulars made bliss what it was. Even the Zagat caught on to the “eclectic” vibe of the staff several years in a row. The atmosphere at Bliss offered something much different from any restaurant in the Hamptons, or anywhere, that I have experienced. While it offered comfort, and that warm, weight-lifting feeling of being at home, it also had an incredible energy that will be difficult if not impossible to ever duplicate.

How has it effected me? Well, first and foremost, I think it is pretty obvious that I would have never chosen food as a career path had I not been amongst Sebastian and his relentless passion for cooking. So thank you Baz, for not only teaching me so much, but keeping me interested, and inspired after 10 years in your restaurant. With so much experience to pass on, I was always paying more attention than you probably thought. It was great watching a chef cooking exactly what he wanted, using fresh ingredients, and always experimenting without the rigidness and downright coldness of most kitchens. You always made it look fun (except on those days Rem would hold the thermometer over his head and it read what, 160?) Your skill, creativity, love for food, patience, and of course your sense of humor through it all will always mean so much to me, and I hope to some day be half the chef you are (I’m one burn closer to being there).

Opie and Baz (Thanks for the pic Nika)

There is also Remmey, who I miss every single day. If it wasn’t for PB I wouldn’t have become so instantly close with him. Even if it was only for a short time, we probably knew each other better than most people will ever hope. So many of the best Bliss memories I have are from the summer Remmey worked in our kitchen. That big, red, sweaty kid who put a smile on my face the second I walked through the screen door in the back. Whether it was entertaining a bachelorette party, rescuing baby bunnies from Jezebel the cat, or making a flame-kissed steak– Rem will always be remembered as a big part of Bliss.

And to Julie, and the rest of the front-of-house: Vee, Mimi, Opie, Chop, Chris, Nicole, Erica, Kathy, Ali, Julie F, Kara, Ian, Karen, Selina, Lolo, Remy, Sam, Xange, Leah… There are too many memories, most of which I feel we wouldn’t want written anywhere, especially on the internet, no? There were late nights at Sunset, sometimes with the cash out locked in the glove box– how many years ago was that? Later nights at the bar, like Cory’s jungle-themed birthday party… “Damuck, you were my ride, and I can’t sleep here!” “Staff meetings,” and God only knows how many margaritas. Endless literary discussions with Opie, after all these margaritas. Can a stripper juice even be classified as a margarita? Bingo night. “Just One Drink at The Chequit.” All the late night, no A/C, tequila driven dance parties to Madonna and any other DJ Mimi choice hit. The Gerbil Box. The ritual we all openly shared that would get us through doubles on Saturdays and Sundays. Brunch. Staff parties. BCD’s (boozy coffee drinks). It’s goddamn impossible to list them all, but there really is no need any way. Some of my most unforgettable, well–… most amazing nights, have been spent at Bliss. Though I’m sure the party will continue whenever and wherever we end up together, only a place like PB could have gotten us together in a first place. And how it ever functioned or how Julie and Baz put up with such a staff I will never know, but I will always be grateful.

Sunset Beach with Vee, Amanda, and Mimi (circa 2005)

And of course there are the regulars, most of them I will miss, some I will be relieved not to see again– I can’t lie about that. Always an interesting crowd behind the bar, or out on the porch, you were all obviously a huge part in shaping Bliss as well.

Saturday night seemed like any other wild evening at Bliss, but if one looked closely, I think the underlying sadness could easily be sensed. I know it wasn’t just me looking around the glowing orange walls, down at the worn wooden floors, and everywhere in-between suddenly becoming nostalgic over EVERYTHING. The nappy-haired Barbie doll on the bathroom door, the two toilets in the woman’s bathroom– the hanging lock on the door, worn from one too many customers pulling on it despite the clear typed warning not to do so. The ever-present scent of sticky parsley spray. The bamboo benches, and millions of flurry pillows– round, long, brown, white, orange. The liquor cabinets eerily empty. The ancient cash register, God how many late nights were spent hunched over that thing, desperately trying to do math, sober up, or both. Tables and chairs with wobbly legs– am I being melodramatic now? Perhaps, but I really felt at that moment like one of the mismatched pieces of silverware housed above the bread warmer. It stung in my heart that I would never again write on the chalk-board, put a ticket on the line, or slam the walk-in door behind me again. But between the dances on the counter, sweaty hugs, kisses, and numerous cocktails, I know we were all feeling the same way. The unsettling effect of being up-rooted, displaced.

But I can’t forget about the happiness in this ending as well. Julie and Baz have welcomed two truly amazing children into their (and all of our) lives. Phoenix and Tola are going to get to spend a lot more time with their parents, and who could be sad about that? Especially when they are the coolest, most loving, fun, smart, inspiring people I can think of? I personally couldn’t have asked for a better second Mom and Dad if I tried.

Tola and Phoenix Bliss

So again, thank you Julie and Sebastian, and to my extended Bliss family. Please share any wonderful memories of Bliss you have here, (or e-mail me any photos to share at foodequalslovenyc@gmail.com) as my words alone could never sum up everything that was PB, and all that it meant to me.

Julie and Baz

A Farm-Picture: The Sylvester Manor Farm on Shelter Island, NY

It’s 8 A.M., and while I would be awake, pushing my way onto the 6 train if I were in the city right now at this very same hour, I instead found myself driving down the long dirt road leading to the 243 acre Sylvester Manor Farm. I pulled up to the Manor House, a pale-yellow mansion that was part of a slave-operated plantation set up in 1652, and was honestly a bit uneasy. After a few solid months in Manhattan with no breaks, my hometown of Shelter Island was feeling overwhelmingly “country” let alone an actual farm. Flashing back to an old Sex and the City episode, I assured myself; this would be a good thing.

The Manor

I was greeted immediately by Connie, one of the staff members, and while I hadn’t really known who to expect as workers, I was immediately put at ease when introduced to a group of individuals around my age who looked very similar to my University of Vermont classmates, in work clothes and head scarves.

After a quick tour of the house, we jumped in the back of the farm’s Nissan pickup truck and headed over to the compost pile, which Jeremiah bravely climbed to throw a new load on the top, despite warnings of the pig carcass from the slaughter earlier in the spring from one of the other kids.

Once we headed to the Long Barn—Andrew, the farm’s manager was all business. A huge dry erase board held the schedule for the week, where different tasks are rotated, and he clearly communicated everyone’s job for the day and what tools and supplies they would need.

Out on the Windmill Field, Connie, Jane, and I began weeding a row of beets. Despite the 80 plus degree weather, it seemed to go fairly quickly—mostly because of the stimulating conversation with Connie and Jane. As we moved onto a row of carrots, Connie, who will be attending grad school at Harvard in the fall, answered every question I had about the farm, and went above and beyond with her knowledge of Bennett Konesni (the fifteenth generation of the original Sylvester family who owned the property and founder of the farm)’s mission, and what was currently going on in the fields.

She filled me in on the crops that were being harvested (kale, Swiss chard, lettuces, peas), and the crops that would be ready soon (tomatoes, fennel, carrots, corn, beets). She also talked about the farm-stand that would be set up in the next few weeks, and some of the local restaurants that would be using their produce (including Planet Bliss, and Sunset Beach). I was particularly interested to hear that Andre Balaz (owner of Sunset Beach, along with The Standard Hotel, and beau of Courtney Love) had made a trip to the farm the week before, and toured the fields and was anxious to utilize it’s harvests.

The Windmill Field

After a snack break, Connie went off to lay down t-tape for irragation, and Jane and I worked on a row of fennel and talked about everything from Vermont (where she grew up in Warren), to the importance of seizing certain life experiences while we’re young, to the imperative for school systems to adopt healthier foods into their cafeteria programs, to Walt Whitman and Hemingway. At just 18, I was thoroughly impressed with her obvious smarts, but also her open perspectives, and overall energy.

The day was over before I knew it, and I left tired, dirty, and with a few patches of poison ivy, but more than that, incredibly inspired. Not only by how well the farm was being run, or what exactly they were doing, but of the group of smart, interesting, and talented individuals behind it. While the New York Times article labeled them “City-Slickers” I found them to be diverse, and much more authentic. Each one of them seemed to be passionate about the organic farming movement for their own reasons, and seemed to be enriched from their experiences so far.

I hope anyone who makes it out to Shelter Island can volunteer at the farm, purchase some of their incredible produce, or dine at one of the restaurants that use it. To volunteer during the week, contact Samara at manorvolunteers@gmail.com, and visit the farm at 80 North Ferry Road, Shelter Island, NY 11965. I will definitely be volunteering again, and look forward to speaking with Bennett (and learning more about his worksongs), and wish the whole team amazing success in this and all their endeavors.

Lettuces ready for harvest in the Windmill Field


Close up of the kale crop