As co-owner of Almond Restaurant and L&W Market, Eric Lemonides is the smiling face you always see when you first enter the funny-shaped corner spot on Ocean Road and Main Street in Bridgehampton. But that grin? It’s not front-of-the-house fake. It’s genuine.
He’s as excited today about the business he created with his friend and business partner, chef Jason Weiner, as he was when they bootstrapped together the cash to open their dream spot back in 2001. But how could he not be? Almond has that similar kind of Chez Panisse DNA — sincere local, seasonal sourcing, dogged care and time in putting it all together, plus the kind of friendly, effortlessly cool atmosphere that feels at once thrilling and thoroughly comfortable, every time — just with a solid business plan and less revolving-door drama than the famous Alice Waters Oakland, Calif., farm-to-table pioneer.
“It’s just got all these good vibes,” says Lemonides. But so does he, and it’s that upbeat spirit that permeates the place. He’s a seize-the-day kind of guy, whether he’s zooming around the sky in his Beechcraft Bonanza plane or plodding along the beach with his duo of rescue dogs.
And don’t get him started on life’s wonderful gifts and funny coincidences. Like the serendipitous way he and Weiner met while in single digits in Brooklyn in the 70s; the oddball fact that while growing up, his family would always stop at J.G. Melon (Almond’s second and sole New York City location since 2011) on their way to summer vacations in Montauk; how he met his husband, Lee Felty, across a crowded sushi bar (because, well, Sag Harbor’s Sen is always crowded).
We had the great pleasure of talking at length with Lemonides about the things he loves on the East End — here’s what we could fit on this page.
Favorite old-school Hamptons restaurant
I like old school. It’s part of my DNA. I like things that aren’t contrived. Lee and I went to Shippy’s (36 Windmill Lane, Southampton) every night ‘til they closed [before the recent sale]. From the end of September to May, every Sunday night. That was my favorite old-school local spot. It was always blue cheese dressing and baked potatoes, calf’s liver and creamed spinach. That was my dinner and it was so good.
Favorite place in the Hamptons to hear live music
The Stephen Talkhouse (161 Main St., Amagansett). Years ago, I ran a place in Amagansett called Pacific East, so the Talkhouse was our watering hole. The music was almost second. Great bar, good backyard, — but now so many good [acts]. Also, Sagaponack Farm Distillery (369 Sagg Road, Sagaponack) has great live music.
Favorite pet store
It’s between Dog & Co. (2491 Main St., Bridgehampton) and One Stop Pet (136 Main St., Amagansett). Dog & Co. have cool stuff and they’re lovely people. When I got my golden, he had allergies and needed a special food. I went everywhere out here looking for it. One day, I was getting a haircut at Vinny’s in Amagansett and went into to One Stop. They said they didn’t have it, but they’d order it. I really love that. Pet shops, bookstores … you need to dig deep and stay local. It’s so easy to Amazon it, but once that stuff goes, the flavor of the town goes.
Favorite local winery and/or wine
Channing Daughters, Channing Daughters, Channing Daughters (1927 Scuttle Hole Road, Bridgehampton). There’s a lot of love between everyone that is there and us. They helped us grow as a business when we were younger. A lot of wineries do that thing, like “set and forget.” But there’s more to life than sauvignon blanc. It’s easy to find something that works and lean on it and lean on it – Christopher Tracy doesn’t do that. His style of making wines, his “Hey, we’re going to try something new!” energy matches what we do at the restaurant. Sometimes it doesn’t work; sometimes it’s amazing. But every year there’s a new thing. I like that about them.
Favorite spot to land a plane on the South Fork
Well, I would like to land on Marilee and Dean Foster’s farm [in Sagaponack] or Klenawicus Airfield on Shelter Island. My plane’s too fast, though. I love East Hampton Airport (173 Daniels Hole Road, East Hampton). All airports are really the same. Remember that show “Wings” back in the day? Like that, they collect characters. What’s fun about East Hampton is they have the characters and also, you turn your head and, oh my god, dude, that’s Madonna! Or Paul McCartney. You see the most random people with the most random people. I think that’s a freakin’ hoot.
Favorite place for a decent burger
I don’t order burgers anywhere other than Almond. Two things Almond does that I can’t replicate to be better — burgers and shrimp cocktail. One of those things I order, every time. As far as where to get a burger elsewhere in the Hamptons — the Corner Bar (1 Main St., Sag Harbor).
Favorite hardware store
Thayer’s (2434 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton), on every level.
Favorite winter walk
My normal walk on the beach in winter with the dogs is from Peter’s Pond Beach to Town Line Beach and back. I have two dogs – one from ARF [in East Hampton] and one from Give Me Shelter [in Sagaponack].
Favorite garden center
Fowler’s Garden Center (175 N. Sea Road, Southampton) and Buckley’s Garden Center (75 Montauk Highway, East Hampton), hands down. Gardening is a big part of my life – it’s ritualistic. I’m on a text with Pam at Fowler’s and Joanne at Buckley’s. Every spring, they know exactly the specific things I’m coming for, and they’re both super sweet and really knowledgeable and have the most beautiful stuff. I always want ranunculus; it’s the first flower of the year. They joke that I buy them out of them.
Favorite place to sit and order a Manhattan
The American Hotel (45 Main St., Sag Harbor). There’s a thing about living where we live; that seasonality thing. I don’t have a Manhattan in August, but when the clock changes and I feel a little nip in the air it’s my go-to. I like the warmth and comfort of the American Hotel. That to me is the perfect place. Ted Conklin never disappoints with how that place feels. It’s also nostalgic for me — I used to go there with my dad when I was a teenager.
Favorite sign that it’s the holiday season in the Hamptons
Really easy – it happens almost every year that one night, I roll into Bridgehampton and all of a sudden all of the trees are lit and inevitably I’m like OH MY GOD! It’s just the best. I get so happy.
Favorite go-to song for karaoke night at Almond
“Stray Cat Strut” by the Stray Cats!