At the newly reopened North Fork Smoked Fish Company, in Greenport, chef-owner Scott Leventhal is smoking, fermenting, and preserving all the local seafood he can lay his hands on. But Leventhal is no ordinary fish smoker and his is no ordinary appetizing shop. On any given day, you’re likely to find pungent kimchi fermenting in big clay crocks on the counter or its Turkish cousin, tursu, a fermented cabbage preparation with red peppers, carrots and chickpeas. And then there’s the Italian espresso. Yes, espresso. When Leventhal, a former chef at First and South, first conceived of the business (which he took over from a previous owner) he dreamed of a grand marriage of smoked fish and espresso. Although at first impression, the two seemed unlikely bedfellows, when he thought about it, he realized the two went together well, like bagels and lox.
And that is why, on learning that the old North Fork Smoked Fish Company was for sale, he was determined to take the place over and make it his own. Although salting and smoking are among the oldest of food preservation techniques, the products that Leventhal produces and sells in his little shop across from the IGA are anything but traditional. “Things I would normally roast I now hot-smoke,” says Leventhal, who sees his new venture as a creative extension of his culinary career in kitchens from New York to New Orleans. To this end, he has challenged himself to try something new every week. The results of his experiments include smoked crostini, smoked cheese biscuits, and even smoked lobster.
All of which tie in nicely with Greenport’s nautical history. Before the advent of refrigeration, the local catch was smoked and fermented so that it would last on ocean voyages and also at home. “The idea of preparing a beautiful meal using the ingredients around you has always made sense to me,” says Leventhal, a former chef at First and South. “Plus, I’m fascinated by salt preservation and fermentation and all those ancient methods of transforming food.”
Word of his talents has spread quickly, and he’s developed a loyal clientele who aren’t shy about making suggestions. Eel, surprisingly, tops the list of customer favorites, says Leventhal, who takes a lot of requests for the delicacy. “People really love it!” he says. “And if you’re lucky enough to get a female, you have the bonus of the roe, which is really nice when smoked over fruitwood.” Although eels are hard to clean and labor-intensive to prepare, Leventhal feels the results are worth it. His eels spend an unusually long time in what he describes as “a typically German brine flavored with dill,” a trade secret that allows the smoke to better penetrate the eels’ skin. He also hot smokes local bluefish, trout, tuna, swordfish, and scallops with pleasing results.
But about that coffee. It’s fantastic cold brew served from the back of a Vespa Piaggio, an Italian cafe on wheels called Cafe Moto Expresso. You’ll find the truck at catered events and vineyards throughout the North Fork. Eventually, he hopes to stock it with house-made pork belly and porchetta sandwiches.
Unconventional as it may be, Leventhal’s vision of an appetizing store seems to be working. “Guys who were fans of the old shop have been coming in to see what’s new, so I must be doing something right,” he notes with satisfaction. Indeed. More than one old timer has been known to ask for kimchi.