Original Article by Scott Vogel of Newsday's FEEDME | August 25, 2021 | View Link
Among the animal kingdom’s most enduring mysteries — right up there with why zebras have stripes and goats like yoga — are the migratory habits of Fire Island’s service personnel. Where does the largely youngish flock that waits tables/runs hotels/rents bikes go when summer turns to fall? If you guessed Colorado then you’ve obviously skipped ahead.
"A large cohort of Fire Islanders do summers on Fire Island and winter in places like Telluride," explained Leah Fernandes.
"That’s how my girlfriend’s sister met her husband," added Stephen Kalantgopoulos, who is one of Fernandes’ business partners. So is the girlfriend, Amanda Whittaker. "They all went to Fire Island and Telluride with Andy." As in Andy Tartaglia, partner number four. In August of last year, the quartet of middle-aged friends decided to join forces in a desperate bid to reclaim their youth.
Kidding. It was to open a restaurant.
Swept Away made its debut in June, and it’s run out of a stucco and Spanish tile Bay Shore structure formerly occupied by another restaurant, also called Swept Away, but there the similarity ends. The dining room, previously a study in nautical kitsch, now boasts a plant wall and "an antiquey vibe," as Kalantgopoulos put it. There is a shelf of vintage glass bottles, there is mismatched plateware, gewgaws large and small, part of a reclamation tour-de-force that bespeaks many, many hours spent digging at Island secondhand shops. "That’s Andy," noted Fernandes, who teaches fourth grade and is Tartaglia’s partner in both life and business. "You name it, he found it at an antique shop here on Long Island."
Despite the quartet’s roughly 87 years of combined restaurant work, only Tartaglia owns and runs other eateries, namely the Brightwaters Inn and two Bay Shore spots, Verde and Coastal Kitchen. "This group is new but we grew up together," he said. "We’ve been talking about this and dreaming about this for a long time." That includes Swept Away’s new chef Kevin Breeden, a California native who served several terms on Fire Island himself. His is a menu that is indisputably punching above its weight.
Clams are steamed, rather unusually, in a New England chowder broth enhanced by floating slicks of chive oil, garlic chili sauce and bits of bacon ($16). It makes for a marvelous appetizer, though not one of the lighter ones. Equally delicious is another of Breeden’s starters, in which three small pita pockets arrive stuffed with juicy shreds of lamb meat ($13). Entree-wise, I tried only the steak sandwich, but it made good use of Acabonac Farms beef, dressing it with ssamjang paste and a satisfying ooze of Gouda ($19.50). All sauces used by the restaurant are housemade, even the mayonnaise.
"While it was great and we love the previous owners," said Tartaglia of Swept Away version 1.0, "there was a lot of freezer space being used. We are fresh, non-frozen, seaside." Seaside indeed — the restaurant sits opposite Bay Shore’s marina and town beach, and the portrait that emerges is of a team that’s put careful thought into every detail. Nowhere is that truer than on Swept Away’s beautifully landscaped back patio decorated with still more Tartaglia finds. Live music is performed there on select nights.
In an effort to open Swept Away just weeks after buying the restaurant and surrounding real estate in April, the new owners opted against a complete overhaul, which might have meant months of wrangling with the town of Islip. But changes are coming, hopefully early next year.
"We are going to go a little more casual, a little more blue collar," said Tartaglia, who hopes to change the atmosphere with outdoor pool tables, dartboards and the like. Menu-wise, "we are going to go for an L.A.-style-cantina-street-food-beachy-food-sandy-feet-cold-beers kind of vibe." Sound familiar?
"We want to make it a little bit more like our favorite spots on Fire Island."
Which makes perfect sense for four folks who owe their friendship to that slip of land, even though its proximity just across the bay is a constant reminder that they aren’t so young anymore. "Such an awesome life and way to live," said Fernandes, reflecting. "I almost didn’t take my teaching job."
"It’s like a fraternity," added Kalantgopoulos with a smile.