Hidden Hamptons Gem: Thunder Island Coffee

In food on 09/06/2011 at 8:16 am

There were once 13 tribes that lived on Long Island. They had cool names. Now there’s one left in Hampton Bays, the Shinnecock Nation; they had a powwow this weekend to celebrate the departure of all the summer tourists for the season. I had to work, so I didn’t see most of them.

Today is an East End holiday: Tumbleweed Tuesday. I’m celebrating by having a day off work!

The reservation on the outskirts of Southampton village is usually closed to the public except for this event. We were eager to peek inside. There’s lots of mowed grass and trees, and Habitat for Humanity-style houses sprinkled here and there. A large ceremonial log cabin perches near the front entrance.

I wanted some fry bread. Needless to say, the hospital cafeteria does not provide  the most appetizing treats. Though I did glance at a patient dinner tray the other night and it looked surprisingly palatable, like one of those shellacked plastic display meals – some sort of breaded baked meat, an ice cream scoop of skin-mashed red potatoes and a veg, all smothered with a thick brown gravy.

Leave to us outsiders to take this as emblematic of Native American cuisine. Sure it’s delicious, but if it is equivalent to concentration camp food, then what is the real traditional foodstuff of American Indians? I didn’t see any cookbooks at the one book vendor at the powwow.

Essentially, a powwow is an arts n’ crafts fair, akin to the commercialized street fairs that abound Manhattan in the summertime. This one just has a focused theme, here represented by native woven rugs, things made with feathers, things made with wampum (a purplish shell), and lots of burning sage. I couldn’t tear the other half away from the medicinal salve booth. There was a booth sponsored by Minnetonka. Dream catchers and drums littered the giant meadow. Then I spied a coffee stand.

Turns out there’s an organic, local coffee stand right under my nose every day on my drive to work on Old Montauk Highway. The beans are imported, but they are roasted right here in the Hamptons. Behind the Indian row of cheap cigarette shops and Carla’s Kitchen, which some consider an eye sore, there’s a modest building in the back where Thunder Island Coffee lives. The flavor of the roast was better than the other organic coffee stand at the powwow, which is based in Mastic.

They were also selling bags with modernized, cool, almost hipsterish native designs. At $9 for one pound of coffee, that is definitely a great way to support local!

  1. I just loved this post and the link to Fry Bread was a lot like the recipe I use too. It really was a staple food and is easy for vendors to share. I liken it to our region’s Funnel Cake – ha! Thanks for the great photos too!

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