Welcome to our list of favorite dining destinations in New York's Hudson Valley and Adirondack regions. We visit restaurants, wineries, barbecues, and a smattering of off the beaten path culinary destinations like maple sugar shacks and fromageries. My friends and I have been dining out together weekly for over twenty years. The locations we write about are our favorite destinations. We are not claiming they are the best, just our favorites. The posts are not "reviews" in the classic sense. - we offer only our picks, not pans. We will leave the criticism to others. We are a happy blog. We much prefer a good bistro to "haute cuisine", especially if they also have a nice bar. We prefer a crock of cassoulet and a bottle of Beaujolais to just about anything else. If you enjoy simple home style rustic cooking with a decent (but not too expensive) bottle of wine, then pull up a chair and join us.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Dining Out in Montauk, NY
Our favorite restaurants in Montauk, NY
For many years I have made excursions to Montauk, usually in September and October. Our group - all fly fishermen - try to time our arrival to coincide with the arrival of the bait fish inshore in the fall. The huge balls of bay anchovies and other baitfish entice schools of of striped bass and false albacore close to the shore. The fish will readily come to a fly tied to look like an anchovy, and the sport has grown to the point that the majority of boats around the lighthouse now sport flyfishing anglers hoping to spend a few moments with a flash of green piscatorial splendor at the end of their fly line. We usually stay for three or four days on each outing, which affords us the opportunity to dine at some of the area's restaurants.
On the last few outings we have stayed at the Montauk Lake Club and Marina on the east side of Montauk Lake, just outside the village. They have a nice bar and a very nice dining room, but the atmosphere is a little on the formal side. The last thing anyone wants to do after a day on the water is put on a jacket and tie, so as nice as the place is, we will eat just one of our meals there; we usually hop in the car and go elsewhere.
If you are eating out in Montauk, you will probably be eating seafood. You really should, because the seafood doesn't get any fresher than this. Just down the road from the Montauk Lake Club is the Inlet Seafood Restaurant, which is owned by a group of local commercial fishermen. It is one of our favorites. The large and welcoming bar looks west over the water, and provides one of the most spectacular sunset views that you will find outside of Key West. The scene offers everything but a Caribbean "Green Flash". They also serve some terrific sushi, fresh off the boat. What the plates may lack in artistic presentation they more than make up for in freshness, quality, quantity, and price. You can't do better than fresh striped bass or yellowfin tuna caught that morning, dabbed with a little wasabi, and washed with just a touch of soy. Last week the kitchen was also featuring a tile fish filet prepared "picata" - sauteed with capers and a spritz of lemon and white wine. I can still taste it as I write about it.
In the middle of the village you will find the legendary Shagwong Tavern and Restaurant, which is a wonderful mishmash of local bar, town supper spot and tourist mecca. It is decidedly friendlier (read loud), more informal (read tee shirts) and popular (read three deep at the bar) than most of their competitors. Shagwong has been serving up "Good food and good times!" since 1927. The current owners bought the place in 1969. They are the go-to destination for a slab of steak or an over-sized lobster, or just to grab a glass of beer and a burger at the bar.
For a little more upscale setting, we often drive over to the Fort Pond area for dinner at Harvest Restaurant. This enormously popular destination offers fresh local seafood with an Italian influence. If the weather permits, you can enjoy your meal outside in the gardens, where the kitchen's herbs will surround your table, and the aroma of thyme and rosemary and garlic chives fill the air. The fare at Harvest is among the best in Montauk and they serve it up in gigantic portions. It is standard practice with our group - which typically will be eight to ten people - to order three or four appetizers and only five or six entrees. We will still have leftovers. The porterhouse steak is fantastic, as is the farfalle tossed with Italian sausage and peas and parmigiana cheese. We will always order whatever the daily seafood special is - frequently grilled scallops, or a filet of local striped bass. On a few occasions we have shown up with our own striper from the day's fishing, and asked the kitchen to work its magic with the catch.
A local Chinese Restaurant - Wok & Roll - takes the "catch your own" dinner preparation to new heights. This restaurant will take your fish and prepare it for you. In the case of a striper the fish is chunked and deep fried, then piled high and served in a spicy General Tso sauce. Their motto is "You Hook 'em ~ We'll Cook 'em". A whole 20lb striper would feed twenty people, and would cost around $100 to prepare and serve, including sides. Such a deal. I first read about this place in Sam Sifton's NY Times column. Mr Sifton is also an avid fly fisherman who spends time in Montauk
I believe that Dave's Grill enjoys the reputation of being Montauk's finest restaurant. That reputation, and its relatively small dining room, are the reasons that seating is always at a premium. They only take reservations for that same day, starting at exactly 4:15PM. We have been reluctant to take the risk of waiting until the last minute to book a table, because we frequently have trouble finding seating for our large party of anglers. After Labor Day the crowds thin out, and last week we were able to get in for dinner. The crowd here has a Hamptonesque look about it, with many more jackets and ties than sport shirts. We stopped for a drink at the bar, which was crowded with regulars getting ready to sit down for dinner. Two glasses of house wine (one for me, one for my guide) set me back $27, including $12 for a glass of CaDonini Pinot Grigio, which goes for $5 per liter, retail. Hamptonesque prices too. My guide assured me that a friend had delivered the scallops that morning, and we should try them if they had not sold out. We did. For $32. All five of them. Without a salad. Admittedly they were fantastic - seared perfectly leaving a moist, sweet center, perched atop a bed of sauteed chanterelles and accompanied by some grilled asparagus.
If I had to pick my very favorite place to eat in Montauk, it would actually be none of the above. My favorite destination is a very local hangout called The Dock. It is the antithesis of Dave's. The Dock sits at the end of the strip along the day boat docks off of West Lake Drive. The commercial fisherman and the sport fishing guides all gather there at the end of the day, half at the bar drinking $1 glasses of Bud, the other half gathered outside the front door, smoking a cigarette and talking about their day. It is here that you will get the real taste of Montauk, as opposed to "The Hamptons". If you think it has the look and feel of a saloon run by a retired New York City firemen, you will have guessed correctly. George Watson bought the old Fitzerald's Tavern in 1973, and molded it in his own image, and to his own rules. The rules, which are posted conspicuously throughout, include:
No checks, no cell phones, no screaming kids, no dirt bags, no whining, no chickenhawks.
The rules are scrupulously enforced, especially the cell phone prohibition. You will be asked once (and only once) to hang it up, This request may be delivered via bull horn (I kid you not). Non-compliants are escorted to the street. Mr. Watson was also a marine. In the middle of all of this mayhem lurks the soul of a fantastic eatery, serving simple but well prepared dishes - a top notch bowl of chowder, terrific chili, and of course the requisite platters of steamed clams, savory mussels, and fresh off the dock fish, all for half the price of most other places in town. And you don't have to listen to people talking on their cell phones, at least not for more than five seconds.
In order of appearance:
Montauk Lake Club and Marina
211 East Lake Drive
Montauk, NY 11954
Inlet Seafood Restaurant
541 East Lake Drive
Montauk, NY 11954
774 Main Street
Montauk, NY 11954
Harvest on Fort Pond
11 S. Emery Street
Montauk, NY 11954
Wok & Roll
716 Main Street
Montauk, NY 11954
468 West Lake Drive
Montauk Harbor, NY
The Dock Restaurant
West Lake Drive
Montauk Harbor, NY
If you do stop in please let our other readers know about your visit in the comments section.
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