Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Best Southern Barbecue in Montauk

The Crabby Cowboy Cafe

Rick, who owns The Crabby Cowboy Café, tells how, when he got out of prison a few years ago, for crimes and misdemeanors to be discussed at a later date, he bumped into a black man from North Carolina who taught him patiently about southern American barbecue, particularly pork barbecue, and how that teaching has allowed Rick to bring to Montauk some of the best pulled pork in the United States of America, much less the East End, where for many, many years barbecue came out of a can.

The key to great pulled pork is not so much the sauce, which can change at the whim of the eater (a honey-sticky tomato sauce is the Crabby’s regular menu). The key is the unchangeable texture and toothsomeness of the stringy pork, and the bite-sized flecks of a caramelized crust that is a sweet toffee of meat juices and tomatoes. You need people who are serious about their food and adept with their hands to cook it perfectly and then pull the pork from the bones and get that ratio of flecks just right. The Crabby Cowboy Café kitchen gets it all just right.

Rick’s mentor from North Carolina taught him well. Who knows how Rick would stack up in a TV bout against some Iron Chef from the Orient (might be a good match), but in running a laid-back barbecue joint, Rick is a freaking genius. There must be a great story behind how Rick got the property he is on, which is big, with lots of parking and free dockage for boats, and overlooks a mostly motor boat basin with a wide view of Lake Montauk. Now and then the little planes from the Montauk airport take off or land overhead, to add a little drama. There are 20 tables for four in the bright, big and smartly clean, high-ceilinged dining room, and about that many more tables under a cool tent outside.

The only formality at the Crabby is genuine politeness all around and a well tended flower garden with monster dahlias in brilliant colors. The mostly Irish young men and women who are the servers are delightfully fast, funny, and smart and they are daily trained by Rick and staff to understand what’s going on at all times.

The pulled pork is about $20 a pound wrapped to go, and the corn fritters, with big kernels of sweet yellow corn inside are $7.95 for a generous plenty. There is no snack on the planet better with a cold beer in the shade of sail or a Montauk oak.

Crabby also serves lobster, chicken and seafood. We will report on that next time, which will be soon.

Crabby may be a bit tricky to find by car; Click below for directions.

435 East Lake Drive
Montauk, NY 11954
Click here for directions


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eating out in Montauk

West Lake Clam & Chowder House

(631) 668-6252

382 W Lake Dr
Montauk, NY 11954

It is almost an act of self-inflicted torture to reveal the name of the best restaurant kitchen in Montauk because after many, many years the place is still something of a secret kept among the hamlet’s cognocenti, as yet unknown to the bulk of tourists and more or less safe from all but the most intrepid Hamptonites.

Over the years, only a few nods to technology have been tolerated in the kitchen or bar, but the maitre de’s stand has been infinitely improved by the arrival of small plastic lobsters that shiver and light up with blinking red lights when your table is ready. Children and mellow drinkers love them.

The ten-seat inside bar is beautifully tended, and when one asks for a green apple martini or a clam juice virgin Mary or something very dirty with five olives in it, one can expect to get a well crafted drink, at the right temperature, vigorously stirred, but not shaken, and the prices are about $10 with a tip. Wine and even champagne is available.
To watch Clam & Chowder House bartenders tend bar is like watching the Alvin Ailey dancers dance: precise, coolly passionate, unfussy and fast. There is a lot of similarity between the Clam & Chowder House bar and the famous Floridita in Havana, where Ernest Hemingway drank. A lot of truth in the conversations, and a lot of fish stories, too.
There is a very good sushi bar at the Clam & Chowder with sushi makers who are oriental experts in the discipline. Since Clam & Chowder is a part of the marina’s fishing boat docks, the sushi masters work with some of the freshest seafood it is possible to get under a knife anywhere. Almost every offering is a unique pleasure, especially the deep fried soft shell crab roll.

The main menu, served at the bar or on wooden tables inside and wrought iron tables under umbrellas outside, includes local seafood, beef steaks, chicken, salads and desserts ~ much of it cooked in ways that exceed most expectations for flavor and presentation, with flavor taking precedence. The prices are well within reason and the service is adept, intelligent and funny, without pushing the point. If you are lucky enough to get a cake baked by the chef’s wife, you are in great luck.
For safety’s sake, a few observations:

Turn off your cell phones on the premises, and if you must flaunt your Blackberry or iPhone in public, take it outside. Cell phone addicts who talk on their cell at the tables or the bars have been tongue lashed near unto death by fellow customers. It is a lovely sight to see.

Be patient if you and your party are in line for a table. Credentials, crustiness and sarcasm get nowhere in a place where there are no pampered customers or sacred cows. Be a pest and you’ll be treated as a pest, with a firm and unbeatable disdain. The prettiest time to dine on summer evenings is from 5:30 until about 7, when the after-dark diners are just leaving the beach.

Tell nobody about Clam & Chowder ~ except those you love ~ or the lines will grow far too long.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Montauk’s Own Timepiece

The Montauk Highway runs roughly east and west for 100 miles along the south shore of Long Island from an urban intersection in New York City out to Montauk Point, where it makes a needle’s eye loop in front of the Montauk Lighthouse. God knows that Montauk Highway is not Rodeo Drive, but because of the rare genius of the owner of the London Jewelers of Long Island, a limited 300-piece edition of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore chronometer has been named after the pits-to-Ritz highway.

The advertisements say Montauk Highway is now an “iconic” name, worthy of being engraved on the back of an octagonal-faced, hexagonal screwed case while the hands, numeral markers, chapter ring, are aquamarine, as is the stitching on the Hornback crocodile leather strap. Dee Broderick at the London Jewelers in Easthampton says that the owner of London Jewelers, “who can wear any watch he wants, wears a Royal Oak Offshore.”

If you are dangerous enough to spend $22,500 on a wristwatch these days, you can call Dee and ask her for #022/300 (the 22nd of 300 made and sold worldwide), which she explains will be eminently collectable in about a billion beautifully measured seconds from now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sexy Trees

The longest day of the year 2009 arrives on June 21, Sunday, and at the 12:45 a.m. solstice, the springtime will be gone and we will be living in summertime.

The first day of summer is the day that the Montauk east-facing windows that were shut back in frosts of late October are re-opened again. In Montauk it is still possible to simply leave windows open day and night for summery breezes to billow in, or to welcome in the stillness of the dunes or to let in the songs of the ocean.

The spring of 2009 is the juiciest in many years, with enough rain and fog and mist to coax even the tenderest of tiny wild orchids out of a shady loam. Dandelions have bloomed regally; violets and violas are no longer shy.

This year, the trees of Montauk ~ the pygmy pines, the blue berry-laden junipers, the astonishing marine oaks cloaked in green-gray lichen, the holly and the hardy firs, the elms, chestnuts and sugar maples ~ they all are large, handsome and luscious and so sexy in their romantic allure that Montauk-inspired marriages may soon become rife. We have no count of the number of matrimonial proposals made both under and up in the trees of Montauk, but almost everyone in town feels that 2009 may be a banner year for arboreal question popping.

Except on Montauk’s treeless town green, the trees of Montauk are almost everywhere, and when there is a breeze you can hear their leaves gossip and rustle in chorus, a lovely acoustical background that is often unnoticed by passers-through, yet the leafy sounds of its tall and mature trees are among the covert joys of Montauk.

THERE ARE also many, many small trees. Montauk’s shadbushes are small trees (no more than 30 feet tall) but great friends nonetheless. They are sometimes called Juneberry and they are now in full leaf and will be until late autumn. They grow by shooting out curly tendrils toward the sky. They are most beautiful as a canopy to protect the thousands of critter and creatures that live in the underbrush between the Old Montauk Highway and the ocean beach. Shadbushes are called shadbushes because they display pretty white flowers precisely when the shad fish from the south arrive at local streams. In Montauk, this is usually before the end of May.

In shadbush thickets live deer, raccoon, opossum, rabbit, mice, fox, feral cats, black snakes, garter snakes, salamanders, and some of the most criminal mosquitoes ever bred on earth, just as bad as in Maine, and worse. You can mess around with the Montauk Monster, but you don’t mess around with the Montauk mosquitoes. They will mess with you. Industrial strength repellent does some good, but in a very wet spring like this one is the mosquito population explodes. On the good side however, is the simultaneous flourishing of Montauk’s resident bat population, who locate and gobble up metric tons of mosquitoes as their nightly entrée.

The shadbushes grow so thick in some tracts between Ditch Plains and the Montauk Point lighthouse that a few years ago a 70-year-old priestly monk went for a meditative stroll on a path that led from the lookout lot on the ocean side off Route 27 and got himself lost. Three days later he found his way out. He had heard traffic noise but was not able to keep a direction in the undergrowth tangles. Except for insect bites and ravenous hunger, he was healthy. “But I do not recommend the experience for non-believers,” he told a reporter.

People who live year-round in Montauk and tend to lawns and gardens are grateful for the heavy spring rains. The Montauk summertime weather is often dry and sunny for long strings of days, and in the occasional spring droughts the relentless heat and dryness burn up grasses and wilt even the larger trees. If you are a visitor to Montauk and the summer is dry, give a thought to the importance and the preciousness of pure, fresh water. Waste as little water as possible. Drink wine.

What to Do When It Rains in Montauk

1) Shoot some pool at The Memory Motel or Salivars. The table at The Memory (631-668-2702) is home to the most dangerous local sharks, so don’t, unless you are also a shark, ever play for money. If you simply get a drink at the bar, you can watch some very entertaining games. If a guy named Colin looks like you can beat him, don’t go there. It costs $2 a game and the table’s open every night except Friday and Saturday, when there are bands playing. Why close it then? “Because it’s crowded those nights,” explained the bartender, “and it can get violent when somebody fucks with a pool shot.” At Salivars (631-668-2555) it’s $2 a game. A few more don’ts: Don’t ask the bartender, particularly if the bartender is a woman, anything at all about the huge shark’s head mounted over the pool table. If she hears about it one more time she may crown you with a bottle of Corona. Don’t simply open the ladies room door in order to make a shot from the upper right hand corner of the table. Yes, you cannot draw your stick back more than a few inches if the door is closed. Always knock first.

2) If you are a connoisseur of bad movies, go to the Montauk Movie theater (668-2393) and whatever is on the bill is almost sure to be a bummer. But if you are sick of House and NCSI on the TV, give it a shot. You have a one in 100 change, maybe, of seeing something worthwhile. Yet, somehow, it’s kind of campy and the ice cream is usually good.

3) The bar at The Harvest (668-5574)is a friendly place for the middle aged and better dressed; the bar at The Westlake Clam & Chowder House (668-6252) is fisher-folk fun with excellent bartenders and a fine Japanese and American kitchen; Shagwong’s (668-3050) bar is for anyone who is serious about telling lies and getting hammered; The Point’s bar (668-1500) is perfect for Mets and Yankee fans who can watch it on big-screen plasmas. Guerney’s bar (668-2345) is where Tony Soprano and his family and friends hang out.

The Memory Motel is an undistinguished L-shaped structure of small, cheaply furnished rooms with an asphalted parking area in front of each room’s battered wooden door. The Memory, as it’s called, faces on the main drag into Montauk town just a block short of the Green. Unless you know that The Rolling Stones’ long song Memory Motel was named in honor of this place, you might well forget you ever saw The Memory.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote:

”Hannah honey was a peachy kind of girl
Her eyes were hazel
And her nose were slightly curved
We spent a lonely night at the Memory Motel
It's on the ocean, I guess you know it well
It took a starry night to steal my breath away
Down on the water front Her hair all drenched in spray. . .

”You're just a memory of a love
That used to be
You're just a memory of a love
That used to mean so much to me. . .

“I hit the bottle and hit the sack and cried
What's all this laughter on the 22nd floor
It's just some friends of mine
And they're busting down the door
Been a lonely night at the Memory Motel.”

In the crook of the L is a dark doorway that leads into a surprisingly large room. To the left is a low stage with a few theatrical lights. To the right is a long, stained wooden bar with tall stools in front, and a decent distance away is a green baize pool table at which frolic the resident sharks, some of whom play as if the cues were their penises. Shots you would bet the farm against are made before your astonished eyes.

There is a now famous one called Colin’s Shot whereby Colin, a handsome young man from a Caribbean island, pops a cue ball in a perfect 14-inch arc over an intervening eight ball, and the cue ball exquisitely bumps the middle of a nine ball that rolls magnificently into the side pocket. Even the big DEA shark joined all the other sharks at the table and all of the astonished and laughing onlookers to touch and hug and fist-butt the laughing Colin’s hand to let some of his luck and skill maybe rub off. Colin was cool. He said that the shot was just one of the little ones he keeps in his bag but seldom has to use.

Colin’s Shot took place at The Memory on a recent Tuesday night,
the same night that a band well known as Suddyn in Ireland, the UK and Europe made its debut in Montauk. Locals know the group as The Montauk Bake Shoppe Band because by day the band’s musicians serve up pastries and confections in the East End’s greatest bakery, and by night they play music that makes strong men smile and pretty girls blush and cry.

How do they do it? For one, Brendan Connolly is a drummer who telegraphs impulses that no doubt can raise the dead, and he looks like a big, happy cherub as he absolutely beats the devil out of his drums and keeps the cymbals sensually whispering. Everyone except the hungriest of the sharks gets the message and one little blue-eyed grandmother with thin red hair stood with her fingers to her lips and said, “I love them.”

Alan Steil, with lemon meringue hair and surfer’s body, sings like dancer’s do, with their entire being. He likes to climb up on the speakers or even on a big drum, and call out ~ with his mouth open to its widest ~ meanwhile flexing his arms and wet T shirt torso so balletically that young and impressionable females commence to undulate, lick their lips and perspire.

Jarrett Steil on guitar and Colin O Dwyer laid back on this occasion and kept the undercurrent going. No description of the music of The Montauk Bake Shop Band (aka Suddyn) is as good as a YouTube visit and the song Letting Go.

By the end of their seven songs, the denizens of The Memory knew they had seen and heard a band of the future in the early fable making stage, while the boys are young and tireless and as yet untamed by too many horse whisperers. Witnesses to the evening can’t imagine why some TV producer doesn’t make a show of the guys’ lives during a Montauk summer?