So it was a great kick in the butt to shelve the diet for a weekend, starting with my meeting with the lovely EIC of the newly launched Edible Long Island magazine at Cook's Scratch Kitchen (which I do need to make time to rave about) and ending with some delicious samples of food from local restaurateurs in the idyllic village of Sayville, Long Island as I commenced research and interviews for a feature article for their premiere print edition. (YAY!)
All of which leads me to ... CLAWS in West Sayville.
|Don't let the paper basket fool ya; this sammie was LEGIT, over six inches long and at LEAST four inches wide.|
Summary: I had the lobster roll and it was STFU + Oh, SHIT good. As in, I took one bite and all my table manners went out the window; I was talking with my mouth completely full and unable to stop chewing of my own volition, and steadfastly ignored the fact that I wasn't even hungry, just so I could keep the taste sensation going.
Just across from 21 Main (overrated), this little red shack makes restaurant quality seafood accessible and serves up mid-Atlantic and New England classics with artful restraint. Humor me -- I have to deconstruct this sandwich for y'all so you can understand why I'm all "OMG."
- Sweet, succulent lobster chunks. Probably about 1.5-2 cups of it. The flavor of the lobster sang arias, shining through the light dressing, allowing you to taste the fine quality of the generously chunked, perfectly steamed, firm meat. I've had butter-poached lobster tails tougher than this and less flavorful, so color me impressed.
- The dressing. Light with just a hint of celery and red onion, the traditional mayonnaise dressing let the lobster be the star. Now, I love me some mayo, but it's a flavor crutch, and this lobster could definitely stand on its own even naked.
- Garlic-buttered toasted hero roll. I love me a good NY deli roll with the hard shell and moist crumb and doughy give, and this was elevated by only the sheerest dusting of garlic butter. Applause again for restraint and balance.
- Old Bay fries! It's like Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuits on fries! Nicely seasoned, not overwhelming, but rather a tasteful accent to what is otherwise just your basic thick shoestrings.
- Lovely coleslaw. I usually leave coleslaw on my diner plates untouched because it's more often than not drowning in cheap mayo. Not so with this. Crunchy cabbage with carrots and just a hint of mayo hit the spot as a refreshing palate-cleanser between the roll and the fries.
- Price. Seriously, $15 for all that?! SOLD.
And the scene? A beach-front dining style (or canal-front? Technically?) completed this cozy picture of summertime bliss, with a local musician strumming his guitar from in front of the upturned canoe-turned-bar. Round picnic tables with ample shade provided lots of family-friendly seating, and the crunch of shells and gravel underfoot definitely was a pleasant juxtaposition on Main Street as two worlds melded together. But you order at the window, and a friendly local college student brings you your tray of food. Simple, clean service for simple, clean food.
Which seems to be the overwhelming theme at CLAWS: cleanliness.
The premises simply sparkle. The outside is freshly painted and bright, cheery. The tables outside have no sticky residue from ketchup past. The greenery is meticulously weeded, and even the gravel is evenly spread, as if combed over like a Zen garden.
The inside was no different, brightly lit and sparkling with metallic shine around perfectly clear display cases. The fish market smells like fresh air and sunshine with a hint of ozone, like a crisp sunstorm just recently gone. The seafood for sale is so fresh that there's absolutely no odor, nor even a HINT of odorousness, in the air. No salt, no brine, no brackish, metallic scent to the back of your throat upon a deep breath. Now THAT'S the mark of fresh fish.
It likely helps that ALL OF THEIR SEAFOOD IS COMPLETELY NATURAL. As in no sodium additives, no chemical treatments, straight from the wild, caught by local baymen natural. The scallops you buy won't shrink in the pan! The shrimp has no added salt! The salmon was not fed food-coloring feed!
Their selection of fresh seafood is astounding, with whole striped bass, soft-shell crabs, local oysters, South Shore (specifically!) clams, sockeye salmon, halibut, octopus ... the list goes on and on, and alternates every day. I went two days in a row, and saw a total rearranging of the case in that 24 hour time period, with all new selections laid out and sold-out selections long gone.
Also, to take home, I heard the baked clams are amazeballs (they sold out early, though) and the crab cakes are beasts and a steal at $5 each. Seriously, they were the size of restaurant burger patties.
For an island, Long Island is sadly lacking in truly fresh, pure seafood, and it was to my great surprise and pleasure that I was able to discover this diamond in the rough, just outside of the Main Street downtown drag. It's simply wonderful to meet small business owners that have local roots and community pride, whose neighborhood residents come and bring fresh-cut flowers to brighten up the counter and who get to know their customers by name. Frank, Chris and Sue got my weekend of community research off to an incredibly high note, and reminded me exactly why I love writing about food. Not just because it's delicious and I want to share that with people, but because families like theirs are the heart of this country and the core of every Main Street, and that the passion of these families is exactly WHY their food is fabulous.
|Just a few of their principles.|