If you ever want to convince someone to like the Hamptons, take them to Montauk. Of course, they might claim that this fishing and surfing village is not actually a Hampton, since there are very few manicured lawns, polo players or designer boutiques in sight. But this naturally beautiful, windswept tip of Long Island could charm even the staunchest Hampton hater.
Once just the site of fish shacks and red sauce joints, Montauk has been luring serious diners out here ever since Sam Talbot took over at the Surf Lodge several years back, right after winning Top Chef. He has since moved on to Imperial No. 9, but Montauk’s culinary caché lingers on. For one thing, it would be hard for a seafood chef to be much closer to the source, since lobsters, clams, oyster and fish are hauled in to the docks here every day. Unlike tourist attractions like Mystic, this is still very much a working fishing village.
One restaurant that’s been generating a lot of buzz is Fish Bar, perched on a pier overlooking Montauk Harbor. Chef Jennifer Meadows has appeared on cooking shows like “Chopped” and “Throwdown” (apparently cooking show contestants never grow old, they just move to Montauk), and the restaurant has been featured in Newsday and Edible East End. It’s garnered such good word of mouth that we were surprised to find someplace so refreshingly laid back, just a basic, square wooden structure at the end of an oyster shell driveway, beyond the hulls of huge boats up on blocks until the summer.
The seafood at Fishbar is super fresh and prepared with a light touch: perfect calamari dusted with fine cornmeal and barely spicy seasoning before frying, a crisp, green, garlicky Caesar salad, hushpuppies deliciously lumpy with fresh corn and green onions.
A traditional seafood stew gets reduced to just a shallow pool of umami-rich liquid overflowing with hunks of lobster, clams and fish. A classic fish and chips benefitted from batter-dipped fries, and fish tacos were light and crispy with a slight char to the tortillas.
This would be the ultimate place to catch the sunset over the north shore of Montauk, so plan ahead. Fishbar doesn’t take reservations for smaller parties, but few would mind whiling away the early evening at the bar here before sitting down to dinner on the water.
467 East Lake Drive
Montauk, NY 11954
This little health food and coffee spot in the center of town brings in crowds after yoga class for its fresh fruit smoothies and breakfast burritos and at lunchtime for a big selection of wraps. Among the chicken and fish options there’s also some vegetarian and gluten-free fare. The perfect place to stock up before a day at the beach: they have freshly made take out food to satisfy nearly everyone and communal tables if you’d like to linger.
S. Edison Street between S. Etna and S. Elmwood
Lenny’s on the Dock
It wouldn’t really be a trip to Montauk without a lunch of fried fish on the docks. Skip the more touristy and crowded spots for Lenny’s on the Dock, which has a real local feel, a view of the harbor and just-caught fish on offer, though not much in the way of decor if you’re looking for something fancier than plastic patio chairs.
Batter fries shore up a platter of lightly breaded, crispy cod simply seasoned with fresh thyme leaves and lemon and a substantial, just-cooked-enough tuna sandwich dressed with your choice of sauces (we chose jerk sauce for an interesting twist). A bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment to Long Island oysters on the half shell.
Lenny’s on the Dock
474 Flamingo Road
Lunch (The Lobster Roll)
Since we usually patronize this place after two or more banana Bailey’s coladas at Cyril’s down the road, we have fond memories of Lunch. The lobster salad here has been held up as a model for lobster salads everywhere.
Perhaps these two factors made our expectations too high, however, because while the lobster salad was very fresh, it was also under-seasoned and Puritan-plain. But he buttery, slightly sweet hot dog roll underneath was just right, and clam strips hit the spot. Service is friendly and efficient – which, ironically, could serve as a warning to diners: the best lobster rolls we’ve ever had were always served up by the crankiest New Englanders.
Lunch (The Lobster Roll)
1980 Montauk Hwy
This is a really old-school place to stay in Montauk, but the management has kept it up with the times by renovating the rooms, including new granite bathrooms and minibars. The view from the “foredeck” rooms is fabulous, and there’s a beach and salt water pool. You’ll only have to leave your room to eat, because room service may not even arrive until it’s time for your next meal. But for oceanfront hotel views, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Gurney’s Inn and Resort
290 Old Montauk Highway