Rockville Centre, NY
Review by SuSu
Sounds a bit like an Iron Chef description of things, but it's actually not a high-falutin' place. It's a very tidily kept clamshack, near Long Beach. They fry stuff, maybe grill a few salmon steaks for sandwiches. It's very short order, but the few things they do, they do extremely well. Notably, they fry things.
The place is a kitchen with a counter around it. It seats about a dozen around it's perimeter, and that's it. The menu reads, "Management reserves the right to make seating arrangements." Which means if a party of two comes in, and there are two lone seats, you will be asked to shuffle over so the party for two can sit together. They also only take cash, but if you only have plastic, don't fear -- there is an ATM in the breezeway.
It's the type of place that decorated with beer promotion "art" and plastic fish and fishnets. There are hand-painted spice caddies placed along the counters, depicting shellfish and stuff on them. The bathrooms are clean and ramshackly, like that vacation home your parents had back in '06 ... okay, that's not a real memory, but you know they type of place.
We were seated right by the breading and frying station, so we got to watch as orders for the various denizens of the deep were prepared for the hot oil bath. Everything, we learned, is dipped into milk first, then dropped into a seasoned flour, or crackermeal, or what's called "clam fry." Each piece is tossed carefully in it's respective crumbly coating, then placed in a coarse sieve to remove excess, then dropped into the oil. The results are crisply, subtly seasoned, hot and very fresh. The refrigerators are the pull-out drawer type, mounted beneath the cooking stations to save space, and each type of seafood is placed in a cut-down plastic bucket for easy access.
It said on the menu that this method of frying was brought down from New England by Russ Bigelow the year the New York World's Fair opened. It's hard to think of a seaside without fried clams, but there must've been a time when it didn't exist. This is sort of almost a primordial place, then, the grandfather of all those fried seafood platters. (Note, if you are a New Englander, you have your seafood on a hotdog bun lubricated with mayonnaise ONLY, and it's called a "roll," as in "lobster roll" or "clam roll.")
The pie case is front and center, and the soup warmers are behind that. They serve two kinds of soup: New England clam chowder, which they make with milk and corn for a sweeter soup, and Manhattan clam chowder, which is basically tomato vegetable soup with clams in it. Both are delicious. The pie is good too -- we shared a key lime pie. It was palest green (not that "creme de menthe grasshopper" color we sometimes come across), and nice and tart, not too sweet. Perfect key lime flavor, which surprised us for some reason. I guess Bigelow's has adapted other shore-side treats; the key lime pie is obviously Florida-influenced. Oh, and the coffee we ordered to accompany the pie came a bit later, but it was freshly brewed and smooth -- nothing like battery acid.
As for the mains, we ordered the Ipswich platter (which came with a choice of coleslaw, fries, or lettuce and tomato salad), the fried filet of flounder (which they refer to as their "fish and chips"), and on a neighboring diner's recommendation, the fried shrimp. The fries were shoestring, the coleslaw was nicely chilled (the type with mayo), and the salad was just what you expected, with dressing on the side. I found the fried dishes too mild, but the tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, malt vinegar, etc. at each seat fixed that up nicely. I think I prefer the bigger, brinier bellymeat of summer on the clams, but it really was quite good, and these boys are expert fryers!
It's not exactly cheap, since the seafood is fresh and cooked with great skill. And though the place is a clean, tidy clamshack, it's in a now-well established town on a busy street. The bill for two bowls of soup, three entrées, coffee, pie, sodas was $60 total, including tip. Really not bad for great seafood; in fact, we plan to go there again soon, especially as it's one of the last remaining clamshacks. These used to be all over, but when real estate became really expensive in the 1980s and beyond, they all disappeared ... pity, but more reason to run to Bigelow's!
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