East End Eats: Duryea’s Still a Winner
Duryea’s Lobster Deck
65 Tuthill Road
Daily, noon-10:30 p.m.
We knew going to Duryea’s Lobster Deck on the Sunday night of July Fourth weekend could be a freakout. Navigating the half-naked human traffic by the Surf Lodge was an exercise better suited for the driving skills of Juan Manuel Fangio, arguably the greatest Formula One driver in history.
My guests’ only experience of Montauk up to this point was a breakfast at Anthony’s Pancake House, which we all agreed was a delight because they serve scrapple, I had been to the old Duryea’s a few times and found it to be okay: simple fare, B.Y.O.B., enjoy the view of Fort Pond Bay at sunset.
From the outside, Duryea’s looks the same, just spruced up. It is still a plain, white, wooden building with a fish market attached. Upon entering the Lobster Deck, you notice that the atmosphere has been improved by sturdier teak tables and chairs and sailcloth stretched here and there for shade, and it still has that marvelous view. The inside has an industrial chic look to it, with high ceilings with huge white glass float fishing balls hanging from the ceiling, some high-top stools around a shucking (and napkin folding) bar, and a counter looking out to the water with more stools. We couldn’t get a table outside on this extremely busy night, but were perfectly happy when the friendly hostess seated us immediately at the inside bar.
Then it starts to get confusing. You get a clipboard with paper menus attached. You circle the items you’d like (for the entire meal), take it to a counter, and then hope for the best. For the people who have said Duryea’s is too expensive, I don’t think they’ve read the menu thoroughly. Many of the items are “family-style,” as in each portion serves two to three people. So an order of corn on the cob at $15 is not so bad considering it is a big bowl of sweet, fresh corncob halves bathed in clarified butter and parsley. Service is also already included in the price, although there is still a humongous tip bowl at the ordering counter, hint, hint.
We began our meal, and the most excellent people watching, with calamari, tuna tartare, baked clams, and some Montauk Pearl oysters. The calamari was excellent: tender, with a savory coarse cornmeal coating. This was served with eel sauce, nitsume, a Japanese condiment made up of soy, mirin, sugar, and sometimes a bit of dashi, or fish stock. This was an interesting and tasty departure from the usual marinara or aioli accompaniment. We all loved it.
The tuna tartare was also delicious and a bit different from the frequently used soy and lots of sesame oil versions often served. It was slightly sweet. Perhaps a few drops of eel sauce found their way into the tuna cubes. The tuna was mixed with some ripe avocado bits, julienned radishes, slivers of scallion, and came with some crisped panko bread crumbs and black sesame seeds on top, giving it some welcome crunch.
The baked clams were quite good: five large ones to a serving, well minced, and seasoned with garlic, parsley, and lemon. The topping looked like breadcrumbs, but wasn’t crisp, so that was the only disappointment with this appetizer. The Montauk Pearl oysters were superb. They are small and briny and sweet at the same time. They were served with cocktail sauce and a creamy aioli, which we didn’t see as being an enhancement. A bit of lemon juice will do.
For entrees, we ordered a lobster roll, the fish po’ boy, corn on the cob, French fries, and a cheeseburger. The lobster roll was as good as you can expect. Served on a potato hot dog bun, it was a generous portion of finely chopped lobster meat mixed with just enough mayo, parsley, and finely minced celery. This was topped with larger chunks of tail and claw meat and served with sweet potato chips and a little cup of very good, lightly dressed coleslaw.
The fish po’ boy was okay. It was a few small pieces of fluke breaded in the same seasoned cornmeal as the calamari served with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and tartar sauce on a chewy, dense, ciabatta-style roll that just made it too bready. The delicacy of the fluke was kind of lost in this aggressively hearty bread.
The corn on the cob was very good, already generously doused with clarified butter and a sprinkling of parsley. The French fries were insanely good. They were shoestring cut, coated with a crispy batter, and perfectly salted. The cheeseburger was cooked to order with good charred flavor, and served with excellent bread and butter pickles along with the other traditional accompaniments of lettuce and tomato. “It’s the little things,” said one of my guests approvingly.
The prices at Duryea’s are moderate, especially for the quality of the food. Prices are $14 to $95 for appetizers, raw bar seafood towers, salads, soups, and small plates. Rolls and shared plates are $18 to $49. Kids menu items are $9 to $18. Sides are $4 to $19. Desserts are $12 to $24. Keep in mind many of these dishes serve two to three people.
The atmosphere is frenetic, the ordering system can be confusing, and a few of the gals behind the ordering counter can be quite brusque. You order all the food at once, including your drinks and dessert. The food is delivered to you as it is ready, but if you want your second beer (or 14th bottle of Domaine Ott rose) you have to go back to the counter, wait in line again, and remind them that you are thirsty. In spite of it being crazy busy and filled to the brim on the night of our visit, all of our food came out in a timely and logical manner. Plus we got some excellent local celebrity sightings: Brian Halweil of the Edible magazines was dining with his wife, Sarah, and some friends (they liked the food, too), and we saw Martha Stewart wandering about.
The dessert options are limited. On this night there were banana split sundaes, fresh fruit, a cookie platter, and warm bread pudding. We know what bananas and other fruits taste like and they had run out of bread pudding, so we only ordered the cookie plate. My attempt to find out if the cookies were made in house caused a flurry of confusion behind the counter, with the answer coming back “yes.” We got a plate with oatmeal, white chocolate chip, chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, and one mystery cookie. They were of the lumpy, undercooked variety and tasted more like David’s Cookies frozen cookie dough cookies than homemade.
We escaped the scene just after sunset as the scantily clad Svetlanas, Veronikas, and Natalyas were arriving with very smooth and groomed gents. How does one navigate a boardwalk in six-inch stilettos?
The food, the setting, and the renovation of Duryea’s are all a delight. I think we shall return when it is quiet.