Seasons by the Sea: Gotta-Have-It Dishes

Townline BBQ’s “burnt ends”
The Dock House’s stuffed clams and Townline BBQ’s “burnt ends” are two dishes South Fork residents are willing to make a trip for. Jennifer Landes

    What dish would you go out of your way for? Not a favorite restaurant dish, necessarily, it could be a deli item, a baked good, a sandwich or soup. It could even be a dish of yore that you still pine for. But it really has to be something you crave so much, you aim for it like a heat-seeking missile.
    I put this question out to some friends and got answers from as far away as Paris, where my niece Cristina is craving the tacos from La Fondita in Amagansett and the vegetarian chili at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton. Steve Haweeli of Wordhampton PR (which represents about 99 and 44/100 percent of the restaurants on the East End) mentioned the lobster roll at the Clam Bar on Napeague, the guacamole and watermelon juice from La Fondita, burnt ends at Townline BBQ in Sagaponack (I second that), rigatoni Bolognese from Harbor Bistro on Three Mile Harbor, and penne alla vecchia bettola from Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton. His business partner, Nicole Starr Castillo, went for dessert items, mint chip ice cream from the Living Room at c/o the Maidstone, and the so-labor-intensive-it’s-not-even-on-the-menu tartufo from Nick and Toni’s.
    Over in Noyac, Cromer’s fried chicken got several mentions and I would have concurred on this one . . . until I tried Herb’s in Montauk. That was the chicken that drove me so wild once, I had to lock it in the trunk so I’d get home safely.
    A fellow chef, Adrienne Vogt, nominated the Hostess cupcake ice cream from Bay Burger in Sag Harbor that sounds so naughtily delicious I plan to try it as soon as the spot reopens for the season. Anne Hargrave pines for the mini Key lime tarts from the defunct Simple Pleasures in Bridgehampton, which brought to mind the tiny heart-shape chocolate shortbread cookies I would make a special trip for. Barbara Thomas misses the stuffed clams from the Dock House seafood shop in Sag Harbor.
    Almond’s truffled macaroni and cheese got several votes, so when they reopen at 1 Ocean Road in Bridgehampton we can all try it.
    Pat Mundus raved about the champagne truffles at Sacred Sweets in Greenport and Elise Marmon treks out to Montauk for the calamari salad at the Harvest. Kathryn Menu orders Michael Rozzi’s fluke tartare at Della Femina every chance she gets. Another choice I concur with.
    As for me, I miss the ants climbing a tree from Wei Fun, formerly in East Hampton, the wasabi mashed potatoes that were served at Tsunami on Three Mile Harbor, and the humongous baked stuffed clams at the old Spring Close House.
    I go out of my way for the cinnamon bread from Breadzilla in Wainscott or Loaves and Fishes in Sagaponack. Sliced and toasted, these cinnamon loaves will send you into sugar shock and practically destroy your toaster, but whatta way to go! Another craving is the chicken, avocado, bacon panino with chip­otle mayonnaise from Mary’s Marvelous in Amagansett. Followed by one of her banana cupcakes with mocha frosting or perhaps a little “Mary O” cookie, a decadent take on an Oreo.
    Mike’s smoked strip­­ed bass dip makes sporadic appearances at Amagansett Sea­food, so I am always thrilled when it’s available. The chicken salad at Goldberg’s Deli in East Hampton is wonderfully retro, chock-full of chunks of white meat, celery, and mayo. Turtle Crossing’s chili-seared shrimp with guacamole and corn relish on a tortilla is another dish I will specifically go out of my way for.
    The muffins from Espresso in Sag Harbor got some votes and I can understand why: They are more like big, round cakes than muffins, always fresh, rich, and moist.
    Some dishes are simply too complex or involved to attempt at home. Who’s going to make ice cream? Fry chicken? Or meticulously dice fluke into perfect cubes for ceviche or tartare? But some of these dishes can be duplicated in the home kitchen and I was able to track a few down.
    Andrew Engle, formerly of the Laundry, kindly shared his recipe for the restaurant’s legendary crab cakes. His craving is often for the halibut salad from Loaves and Fishes, which I was able to find in Anna Pump’s “Summer on a Plate” cookbook. Lastly, I found the recipe for Tsunami’s wasabi mashed potatoes, which is just as good as I remember, perfect served with a piece of grilled fish.
    Enjoy these recipes from the past and present.

Laundry Crab Cakes
    Here is the recipe for the Laundry’s jumbo lump crab cakes. I have not reduced the portions, but you could do this at home. The amounts given will probably serve 10 to 12 people, so make them for a party!

3 lbs. fresh jumbo lump crab meat, picked clean of shells
1/4 cup chives, minced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup dill, minced
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, no crust
1 each red and yellow pepper, diced small
11/2 cups mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and white pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
Panko bread crumbs

    After picking through crab meat for shells, add herbs, peppers, salt and pepper, and Tabasco. Toss gently to combine. Add bread crumbs and toss again. Be careful not to break up the lumps of crab meat. Let mix fall through fingers.
    Add mayo and Dijon and combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. Place thin layer of Panko into bottom of two-and-a-half to three-inch ring molds (or pack by hand). Fill mold with crab meat mixture to just below rim. Sprinkle top of crab cake with more Panko. Pack firmly, then push crab cake gently from mold.
    In nonstick skillet, sauté crab cakes until golden brown on top and bottom. Finish in 425-degree oven for about six minutes. Serve with chipotle vinaigrette drizzled on top, and avocado salsa on bottom.

Chipotle Vinaigrette
3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. cilantro leaves
1/4 cup lime juice
3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
21/2 cups canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

    Place chipotle, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and rice wine vinegar in blender. Blend until smooth. With blender running, add oil to emulsify. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Avocado Salsa
3 ripe avocados, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced small
1 Tbsp. cilantro leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Lime juice, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

    Toss ingredients together, adjust seasoning.

Halibut Salad
    This salad was already being served at Loaves and Fishes in 1980 when Anna Pump bought it. They were using bluefish at the time, but she likes to use halibut or tuna.
    Serves six as main course.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. halibut fillet
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup capers
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
Grated zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper

    Preheat oven to 400. Brush a baking sheet with oil. Cut fish into six equal pieces and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with some of the lemon juice and bake 15 minutes. Cool.
    Place halibut in bowl and, with your hands, break it into small pieces. Add remaining lemon juice, celery, onion, dill, capers, vinegar, lime zest, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly.

Wasabi Mashed Potatoes
    Serves five.
21/2 lbs. russet potatoes
10 Tbsp. butter
1/2 pint cream, warmed
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 to 1/2 cup wasabi powder (watch out!)
1/2 cup sliced scallions for garnish

    Cook potatoes with garlic cloves until soft. Drain in colander, then mash with butter, warm cream, and wasabi powder. Season with salt and pepper. Beat well, but not so much that the potatoes get gluey. Serve topped with sliced scallions.