East Village fish shack Butcher Bay’s no keeper Tuesday, March 10th 2009, 4:00 AM
Sunshine/News (Butcher Bay serves up fish in the East Village.)
Not quite everything you hope for in a fish shack.
511 E. Fifth St., near Avenue A. (212) 260-1333
Dinner: Mon.-Sun., 6 p.m. until late.
CUISINE: Fish shack
VIBE: Down and dirty East Village
OCCASION: Neighborhood dinner, bar bites
DON’T-MISS DISH: Scallop pan roast, steamed mussels with bread
AVERAGE PRICE: Appetizers, $6; entrees, $17. No desserts.
RESERVATIONS: Not accepted.
A hell of a lot has changed at 511 E. Fifth St., near Avenue A. It used to be called Seymour Burton.
It wasn’t the prettiest place to look at, but the food was wonderfully
hearty. And they had a great burger. Now Seymour Burton is Butcher Bay,
a wanna-be Pearl Oyster Bar. Adam Cohn, one of the original owners, remains. The burger doesn’t. Big mistake.
The sign on the front door says, “Cash Only.” It should also say,
“No Beer on Tap.” Butcher Bay is the kind of place that should have
beer on tap. It should also have a full bar. It doesn’t. No dessert
At the rear of the dining room, there’s a raw bar with five kinds of
oysters, one kind of clam and 1%BD -pound lobsters. Aside from a steak
and fried chicken, it’s a fish menu. There’s fish and chips, chowder,
boiled Maine lobster and a lobster potpie. There aren’t a whole lot of seafood spots in New York anymore, but there used to be not so long ago.
Did you know that oysters used to thrive in New York Harbor
until the 1900s? So did clams, eel, shrimp, lobsters and conch. Did you
know that in the 1820s there used to be oyster bars along Canal St.
with “all you could eat oysters” for 6 cents? Or, that by 1880, New
York Harbor produced over 700 million oysters a year?
Those days are long gone. You wouldn’t eat oysters out of the harbor right now.
You should eat the oysters at Butcher Bay. Sometimes, there are Beau Soleil or Witch Duck oysters, but most are fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.
And the best thing on the menu is the scallop pan roast. It’s rich and
buttery – studded with small, sweet scallops, bacon, corn and potato.
The menu also has a generous bowl of steamed mussels served with
grilled bread, and tasty shrimp hush puppies.
Seymour Burton served fried clams, and so does Butcher Bay. But
Butcher Bay’s are overbattered and underfried. The fried oyster and
bacon po’ boy isn’t so much a po’ boy as it is fried batter, lettuce,
tomato, bacon and a muck of mayonnaise on a stale French baguette.
I remember having a good oyster chowder at Seymour Burton. But the
oyster chowder at Butcher Bay is thin and flavorless. The Green Goddess
salad is woefully overdressed, not exactly how you like to see your
There are a few cheap wines by the glass and one really awful
sparkling white wine – a Veuve Ambal Blanc de Blancs NV – which my
friend called the Mountain Dew of sparkling wine. The menu and the decor at Butcher Bay suggest fish shack, but this is one halfhearted fish shack.
The most imaginative thing about Butcher Bay is its name. Adam Cohn says that co-owner Bob Giraldi made the name up. But the only Butcher Bay I’ve heard of is a fictional place – a maximum-security prison in the video game Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. Riddick is voiced by Vin Diesel – and like any good hero, he manages to escape.
Perhaps we should take a cue.