City Island is one of the best not quite kept secrets among New Yorkers — a quaint fishing village improbably situated on the far-flung banks of the Bronx. And for landlocked urban dwellers, hoping to make the most of the final, fleeting weeks of summer, it’s an ideal weekend day trip; requiring an hour or less drive to Long Island Sound, or a simple subway ride on the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park.
And what do you do once you get there? In addition to lounging on Orchard Beach, browsing through antique shops, chartering a boat or visiting the Nautical Museum, the 1.5 mile-long island is home to 31 cafes and restaurants — many of them seafood-based — which is astounding, considering there’s only 45 other commercial businesses serving the 4,000-some odd residents. So needless to say, your best plan of attack is to eat your way through as many as possible — from the City Island Lobster House overhanging the water and The Black Whale and its elegant garden seating to Johnny’s Reef, with its buckets of deep-fried clams.
City Island Lobster House: The very first eatery you’ll see upon crossing the bridge between City Island and the mainland is the Lobster House, offering plenty of outdoor seating overlooking Long Island Sound, and the restaurant’s own marina. An extensive menu offers seafood in every possible permutation, from Grilled Bluefish to Fried Oysters and Soft Shell Crabs. But you’ll doubtless want to hone in on the eponymous Maine-based crustaceans, ordered as part of a Shellfish Extravaganza (with crab legs, shrimp and steamed clams), a Lobster Bake Special (accompanied by mussels, chowder and ice cream), or in the Lobster House Ultimate Feast for Two; lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, scungilli and calamari, piled over a bed of linguine with red or white sauce.
The Black Whale: If you’d just as soon take a break from seafood, this elegant restaurant on the main drag of City Island serves eclectic New American cuisine, such as Seared Duck Breast Salad with pistachios and dried cherries, Orecchiette Pasta with white beans and tomatoes, and Braised Pork Osso Bucco with mashed sweet potatoes, which can be enjoyed in their tranquil, tree-shaded backyard.
The Crab Shanty: A staple since the 1970’s, this family friendly establishment serves a massive selection of seafood, with a marked emphasis on crabs. So indulge your crustacean obsession with Lump Crab Cakes, Crab-stuffed Clams, Snow and King Crab Legs, Fried Soft Shell Crabs, Dungeness Crabs, and Crabs served Baltimore-style, or go for broke with the aptly named Banquet for Crab Lovers, an eye-popping spread of Maryland Crab Cakes, Hard-shell Garlic Crabs, Stuffed Dungeness Crabs, Soft Shell Crabs and Snow Crab Legs, served with french fries and corn on the cob.
Sammy’s Fish Box: Whether you choose to dine at Sammy’s original restaurant (the Fish Box, which opened in 1966), or their nearby, Shrimp Box offshoot, circa 2005, you’ll find an endless array of fresh seafood, like Maine Lobsters, Maryland Crabs, Long Island Oysters and Clams, and a variety of fish with the occasional Caribbean flourish (like Piri Piri Shrimp and tons of rum-laded frozen drinks), as well as Sammy’s “famous” complimentary offerings, including two house-baked breads, a relish tray and mixed olives.
Johnny’s Reef: You’ll find this casual, but overwhelmingly popular fried shellfish shanty at the farthest point of the island, equipped with rows of picnic tables with unparalleled views of Long Island Sound. Relatively unchanged since the 1950’s, you’ll can still order lots of fried seafood priced well below market (think snapper and smelts, shrimp and scallops, squid, oysters, clams, soft shell crabs and even frogs legs), as well as free-flowing sangria and a raw bar, serving littlenecks and cherrystones for $1 each, and red and white clam chowder.