Monday, July 6, 2009

Seaside Johnnies: That View’s Gonna Cost You

The recent rainy weather has been wreaking absolute havoc on my jones for soft-shell crab.

I have been wanting one of those little buggers in the worst way since early June. Throwing the whole deep-fried body into a soft bun, legs dangling grossly out of the edges, biting into the delicate, crispy skin to nuggets of juicy, salty meat… perhaps even enjoying one on the beach, breathing in the salt air… dare I dream of such splendor?

I knew of a place in Westchester that might satisfy my craving. So, at the first sign of sun two Thursdays ago, my co-workers Tia, Erin and Jen headed to Rye after work to Seaside Johnnies, a fish and sushi hut right on the Playland Boardwalk with killer views of the Long Island Sound. The hut inflates its prices due to said views and locale, but I suppose people put up with it once they sip a $10 pina colada on the outdoor deck and breathe in the Sound.

And that’s pretty much how we played it, right down to the pina colada. We arrived to Bob Marley singing through the speakers, as if to welcome us on vacation.
Our bubbly, tanned waitress (quite possibly the friendliest gal who has ever waited on me) took our drink orders—there were also $10 Bikini Tinis and $9 Mixed Berry Mojitos to be enjoyed that evening—and then asked us if we were ready with our entrées. You bet.

“I’ll have the soft-shell crab,” I announced, as though my co-workers hadn't been hearing about this critter for the past month. “I’ll have the same,” Tia said bravely, although she had never sampled one before.

What is a soft-shell crab, exactly? When a crab grows, its shell cannot. The crab must shed it (a process called molting), before a larger, harder one can develop. During that window, there is nothing but a soft covering to the little guy, one ideal for deep-frying and eating. There's an excellent article in The Washington Post that further explains the molting process, and how difficult it is for restaurants to serve a truly fresh soft-shell crab.

Just to be certain I was ordering exactly what I wanted, I asked our waitress if the crab came in a roll. Apparently, the sandwich option was only available during lunch. I asked if the chef could throw it in a roll anyway.

“Let me check for you,” she said.

When she came back, she said the chef would indeed put the crab in a roll. Perfect. What she neglected to mention, however, was that the chef would charge an additional $3 for this favor. She also neglected to mention that it would be served as two sandwiches. That’s right, check out one singular order ($26.95 (plus $3)) below. Tia and I could’ve totally split one entrée:
Ridiculous portion aside, did the sandwich do the trick? Kind of. It got rid of my craving, but the roll was hard and a little too large for the crab (it’s served this way for lunch, so the fact that it wasn’t on the dinner menu isn’t much of an excuse), and the crab, while nicely breaded, just didn’t have that juicy, meaty interior I love. Perhaps it was fried too far into the molting process, when the soft shell has already started to harden. The accompanying fries however, were top-notch, as was my pina colada. The meal as a whole was good, just not a home run. But, still. It’s a soft-shell crab sandwich. On the beach. Kind of hard not to be satisfied.

“Sharon, this is amazing,” Tia said dreamily, taking another hearty chomp out of her own sandwich.

I was impressed. Tia was eating with abandon. Soft shell crab had been an acquired taste for me.

“I’m glad you like it,” I said. And here’s where I put my foot in my mouth, something I often do. “You’re even eating the middle! The orange guts in there were a little dicey for me the first time.”

The chewing stopped.

Tia inspected her sandwich more closely. “Oh yeah,” she frowned. Erin and Jen threw me disgusted looks.

“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. I tried to offer up an appropriate explanation. “I’m an ass.”

Tia took another moment to examine the lil fellow’s insides, shrugged, and took another bite.

Here’s a look at Jen’s sushi, which she enjoyed—she was impressed with the sheer amount of fish in her rolls. She got the Sunny Roll ($12.95): salmon, avocado, masago, spicy salmon and tempura crunch (left); and the Fantasy Tuna Roll ($14.95): cooked white tuna, spicy tuna and avocado topped with peppered tuna:
Dear, sweet Erin, always up for a good time, but a hater of all things seafood, ordered the ½ pound burger ($12.95), not pictured. "Good" was the verdict, but it was made better by the setting.

And that verdict holds true for Seaside Johnnies as a whole. I can’t say I’ve had spectacular food there, but I have had plenty of spectacular evenings. It’s a wonderful, soothing location … right up to the moment you receive the tab.

Seaside Johnnies
94 Dearborn Avenue
Rye, NY
(914) 921-6104

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