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September 29th, 2003

Claudio?ɬ?s

by Kathy McVann

There is no waterfront restaurant on Long Island older or better-known than Claudio’s. The village of Greenport has been around for over 350 years and Claudio’s has been there for 134 of those years. The oldest single family-run restaurant in the United States, this is a destination not to be missed. It is a day trip that everyone who spends any time on the East End should make just for the view and the award-winning clam chowder. This great spot has much more than a wonderful restaurant. There is also a fabulous, fun-filled pier featuring a raw bar, extensive casual menu and great drinks. Listen to the live bands and watch the boats go by or come by boat and watch the great bands go by. A full service marina, separate crab house and gift shop round out this island of visual delight and great food. Once or twice a year, my essentially sedentary husband gets a wild hair and goes off on a long, long bike ride to somewhere on Eastern Long Island. Anywhere that is more than 35 miles from the Westhampton Beach Cathouse I share with Thom and a few furry friends with a great restaurant can become a destination for Thom’s one-man bikeathon. Last Saturday at about 2:00 in the afternoon, I saw him rolling his black Schwinn bike with its real wicker basket on the handlebars out of the garage and suspected that dinner in a distant restaurant was in my immediate future.

“Why don’t you put 50 pounds of rocks in the basket and ride 50 miles before sunset?” I asked sweetly. I am always trying to think of ways for Thom to get more exercise, because it’s good for his health and it’s a well-established fact that a healthy man is a bigger earner.

“The 50 miles before sunset is a deal. I am on my way to Greenport via the Shelter Island route. Let’s meet for dinner at Claudio’s about sunset. I’ll pick up the rocks along the way, so they’ll be fresh. You can have them for dinner!” was his reply, as he rode away going east on South Road.

I began my preparations for the drive to Greenport by making myself a light snack and then going off to the bedroom for a short nap with my favorite cat, King Tut, who is dearer to my heart than even Alaskan King Crab. I fell asleep and had a dream of Thom riding his bike in the Tour de France, with me following his arduous route in the back seat of a chauffeured Rolls with Tut on my lap. We stopped at all the five-star restaurants along the way. I always ordered the chiefs special; Tut had the fish and Thom had the rocks in butter sauce.

After our nap, Tut and I awoke and felt the urge to shop and eat fish. Tut felt one, I felt both. I gave Tut a can of Tuna, which he ate at once and went right back to sleep. My internal woman’s compass always points to the closest good shopping along the chosen route. Going from Westhampton Beach to Greenport, my compass pointed to the Tanger Mall in Riverhead as the spot for a light shop or a mega-shop as dictated. A visit to the Tanger Mall would also give me a leg up on the needed research to write my East End shopping column for the next issue of the Soho Journal. I could hear Ralph Lauren calling my name as my car turned north off Riverhead’s West Main Street (Route 25) onto Tanger Drive.

Two hours in a woman’s life seems but a fleeting moment when she is surrounded by 250 or so name brand discount stores. The Tanger Mall is a holy place for the church of the much-blessed bargain. Here the faithful are shown the way to 40, 50 or even 60% off. The truly enlightened leave with hearts and shopping bags filled with manna from DKNY, Off Saks, Barneys and many other sacred sites. My two-hour tour of the holyland was over too soon and as I struggled to the car with the bounty of the merchant-gods, I knew I had to step on it to meet Mr. Bicycle-Man at Claudio’s. Shopping had already given me a sharp appetite and I still had to face a 40-minute drive down the North Fork. Route 58 became route 25 at Homeside Florist and Route 25 took me eastward through the farm fields and hamlets of the North Fork ending at Front Street in Greenport. A right turn and one short block later I was at the circle in front of Claudio’s.

The view from the parking lot just as the sun was setting was both awe-inspiring and appetite-building. I parked looking across the Harbor at Shelter Island. As I got out of my car I spotted Thom’s bike chained to a piling on the waterfront. My heart leapt for joy because I knew I would not have to wait any longer to see the object of my longstanding affection, Claudio’s Menu. Since we could eat in only one of the eateries on the Claudio property, this review will only be of the main restaurant. The menu is truly extensive, as is the wine list. But I must limit myself to a few parts of this most magnificent of menus. Perhaps a glass of wine at the bar could help me tell so much in so few words and also get to the real task at hand, that of selecting my dinner.

The founder, Manuel Claudio, installed the magnificent Victorian bar in 1886. Like myself, old Manuel was a notorious pack rat. He happened to be in New York City one day in 1885 when he passed the site where the Bowery Hotel was being torn down to make way for something new. The massive 10-foot high back bar of solid, hand-carved hardwoods, huge plates of beveled mirrors and etched glass caught his famous roving eye. He made a deal on the spot and went straight to the Fulton Street Docks where he hired a barge. Being an experienced seaman, he had his find back in Greenport before the first hard blow and soon he and his salty companions were setting their grog down on the two-piece, two-inch-thick mahogany bar top and leaning their bent elbows on the Italian Marble handrails attached by solid brass fittings.

As I sat at this historic bar and looked around at the rest of the equally interesting decor, I read the menu. Fresh oysters on the half shell, fresh clams on the half shell and fresh steamers led off on the long list of appetizers. Other seafood favorites like baked clams, jumbo shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and more bounty of the sea filled the bill. Just then I noticed Thom talking with a tall, attractive woman at the end of the bar. I could only see her back, but I went right down to break it up. She turned out to be Jan Claudio, one of the owners, who was telling my Tour de France rider to take his helmet off because he looked like a dork. I told her he was a dork, helmet or not. She agreed and as we started to talk about Tanger Mall, Thom wandered off. While Jan and I discussed the exciting bargains that filled my trunk, I saw Thom with a tall, rugged-looking gent. I suggested to Jan that we go over to them and see if we could meet Mr. Rugged. Jan said she already knew him and she was not sure it was worth the 23-foot journey. Mr. Rugged was none other than Bill Claudio, Jan’s husband of many years and another owner of the Claudio complex.

As the tall couple bid us adieu and went back to the joys of running their big, busy restaurant, my own live-in lover whispered those sweetest of words in my ear: “Our table is ready.” For appetizers, I needed baked clams and Mr. Bicycle man asked for a dozen oysters on the half shell. Neptune did not provide Claudio’s kitchen with the fruits of the deep in vane. The chef paid proper homage to the briny King in both the preparation and presentation of the tasty morsels adorning our appetizer plates. I took a moment off from my munching on the superb baked clams to announce my choice from the dinner menu over the slurping sounds emanating from the direction of my own walrus as his oysters disappeared.

Dinner for me would be the Fisherman’s Sampler, a platter containing generous portions of golden fried flounder, shrimp and scallops. Thom, who has been known to do more damage to a lobster than Darryl Hanna, was over in the corner of the dining room eyeing the black beauties in Claudio’s cold filtered salt-water tank. He soon returned speaking well of “a big two pounder” he had admired which, oddly enough, was no longer in the tank.

“Yum, yum our food has come,” said the now fork-bearing dork across the table and we dug in. Soon Thom and the table started to show the effects of his savage attack on the “two pounder.” I have often tried to show him the more delicate “uptown ladies method” of lobster eating, but at least he had not used his feet even once as he tore his tender victim apart and drenched the white sweet pieces in butter before popping them into his smiling mouth. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the golden treasure before me in the elegant, mannerly and dignified style of someone who belongs at the Queen’s table. On to desert and coffee?ɂ

The music of the grand finale in the hit show “Feasting with the Claudios” is called “Sweet Endings.” This number is always sure to leave the diners humming the praises of this great restaurant. How about Apple Pie a La Haagen-Dazs Mode, Original Recipe Cheese Cake, a Hot Fudge Sundae or a Claudio Commotion before the curtin comes down? As our blood sugar rose, so did the quality of the company as Jerry Tuthill, Bea Claudio Tuthill, and Cathy Claudio Skrezc, the three remaing owners of this complex of culinary joys, music and good times, joined us for an after dinner coffee. Great job guys! Thom’s bike was safely stowed in the trunk of my car and, feeling full and happy, I let Thom drive. En route home, I fell into one of those wonderful naps brought on by the motion of the car and a full belly.

-Kathy McVann

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