Any serious seafood fan would rather be gutted and filleted than serve anything non-local/not-so-fresh, so here’s the catch of the day according to Colin Mather, fishmonger-with-a-following and owner of the Seafood Shop in Wainscott.
“Porgies!” he says. “We’ve never seen so many fly out the door.” Porgies are a foot-long local fish with thick scales, soft white flesh and lots of little bones, and it’s interesting (and amusing) that this former “trash fish” is now trendy. But it makes sense. Porgies are abundant, flavorful and caught by local bay fishers. They’re great for cooking whole, as are black sea bass, another local fish that runs through the summer into fall.
“Whole fish are terrific!” says Mather. “The bones and head add such flavor. I stuff them with lemon, rosemary, salt and pepper and oil the outside with a light olive oil and sprinkle on Kosher salt … this prevents it sticking on the grill and gives it a crust on the outside. Medium-high grill for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the fish. Yum!”
As for choice of beverage, Mather says, “I’m a wine guy. Whites for my fish, like a nice chardonnay. I only drink beer when I’m done cutting the grass.”
He’s got more recommendations for fresh fare off the Montauk boats: “Gotta love the local sea scallops; they’re divine. Right now, the striped bass and fluke are hard to beat, too. The striped bass continues to run through the fall almost till the holidays. The fall also brings Peconic Bay scallops. They’re sweet like candy; I eat them raw. Delicious! And I absolutely love cod when it’s in season — winter — because of its mild flavor and flakey consistency.”
Business-wise, the shop also provides for a great number of clam and lobster bakes, raw bars and other classic seafood combos popular at catered events.
“We also do many things that other retail markets don’t,” he says. “If you can think it, and we have the tools, we’ll make it happen for you.”
But does a man elbow-deep in the fins, scales and gills of the daily catch also hang with the fishes on his rare days off? Turns out, he loves to be on the water, rod and reel in hand.
“I do go fishing, believe it or not,” he says. “In the spring and early summer, I fish for striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. I go to bay areas such as Long Beach in Sag Harbor. I have a certain ‘special’ area around Bay Point. Then in the fall, I like to go on the ocean, near jetties, for striped bass. Once in a while I’ll go on a friend’s boat, but nothing too far offshore.”
Mather grew up in Denmark, New York City and North Haven on the South Fork, where he learned to fish with his dad, and where he still lives. “When I was a kid, we would go out on our little blue dory. I remember when I caught two porgies at once on double hooks. I thought that was the best. Two fish in one cast! I also remember throwing back all those blowfish. What I wouldn’t give to get them back now!”
So, how did he get into the fish biz? In 1986, after graduating from Pierson High School, he met Joe Ambrose in an auto repair shop. Ambrose did the clambakes for the Seafood Shop. “I was waiting to get into the military, which didn’t happen, due to flat feet, and he was looking for someone to help out at parties,” says Mather. “After that summer, John Haessler [the late owner] asked me if I would work in the store ‘for a while.’ The rest is history. John became my mentor, in fish and in life, for the next 13 years.”
Mather took over the shop in 2000, and watched over the years as the demand for local seafood grew. His awareness of the challenges facing the local fishing industry and understanding of environmental/sustainability issues also grew, and now informs his perspective on this important aspect of the East End economy. And his love of seafood is shared by his partner Shannon and two sons.
“Our perfect seafood meal is grey sole for my oldest son, Jack. Lobster for Joel. For Shannon, she likes tuna, and me, I pick from everyone’s plate because I like all of it,” he says. “As long as we’re all together, that’s what counts for me.”