What I thought would be a bad experience turned out to be the best. We’ve driven by 440 West Lake Drive countless times but never ventured into the unassuming building to eat.
Lured by new owners, and more importantly a new chef, we stopped by Harbor Montauk early one Wednesday night. Still, the empty parking lot scared me. My husband, ever the Buddhist, was encouraging. “You never know what the experience might hold.”
Once seated at the picnic tables overlooking the Montauk Marine Basin, and handed the menus, I realized my fears were unfounded. We were in the more-than-capable hands of chef Roy Wohlars, who has worked at South Edison, the Riverhead Project, the original Moby’s at Rick’s Crabby Cafe and Ruschmeyer’s in the last six years. Clearly, this is not his first rodeo.
The chef has built a relationship with Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett and features their herbs, vegetables and wheat berries prominently in his kitchen. Smoked bluefish adorn farm greens, radish and dill, dressed with buttermilk, homemade creme fraiche and Amagansett Sea Salt, a local twist on a Caesar salad. Creamed kale (kale, garlic, shallot, lemon juice, heavy cream, salt) over Montauk Shellfish Company’s Montauk Pearls fried in cornstarch, minus the cheese, was the chef’s twist on oysters Rockefeller.
Lobster is poached in butter for eight minutes, tossed with celery and aioli on a Martin’s potato bun, and a farm salad on the side, puts this dish on my lobster roll short-list.
Wohlars raises the bar on classic seaside dishes like corn flour-crusted (gluten-free) calamari with homemade aioli, parsley, basil and lemon. Dayboat scallops, sliced paper-thin over oyster mushrooms, are topped with micro-cilantro. Lioni’s burrata is served with fava beans, basil and Carissa’s sourdough bread.
Boats sparkle and clouds reflect on the surface of the water at sunset. Old-school tunes and a friendly wait staff are some perks beyond the food. Famous rap artists have been known to bust a rhyme here, later in the evening, but make no mistake, the food is the star at Harbor Montauk.
Spaghettini, tossed with Atlantic blue claw jumbo lump crabmeat, mint, chili, a smidgen of toasted breadcrumbs and a lobster roll that defies mere words were among the best entrees. Chef Wohlers isn’t fooling around when it comes to shellfish. Lobster is poached in butter for eight minutes, tossed with celery and aioli on a Martin’s potato bun, and a farm salad on the side, puts this dish on my lobster roll short-list.
The short but sweet dessert menu includes strawberry ice cream, shortbread and basil, served in a ball jar and a selection of coconut, cashew and peanut truffles, made with 72-percent French chocolate whipped with heavy cream into a grenache.
Sometimes you just have to face your fear. Go early and you will be pleasently surprised.
After the kitchen closes down, Wohlars checks on the Booby Trap, next door, Harbor Montauk’s version of fast food. All Greek all the time. We went back for cheeseburgers (so good I had to get two) Greek grilled cheese, Greek salad and Greek fries.
“If it tastes that good, it can’t be bad,” my husband said.