My own summer at Ruschmeyer’s, in 2014, can only be described as fly-by-night. One minute I was showing up for server orientation and the next minute I was sweating through a ridiculously busy Fourth of July weekend in cutoffs and Converse All-Stars.
Things I recall from that not-so-long-ago summer: Driving to work with two flat tires because there was no time to fix them; wading through a thirsty, fanatical crowd during the World Cup; selling a whole lot of clam pizza. The restaurant was a machine, and, three seasons later, that machine continues to thrive.
Montauk’s Ruschmeyer’s long ago adopted the moniker “adult summer camp.” It’s restaurant-cum-hotel where millennials can go to shed off adultness over a watermelon-jalapeño cocktail (it’s called the Ruschmeyer). The property does, indeed, have a “camp” feel, and by camp I mean not-quite-kitsch. The restaurant’s late night space, known as The Eel, derives its thematic inspiration from the—ok, fine—campy Wes Anderson film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”
Until this season, Ruschmeyer’s was owned by Chelsea Hotels, the company spearheaded by ex-Hard Rock investor Ed Scheetz. The property had been on the market for several years and was finally sold to a new owner—an unnamed private individual—who closed on the 19-room property in mid-winter. Moving forward, Ruschmeyer’s envisions a progressive approach to their branding. “For the season, we are keeping the status quo,” returning chef Savannah Jordan says. Jordan is on her second season at Adult Summer Camp (previous chefs included Roy Wohlars and Max and Eli Sussman), where she’s creating fun vacation food for the masses. Season two under new management will be different, she assures me, but also the same.
So what is the Ruschmeyer’s status quo? It’s a lantern-lit backyard with picnic tables, where guests can order pitchers of cocktails at twilight. It’s a spacious wooden dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Fort Pond somewhat reminiscent of a Maine cabin. The food fits the mood. “We like that we’re the unique space, not right on the ocean,” Jordan tells me. “We have these beautiful oak trees in the back. We like being a destination vacation.”
The result is Catskills-meets-Maine, replete with borscht belt entertainment. The property hosts theme nights: movie nights on Sundays, accompanied by a crab boil (crab and fixins for two, $40); burger and beer Mondays ($25 for both); fish taco Tuesdays ($5 apiece); comedy Wednesdays in the Eel; and reduced price food on Thursdays, including $2 oysters and $15 margarita pizzas. Come for the burrata; stay for the bingo.
As in years past, the dining room menu offers simple, fresh, vacation-friendly food. In addition to the requisite tuna tartare and local oysters, the kitchen serves up burrata with golden raisins and pistachio pistou, kung pao cauliflower, pork rillete croquettes, a trio of lobster sliders, and an ever-popular clam pizza. (And let’s be frank: The pizza is de rigueur.)
But, according to Savannah Jordan, it is the Ruschmeyer’s burger that is unrivaled, a blend of brisket and short rib topped with grilled thick-cut bacon, cambozola cheese (a triple-crème blue), caramelized onions, and Louie dressing. Louie dressing is essentially a Big Mac special sauce, with an ample helping of pickled relish and chopped white onion. Count me in.
Chef Jordan has a formal culinary background—Le Bernadin to follow up her schooling at the Culinary Institute of America—and has parlayed her training into food that’s fun, approachable, and delicious. Montauk requires a certain unrolling of shirtsleeves, and Ruschmeyer’s has harnessed that sentiment entirely.
Late night eaters will rejoice in the knowledge that Ruschmeyer’s is now among a coveted few restaurants offering after-hours eats. A window facing the garden opens at the stroke of midnight, offering margarita, clam, and pesto pizzas (all of which are available on the regular menu) as well as the late-night-only Disco Pizza, which arrives smothered in poutine. Pizzas are available until 2 a.m., but diners beware. They often sell out way earlier.
Will Ruschmeyer’s grow up under new ownership? The answer is, emphatically: No. Adult summer camp and watermelon cocktails under mature oak trees are here to stay, which is precisely the point. “Montauk is the best place ever,” Jordan says. “It’s so special and the characters that live out here year round are story-worthy. What we’re really just trying to do is something unique and special out here—provide good food and a great total vacation.”
Savannah Jordan happily waxes poetic about Montauk in summer. Seasonal work, she says, is “so quick and dirty, but you meet so many fun people and you get to travel everywhere and know people in every town.” For now, though, Jordan isn’t going anywhere—or not for long. Which means that disco pizza is here to stay.
Get there while you can. Ruschmeyer’s closes for the season in early autumn.
This story was originally published in August 2017.