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B’KLYN LUNDY’S STILL THE BEST

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Lundy’s is to Brooklyn’s culinary world as the Dodgers were to its sports world. But unlike the Dodgers who, sadly, were spirited away from their home base to Los Angeles in 1957, Lundy’s was resuscitated and continues to thrive here in Brooklyn.

Forced to shut down after the death of its founder-owner, Irving Lundy, in 1977, Lundy’s was reopened in the same Sheepshead Bay location in 1997 and has been doing a roaring business there ever since.

This spring, a new Lundy’s, based on the original, opened in Manhattan’s Times Square.

The Lundy’s story is one of those heartwarming rags-to-riches sagas so common to New York City and to Brooklyn in particular. In the early 1900s, the tall, redheaded Irving Lundy started his career by selling clams from a pushcart in Sheepshead Bay.

By the late 1930s, his restaurant was serving seafood to hundreds of people on a summer evening, with hundreds more circling tables, peering over the shoulders of other diners, eagerly waiting for a table to become available. While some Brooklyn families flocked to Lundy’s to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and Mother’s and Father’s days, others made Sundays at Lundy’s and the shore dinner their custom after a day at Coney Island or Brighton Beach.

The Brooklyn Lundy’s is now owned by the Tam Restaurant Group and continues to be a favorite family restaurant for locals as well as a popular stop for tourists.

Vaguely Spanish in style with stucco walls, a red-tiled roof, and striped red and white awnings, the Lundy’s building still sprawls over an entire block (though the restaurant only occupies about half of that today). Inside is a large open dining room dominated by a central, sunken table-filled expanse, a busy open kitchen against one wall, a central bar and wine rack, and a huge tank of live shellfish where lobsters the size of small dogs preside.

Big stained-glass lanterns of diamond-shaped blue and white glass hang from the ceiling. The tables, spread far enough apart for privacy, are covered in ochre tablecloths topped with white paper coverings. The waiters, dressed in white jackets and black ties, as they have been since the restaurant’s inception, add to the Old World ambiance.

Lundy Bros. Times Square (several of the original Lundy family members were involved in the original Lundy’s debut including a couple of Irving’s brothers, hence the "brothers" in the title) comes off as a slick version of the original. All the basic design elements of the space are fashioned after the Brooklyn restaurant: high ceilings with the same stained-glass lanterns, blue, white and ochre color scheme and black-and-white photographs of old Brooklyn on the stairway leading up to the enormous dining room. But the setting itself, on the bustling corner of Broadway and 50th Street, lends itself to a more urban clientele and ambiance.

At lunch men and women in business suits, as well as a few tourists surrounded me.

Whether in Brooklyn or Manhattan, Lundy’s is a seafood lover’s paradise offering clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp and more. The shellfish were tender and tasted fresh from the ocean. Crab, lobster and scallops were served in generous portions and cooked to perfection under executive chef Tom Tedesco.

I went to the Sheepshead Bay Lundy’s for dinner and the Times Square Lundy’s for lunch. Both restaurants have the same expanded version of the lunch menu at dinnertime. The lunch menu is divided into: raw bar, shellfish samplers, starters, pizza, sandwiches, salads, fresh fish, lobster, entrees and family style side dishes; the dinner menu expands on these choices with fried fish, pastas, specialties of the house, meat and poultry dishes and surf and turf.

We started our dinner with the double-tier seafood sampler - six clams, six oysters, six jumbo shrimp, eight mussels and a 1-pound steamed lobster, all served on seaweed with an oniony vinaigrette and a cocktail sauce for dipping. All were plump, juicy and most importantly, fresh. The only preparation, other than the dipping sauces, was the topping on the mussels. They were lightly steamed and served cold with a tomato-based mixture that reminded me of gazpacho - lots of finely chopped spring onion and parsley.

Accompanied by a generous basket of warm, homemade foccacia and tiny biscuits - for which Lundy’s is understandably famous - the seafood sampler could easily have served as dinner for two, especially with one of the generous side dishes. (The creamed spinach, for instance, is dense and just creamy enough without being over the top.)

Of the fried selections on the menu, the fish and chips got my vote for most tasty, and my husband, who is English and thus presumes to be an expert, agreed.

"I use scrod for fish and chips," explained Tedesco. "It has a density that keeps it intact during the frying process." The end result is fish that retains the delicacy of its flavor within a luscious, golden fried crust. Served in wax-coated newspaper with his glorious freshly prepared fries, this is an indulgence in fried food well worth trying.

The soft-shell crabs, on the other hand, lost the subtlety of their flavor and delicacy, after being too heavily crusted and fried.

Select dishes on the menu are marked F.W.I.L. (for Frederick William Irving Lundy) as house specialties. I recommend the crab cakes (lots of crabmeat, in these colorful, spicy, crisp cakes. Beautifully presented with yellow and red peppers, carrots and snap peas); Mom’s blue crab and artichoke dip (I’ve tasted many versions of this as an appetizer but this was the best - large chunks of crab meat and artichoke, good and creamy); and the jumbo shrimp cocktail. (Where DO they get those tender, huge-yet-flavorful shrimp?)

In general I found the dishes that required more complex preparation tended to be less successful - the seafood penne a la vodka, for example, lost the individual flavors of each type of seafood and the calamari were tough. The jumbo stuffed shrimp missed the mark, too. But why mess with a good thing anyway when you have such heavenly basic ingredients as those shrimp?

Desserts were ample, rich and all-American - cheesecake, apple pie, Boston cream pie, baked Alaska, and the piece de resistance, a take-off on the s’more that’s worth ordering if for no other reason than to examine its architecture!

In fact, the s’more dessert ended up being the most interestingly flavored confection. A box constructed of graham crackers, containing melted marshmallow and whipped cream, sits on a pool of caramel sauce, and the whole is topped with melted chocolate. I don’t even like s’mores, but this successfully followed in the current trend of elevating ’50s favorites to a new, more interesting flavor level.

The other dessert worth mentioning was the Boston cream pie, a dessert I’ve always found too bland and dry to bother with. (It’s traditionally made with two layers of white cake separated by custard, the whole covered in chocolate icing.) This version was moist and subtle and focused on the too often overlooked simple goodness of vanilla and chocolate.

While it’s nice that New Yorkers and tourists can get a taste of Lundy’s in Manhattan now, you still have to go to Brooklyn for the real experience. There, looking out on the fishing boats in Sheepshead Bay in the hustle and bustle of the huge dining room, listening to the myriad accents and languages that make up Brooklyn’s diverse population, you get a taste of what Brooklyn is really all about - as well as a sampling of the marvelous seafood from the waters that surround it.

 

Lundy Bros. Times Square [50th Street at Broadway, (212) 586-0022] and Lundy Bros. Sheepshead Bay [1901 Emmons Ave. at Ocean Avenue, (718) 743-0022] accept all major credit cards. Price range for lunch entrees: $13-$24; dinner entrees: $13-$37. Web site, currently under construction, is www.LundyBros.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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