If you drew a Venn diagram outlining the best qualities of a seafood shack and the best qualities of a dive bar, the two would have more in common than not. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should have no more than two televisions, and bonus if there are none whatsoever. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should be affordable. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should be the kind of place where all classes of people from all walks of life can feel comfortable congregating together, rubbing elbows on the well-worn bar top (or tree stump, if the case may have it), and generally forgetting about the places from whence they came.
And if we’re getting to the heart of what makes a great seafood shack, that convivial air is paramount. That, and the food, of course. As restaurateur Aaron Lefkove, co-owner of two supremely successful Littleneck outposts in New York City, put it to me recently, the inspiration for opening a New England-style seafood spot in Brooklyn came about in the most casual way possible: at a backyard barbecue with his friend and business partner, Andy Curtin. “We literally started talking while grilling clams,” he told me. “We were like, ‘Oh, a place like this is dope. There’s nowhere like this near us other than on Long Island – we should make this happen.'”
Of course, with great (albeit casual) inspiration comes great responsibility. “It was important for us to get the food right,” Lefkove noted. “We needed to do that justice. The food we serve is very much of a certain geographical region – the full-bellied clam roll, steamers, lobster roll, raw oysters – those are the staples. Those share the same DNA with the stuff you’d find a clapboard shack on the side of the road.”
Décor was important as well. “Aesthetically, we walk a fine line between tasteful and becoming a Long John Silver’s,” Lefkove joked. That’s intentional, too. In my recent search for the greatest seafood shacks in America – or, at least, the greatest “clapboard shack”-style seafood shacks in America – one trend became clear: an inverse relationship between fanciness and food quality. Indeed, what tied the best seafood shacks together – and this research, while not exhaustive, was certainly exhausting – was a universal disregard for interior decorating. The best places let the natural atmosphere communicate authenticity for them. Put simply: when you’re on the waterfront, you don’t need nice seat cushions. When you’ve got a view of the Pacific, and you’re serving hours-old catch of the day, you don’t need to worry about silverware because a basket and some toothpicks will do.
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