A horde of sailboats line the wooden docks of City Island’s marinas. The clanging of heavy fishing gear directs you to the fishermen who broadcast the morning’s catch. The salty air graces your face and fills your nose with that unmistakable, undeniable perfume of fried clams, buttery lobster, and sweet, luscious ice cream sundaes.
Now part of the Bronx, City Island originally was attached to the town of Pelham some 115 years ago. These days, people from all over Westchester, the Bronx, and Manhattan escape to the one-mile-long strip of City Island Avenue for a taste of summer and New England-style comfort food. With more than 30 restaurants to choose from, there’s something for everyone: from your quick shoot-and-go raw bars and mega lobsters to a French bistro and a farm-to-table café.
Just across the Island’s bridge is Sea Shore Restaurant and Marina (591 City Island Ave 718-885-0300; seashorerestaurant.com), the closest you’ll get to a fine-dining restaurant on this casual briny enclave. The menu offers more than 150 items from sushi to wood-roasted snapper, pasta, or barbecue chicken. Feasts for two ($86.95) are its biggest seller. Sea Shore has live music every Friday and Saturday, and happy hour specials are every night Monday through Friday; try the wild berry Mojito, made with fresh mixed berries, muddled mint, and finished with their house-made rum blend.
Head over to Sea Shore’s sister restaurants down the street, Sammy’s Fish Box Restaurant (41 City Island Ave 718-885-0920; sammysfishbox.com), and Sammy’s Shrimp Box (64 City Island Ave 718-885-3200; shrimpboxrestaurant.com), for a more laid-back atmosphere. Both eateries specializing in chowders, fried fish platters, and homemade sangria.
Since 1977, the family-run Original Crab Shanty (361 City Island Ave 718-885-1810; originalcrabshanty.com) has been dishing out some of the biggest portions of seafood on the Island. Deals on Alaskan crab legs and platters for two abound ($61-$69). The reel-and-net décor will put you in the mood for a Titanic-sized lobster dinner that includes the Shanty’s famous garlic bread, one side dish, soup, coffee, and dessert for $27.95, arguably the best bargain on the Island.
For a historic (1946), fine-dining experience, The Lobster Box Restaurant (34 City Island Ave 718-885-1952; lobsterboxrestaurant.com) is the place to go for—what else?—lobster. Owner Bill Lambos proves you can have your lobster “any way you like it.” The restaurant has a tank of 500 lobsters. New to the Lobster Box is its clam bar, where raw clams and oysters can be ordered with the eatery’s popular strawberry cheesecake martini.
If you crave an Italian spin on seafood, go to Artie’s Steak and Seafood (394 City Island Ave 718-885-9885; artiesofcityisland.com), where you can find Bronx favorites like eggplant Parmesan, fried calamari, and pork chops with hot vinegar peppers. Or there’s Portofino Ristorante (555 City Island Ave 718-885-1220; portofinocityisland.com), which offers scungili salad; linguine with clams; and the special lobster Allargata, a two-pound lobster that is deep-fried, then sautéed with garlic and hot spices ($44.95 for lunch, $46.95 for dinner).
Expertly done chowder ($5 for 16 ounces) is served at Chef Rafael’s To-Go Express (415 City Island Ave 718-885-9656), an unmarked take-out joint that won first place for its New England clam chowder five consecutive years. Locals go crazy for it, as well as for the new lobster chowder. Chef Rafael Ortega also offers Mexican specialties, wraps, sandwiches, salads, and a good, old-fashioned burger with lots of topping choices.
Sugar and Spice (536 City Island Ave 718-885-9229; sugarandspiceonline.com) is half pastry shop, half brunch café. Chef Alex Pertsovsky and ex-Gramercy Tavern Pastry Chef Virginia Ng change the menu weekly. Try the lobster roll made with a buttery house-made bun, fresh lobster, and house-pickled vegetables. The sweet and tangy granola and the cupcakes are other tasty treats. There’s a Triple Threat cupcake made of chocolate cake, gooey Nutella filling, and white chocolate buttercream that is decadent and delicious.
If it’s frozen desserts you crave, Lickety Split (295 City Island Ave 718-885-9654; licketyspliticecream.biz) is the local ice cream parlor, which serves 20 all-natural, hard ice creams, plus gelato, Italian ice, sorbet, and a sugar-free frozen yogurt. It is famous for its freshly baked apple pie and chocolate brownie à la mode. There is also espresso, coffee, giant cookies, and a Bronx favorite, the egg cream.
The Black Whale (279 City Island Ave 718-885-3657; dineatblackwhale.com) is also known for its desserts. Combinations like a two-scoop hot-fudge sundae served over angel food cake, the peach Melba shake, and the hot-fudge fondue keep things creative. It also does brunch with traditional eggs Benedict, pancakes, and corned beef hash. The price is great for families: $10.95 ($6.95 for kids under 12) for a main course with juice and coffee.
Alsace-born Stephane Kane brings his French home cooking to City Island with the romantic Bistro SK (273 City Island Ave 718-885-1670). Classics like escargots and moules frites are the bestsellers. Other dishes to sample include house-made charcuterie, pâté, duck rillette, assorted cheeses, or a succulent Brie cheeseburger.
Belly-up to Tony’s Pier Restaurant (1 City Island Ave 718-885-1424), a no-frills raw bar and restaurant. Go for the oysters and clams on the half shell, fresh-shucked before your hungry eyes. Seating is limited to a separate space with a couple of tables. Johnny’s Reef Restaurant (2 City Island Ave, 718-885-2086) is a cafeteria-style pick-up-and-go place. The restaurant’s fried fish list is by far the most impressive of all: deep-fried lobster tails, fried scallops, and fried snow-crab legs are very popular. After you pick up your order, go outside and sit at a picnic table overlooking the Bay and the Manhattan skyline. A scene so perfect and tranquil, just think—you’re taking a New England vacay without the tolls and 95-North traffic.