When leftovers inspire you to do new things with the stuff growing in your garden, it is safe to say you had less of a dinner and more of a culinary experience the night before. This was the much welcome case with my refreshingly awesome Sunday dinner at Ruschmeyer’s, a restaurant and hotel that is arguably Montauk’s biggest hipster hotspot.
As a waitress, I was around to see the renovation of the property as The Second House Tavern, and my dining companion Jessie spent summers living on the property in years past, back when the entire staff from the Shagwong shared bunks in the rustic accommodations behind the restaurant. These have since been made over by the team at King and Grove, a lifestyle hotel brand responsible for some not so subtle changes to Montauk, including the Surf Lodge.
Some of the players responsible for the success of the Lodge – which has since been purchased by Michael Walrath – have turned their creative efforts on Ruschmeyer’s, where the idea of summer camp for adults has been emphasized by outdoor screenings of films like Dirty Dancing and a Rasta inspired, ping-pong table laden “Sand Bar,” sponsored this summer by Blackwell Rum. (Let it be known that the drinks are of the dangerously delicious persuasion.) To Jessie, it’s kind of like old times in the sand pit at Lakeside — if you’re dated enough to remember — except you know, on acid. Seriously, the whole scene is a trip, and we mean that in the nicest way.
Once Jessie and I had some good visuals going, we were whisked to a corner table in the attractively mess-hall-inspired dining room by general manager Ray Pirkle, who proceeded to unobtrusively spoil the s*** out of us, along with the rest of the staff.
We were treated to a tasting of appetizers that included creamy burrata cheese, an anchovy-topped Caesar derived from local arugula (the menu’s vegetable of the moment) and a crusty flatbread pizza garnished with littleneck clams. A seared tuna salad with fresh mint, watermelon, cucumber and a fantastic chili dressing stood out — what a great and unexpected combination of flavors.
Hawk-eying the servers as usual, we noted that they all seemed so abundantly and graciously happy that they could diffuse any ill situation upon contact. Perhaps this is because everyone we had encountered, including our deliciously cute British bartender, Colin, expressed that they are so happy – blessed, in fact – to be living at the beach. It seems like they get it.
Before our entrees arrived, Co-executive chef Phil Winser popped out of the kitchen to discuss little things, like why he serves crudités of fresh local radishes with oil and Amagansett Sea Salt. He and a partner, Ben Towill, are the team behind The Fat Radish on the Lower East Side, but he has worked his way through kitchens in less-inspired places to get to our seaside land of milk and honey – or fish and kale, as it were. He is genuinely thrilled to deal with purveyors who catch and grow what they sell, and it is as refreshing to see someone find so much enjoyment in his work as it is to partake in his labors.
“With so many local products, it’s just a chef’s dream out here,” he said, eyes wild like a kid in a candy store, before sliding back into the kitchen.
Our entrees consisted of a swordfish steak with a sweet corn and summer squash succotash, and one of those $21 bacon cheddar burgers that somehow manages to completely justify its absurd price. Fries were crisped to perfection and the burger was obscenely rare, as it should be, and oozing with cheese and bacon, two of my favorite fat groups. The use of Sir Kensington’s ketchup must be a big deal — considering I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a restaurant that doesn’t use Heinz. Jessie’s swordfish was tender, succulent, and topped with dill, making me completely re-evaluate my ho-hum attitude towards swordfish.
Before long, there came a tasting of chilled red wines, each of which was accompanied by a detailed and impassioned explanation. Desserts were made in house and nearly too sinful to mention. Fresh berries suspended in a chilled and foamed coconut milk soup were my favorite. Jessie was wild for a mason jar of mousse, topped with white chocolate, with a caramel surprise at the bottom.
Considering the crowds the bar attracts on weekend nights, we were pleasantly surprised at a dining experience that was at once decadent and chill. Kudos to the staff, for pulling off a difficult feat.
Ruschmeyer’s, 161 Second House Road, Montauk. 631-668-2877, www.kingandglove.com