Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The show has begun, and it is all around you. It’s there as you gaze out at the largest marina in the Hamptons, home to 232 slips. It’s there amid the boats, everything from yachts and historically inspired catamarans to fishing vessels and classic cruisers, bobbing like a chorus line and pulling in and out stage left and right. It’s there in the waters that fill your view, and in the depths below. That’s where the real show starts, truth be told. The water.
When Carl Fisher started to unfurl his dream of developing Montauk into a Miami Beach–style destination nearly a century ago, home to “the most fabulous summer resort ever imagined in the western world,” as he said, the Clubhouse at the Montauk Yacht Club was one of his creations. The Crash of 1929 destroyed the man and his best laid plans, but some of that vision lives on at Lake Montauk. With massive renovations now completed in the year since the Gurney’s team purchased and reimagined this vintage locale, the new Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina property is bringing past and present together in a concerted way.
With the old Montauk Yacht Club doing a bit of an Eliza Doolittle, “the whole premise has been to bring the property back to its original roots, not change the whole thing,” says Gurney’s General Manager Michael Nenner. “Carl Fisher built this hotel in the 1920s, and we wanted to keep with the curves and the architecture that he wanted for this building.” Standing at the new front desk check-in area, bright and airy and welcoming, look up and there are the gables and the roofline of the building as it was, just atop a space reimagined. “We kept everything intact to still have that 1920s feel, but also to have a Gurney-fied feel.”
A bit of yin to the beachfront yang of the Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa on Old Montauk Highway. “We can now offer different Gurney’s experiences,” says Nenner, who has been part of the resurgence from the beginning. “One sitting on the ocean and one sitting on Lake Montauk. We look at it as one hotel between the two properties, with a sprinter shuttle taking guests back and forth—use the beach there, take our boat cruises here. It’s one Gurney’s feel.”
That feel is very much tied to the dining experience born at the OG (you can now put “Original Gurney’s” in your parlance) courtesy of the seaside elegance of Scarpetta, the resort chic of Tillie’s and the grab-and-go charm of Corso. At Gurney’s Star Island, wondrous water views complement menus created very much with locale in mind. The casual Pool Club offers seats for gazing at the marina with cocktails (including their own version of a BBC) accompanying such vacation-friendly fare as pulled pork nachos, lobster cobb salad and a fish sandwich—not just any fish sandwich, but fresh halibut on a pretzel bun—that could soon be as buzzed-about as the spicy Sriracha lobster roll that is also served here, having gained fame at Tillie’s.
Il Forno, which translates to “the oven” in Italian, is a grab-and-go geared toward on-the-go guests and particularly boaters—offering egg sandwiches and baked goods for those heading out fishing at 6 a.m., provisions like chips and cookies, Jack’s Coffee, even a six-pack of beer. The centerpiece is the domed pizza oven with its rotating hearth that can turn out a pie in two minutes, and if you were to write an epic poem about the White Clam—razor clams, Calabrian chili, béchamel and oregano—or the Stracciatella—duck prosciutto, pickled ramps, arugula and black pepper—nobody could blame you. A Van Leeuwen Ice Cream shop will open shortly, and will offer among its many flavors a new custom creation: Weekend at Gurney’s, a peanut butter meets s’mores concoction that will surely be dripping down cones of kids and grownups alike.
The showstopper is Showfish. The very name speaks to the theater of it all, immersion in an experience where guests are not so much diners being served but rather active participants in the journey that brought their meal to fruition. Walking in, you are greeted by a lobster aquarium housing crustaceans that could well have starred in a Spielberg movie. Flanking that is a massive glass-encased display of seafood, black bass and fluke and monkfish and razor clams and 50-pound tilefish. Inside awaits a menu including such dishes as scallop carpaccio, and maybe the only place, well, anywhere that you can get a house dry-aged bone-in tuna rib-eye.
The R&D trip for Showfish was a deep dive into Amsterdam, London, Paris, some of the world’s top restaurant locations, where everything is whole, fresh, organic and, ultimately, inspiring. “Over five days we ate in 36 restaurants,” Nenner says with a bit of a guilty smile, “really to get ideas, provoke thought for concepts.” Three dozen stops did it, because when the eight-hour flight home from Charles de Gaulle airport touched down, the plan was essentially complete. The final piece came into place when Executive Chef Jeremy Blutstein—a James Beard Award nominee who grew up in Amagansett—came onboard and brought his locavore passion and a dedication to sustainability with him.
On any given day, a fisherman will walk in to the Showfish kitchen with a bag of clams on his shoulder, having taken them out of the water hours earlier. Tilefish that were swimming around in the morning come right off the boat. Vegetables that were just picked at a nearby farm at dawn are being chopped in the kitchen that afternoon. Aside from the octopus from Spain, everything is sourced from within a 40-mile radius—some of it from within walking distance, even.
“We wanted to have something that’s sustainable, that’s local,” Nenner says. During the property renovation, the siding from the Original Gurney’s was even brought in and used on the walls outside the banquet area and Showfish entrance. “Montauk has always been known as an incredible fishing town and still is, and the area has always been know for farming. So we’ve partnered with local farms in the area and the local fishermen, and we put them all on our menu.”
Quite literally. Look over said menu and your gaze may stop on, say, this salad:
THE SPRING “GREEK”
BF Sugar Snap Peas
AWF Persian Cucumbers | Taggiasca Olives
Sardinian Whipped Feta | Mint
A key in the lower right corner explains the local origins of the ingredients. In this case, BF is Balsam Farm, while AWF is Amber Waves Farms, both in Amagansett. There are numerous others, from Sag Harbor to East Hampton to Sagaponack to Bridgehampton, as well as myriad FV (fishing vessels) heading in and out of Montauk each day. They all get their due, and the mere notion of their playing such a central role in the cuisine makes Blutstein even more effusive than normal.
“If you grew up here or live here now or visited here and then came back here and bought a second house here, you should be celebrating it, the farms and the fish and the incredible things we have access to,” Blutstein says, his passion for educating anyone within earshot spilling forward. He picks up a tilefish, holds it out like a trophy of sorts. “Look at this, it’s a beautiful fish, it’s delicious, and it’s amazing how many people don’t know about it. We’re going to show them. We’re doing things nobody else is doing, and in a sustainable way. That matters.
“There is a lot of waste in America,” he continues, standing amid the frenetic energy of the kitchen, mere steps from a lab-like corner where his house-made mushroom kimchee is bubbling away, pineapple vinegar is fermenting, and parts and pieces that other chefs might discard are being given new purpose. Witness the cured swordfish belly—yes, that is essentially swordfish bacon—elevating a part of the fish most restaurants would toss aside. “Here we want to use everything, and we want everyone who comes here to understand that and be part of it.”
To that end, the staff is as educated in the sourcing as any ambassador should be, able to tell the story of everything on your plate. “Our servers talk to the farmers,” Nenner says, “because they should be able to speak about that tomatoes when they are in season, or where the carrots are coming from, or the kale, the grits, and the farm, and who the farmer is, who picked that tomato off the vine, so in the dining room the servers are transporting you to, say, Amber Waves Farms.
“People talk farm to table, vine to glass, ocean to plate, and look at is as you can have one of those experiences,” Nenner says. “Here you can get them all.”
Chef Jeremy Blutstein will be serving up delicious fare at Dan’s Corona MonTaco on Saturday, August 3. He will be joined by Chef Dane Sayles of Scarpetta and other notable Montauk chefs at the Dan’s 60 Summers Gala at Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina on Friday, August 2. Tickets available at DansTaste.com.