After a sneak preview last fall, Little Fish will officially open at Kenney’s Beach in Southold on April 6. The new North Fork restaurant concept is helmed by Arden Gardell, whose family is well-known in Montauk as owners of the popular restaurant 668 the Gig Shack, and features a menu that draws inspiration from its South Fork sister establishment but with a coastal focus.
The eldest of the three Gardell brothers, Arden Gardell developed a passion for the restaurant industry working as the front-of-house manager at the Gig Shack for over a decade before moving to New York City to cofound a wellness company.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, he took the reprieve to reflect on what he’d like his next chapter to look like with his fiancée Reina and daughter on the way. They decided it was time to leave Brooklyn and get back to the East End, and for Gardell to follow his decade-long dream of opening a new restaurant.
“So many people always said, ‘Oh, we wish there was something like this on the North Fork,’ referring to the Gig Shack,” Gardell recalls. “So we got up here and started exploring different opportunities.”
Finding Little Fish
In November of 2021, they discovered the listing for the Elbow East restaurant, the former offshoot of Cliff’s Elbow Room, and the two families clicked right away.
“My wife, my daughter and I came on a cold early winter day, and we walked in and immediately had a great conversation with the previous owners and started to draw a lot of connections between her family and ours,” Gardell shares. “It really made us feel like there was some sort of connection to this space beyond just being another restaurant location; there was a real sense of continuity there that I think really set our feet on the ground at the start.”
Gardell describes the Elbow East, now Little Fish, location as having a “maritime, scrub-pine, sand-dune esthetic that really evokes much more of Napeague or Lazy Point out in Montauk and Amagansett, which is an area that’s always been special in my heart.” After signing the contracts in March 2022, Gardell’s team began renovations, brightening up the interior and infusing it with an airy beach vibe to match its location.
Little Fish opened quietly for a few weeks in fall 2022 to test the kitchen and menu, and to help Gardell and the restaurant’s chef, Ryan Barth-Dwyer from Greenport’s Kontiki and the Gallery Café, get to know their new neighborhood, both potential customers and potential staff.
“In Montauk, our restaurant was run and staffed largely by friends of ours that we grew up with, and we all kind of built that place together,” Gardell explains. “Here, while we have friends and such, it wasn’t the same. I had to take all my experience and then really focus on community development and building that culture within our team, which I feel we’ve done a great job of so far.”
According to Barth-Dwyer, the Little Fish menu started with core menu items from the Gig Shack and evolved from there.
“We wanted to essentially start with a proof of concept: classic dishes that we knew were replicable, and also ones that we wanted to carry here, but show that we are a consistent brand from the Shack to Little Fish here on the North Fork,” Barth-Dwyer says. “Beyond that, what we are doing is coining the term ‘coastal cuisine’ whereas the Gig Shack is global surf cuisine. There’s not much surfing here, so we went with coastal cuisine, which is a very broad concept, but it allows us to draw on our inspirations stemming from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia, down into the Caribbean … essentially beach food with an elevated twist.”
Lucky individuals who were able to visit Little Fish during their soft opening will notice that the menu has evolved since then. Gardell shares that this trial run gave him and Barth-Dwyer invaluable insight into what dishes work best in their new kitchen.
“You never really understand the way a space operates until you have your boots on the ground and you’re able to feel that organic sense of how dishes and people move around within the space,” he says, adding, “We’ve had this opportunity to get to know each other, Ryan and I, and get to know our customers and the types of cuisine that they seem to be gravitating towards. While we definitely want to stay true and loyal to some of the classic dishes, like the fish tacos and such, it has definitely allowed us the opportunity to continually add our own flair to the dishes. Ryan is really the star of the kitchen, but we have a very cooperative and engaged relationship.”
Barth-Dwyer’s menu will emphasize sustainability and fresh North Fork ingredients in dishes including unique takes on calamari, blue crab and baby back ribs, and a to-go menu will be implemented to satisfy visitors to Kenney’s Beach and other Southold beaches. Beyond the menu, Barth-Dwyer’s vision for the dinner program is “more of an a la carte sharing dinner experience where you’re going to be able to come in with your friends or family and try out a bunch of dishes and share everything.”
And where there’s a beachside restaurant on the North Fork, there’s usually live music. “There’s such an amazing music community on the North Fork, and we’re really excited to have another venue for them to showcase their skills and to be a part of that whole experience,” Gardell says.
Little Fish opens at 50 North Sea Drive, Southold on Thursday, April 6. Spring dinner hours are Thursday to Sunday, 5–9 p.m. with lunch available Saturday and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. Hours are tentatively expected to increase to lunch and dinner seven days a week by this summer.
To learn more, visit littlefishnofo.com.