A Toothy Welcome to a Family Fish Restaurant on Long Island

By August 26, 2015 38 comments Permalink
A-Toothy-Welcome-to-a-Family-Fish-Restaurant-on-Long- Island-by-Andrew-Cotto

At Atlantic Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market in Center Moriches, N.Y., customers enter and exit through a yawning shark’s mouth. Customers can dine in, take out or buy fresh fish to prepare at home. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

Heading out toward eastern Long Island, just before the patina of the Hamptons’ wealth starts to emerge, the Montauk Highway slips past quaint hamlets and faded farmhouses and watery fingers of Moriches Bay. On the roadside in Center Moriches, through a yawning shark’s mouth, Atlantic Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market offers a bounty from the sea — to eat in, take out or prepare at home — but the main attraction is the welcoming feel of the place, orchestrated by the establishment’s owner, Dennis Donovan, a local for 50 years.

Mr. Donovan is one of 10 children who relocated to Center Moriches from the Bronx when he was 6. As a teenager he worked in a bakery. After high school, he and a brother-in-law owned and operated some local bakeries of their own before Mr. Donovan opened a successful pub. He also met Chrissy Flynn, daughter of Maryann Schultz, who was co-owner of a seafood restaurant on the side of Montauk Highway in a former swap shop where her husband, George, built lobster traps in retirement and where, one day, Maryann steamed a lobster for a local man as a favor. That favor gave birth to a seafood restaurant and market in 1979 that would be sold in 2005 to the man Ms. Flynn married, Mr. Donovan.

“Look, our lobsters are cooked just like everybody else’s,” Mr. Donovan said on a recent weekend. So clearly, it’s the place that inspires the fierce devotion of locals and those on their way out toward tonier shores. “We try to do things a little different.”

Even on a Saturday night in the heart of the summer season, the restaurant and its adjacent take-out counter and fish market hum with harmony and an overriding sense of good will. Blue-clad waitresses come and go from behind the counter like charming acrobats of perfect timing to the tables that flank the front entrance. In the fish market and commissary in back, Chrissy Donovan and her daughter, Colleen, oversee takeout orders, the purchase of fresh and frozen fish and related groceries, chatting amiably with customers while staying in constant motion.

The prepared food comes from the silent kitchen in back, manned by Mr. and Mrs. Donovan’s son Denny and Benjamin Bravo, an Atlantic Seafood veteran of 25 years. The senior Dennis is everywhere, still brimming with energy after a day that began at 4 a.m. to buy fresh fish from South Shore docks and inlets, like every other day in the nonstop summer season. He shakes hands, slaps backs, asks after family, helps with orders, rings up tabs, clears tables and takes a knee for conversations with seated customers, looking squarely in their eyes.

Seated for dinner recently at a table underneath a ceiling hung with nets among walls adorned with maritime bric-a-brac were Mike and Marissa Morris, both 39, with their 5-year-old daughter and her newborn baby sister.

“We come in quite regularly,” Mr. Morris said, “and nobody’s going to look at us like we have three heads if our kid cries a bit. It’s very laid back. It’s family.”

“People who grew up here, stay here,” Ms. Morris added. “We know the waitresses. We know everybody.”

And that’s what makes the lobster Mr. Morris is eating different from one easily found elsewhere: It’s procured and prepared and served in an environment fostered by the philosophy of a local Moriches boy (via the Bronx) made good. And you get to pass through a shark’s mouth to eat there.

Published on: A Toothy Welcome to a Family Fish Restaurant on Long Island

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