An Old Fish Farm, but With Gourmet Takeout

By September 19, 2017 110 comments Permalink

Past Amagansett, off the Napeague Stretch toward Montauk, Cranberry Hole Road dips and dives through a quiet expanse of pitch pine and scrub oak. There are no signs at all until the landscape opens into sandy loam, Gardiners Bay appears to the north, and a faded “Welcome” flag can be spotted, whipping in the wind, to mark your arrival at Multi Aquaculture Systems.

But most locals just call it the Fish Farm.

A bumpy track runs through the property, which is scattered with cages, crates, nets, buoys, machine parts, grounded vessels, a cluster of aboveground pools, and shotgun shacks extending to the water’s edge. Cheeky signs and American flags abound. A disco ball reflects the sun. Geese honk in their pens and chickens cluck out of sight. Feral cats (all fixed) lounge and prowl, mostly near the faded red structures that house a takeout counter offering sophisticated cuisine. Picnic tables are at the ready, bayside. Next to the counter is the store, where Marie Valenti, one of the owners, can be found.

Ms. Valenti, who was raised in the Bronx, has sparkling eyes, a strawberry bob, and skin tinted by wind and sun. She’s gregarious and patient, and willing to share her advice on the preparation of any variety of fish or crustacean for sale in her market. Also available are eggs (from the geese and chickens), homemade tarts, jarred delicacies and Provençal ceramics. Ms. Valenti and her small staff also prepare the takeout food next door.

The market and takeout stand operate within the auspices of an actual fish farm run by Ms. Valenti’s husband, Bob, a salty counter to his salt-of-the-earth spouse.

Mr. Valenti, a Long Island native with a gray goatee, wispy hair and a sea captain’s scowl, met his future wife at New York University when he was working toward his Ph.D. in fish genetics. (Ms. Valenti has a Ph.D. in marine biology from N.Y.U.)

In 1974, Mr. Valenti purchased the property for aquaculture purposes and began a steady battle, he said, with local opposition and government bureaucracy.

“This was a real fishing town, and they did not want someone to raise fish,” Mr. Valenti said of his early years on the East End. But then government regulations “killed the commercial fisherman,” he said, which was followed by the one-two punch of Montauk becoming a hot real estate destination. “The future was fish farming. I knew that. It was a matter of outliving the enemies, all the people that were against it.”

Today Mr. Valenti’s part of the business produces over 100,000 striped bass annually in pools on land and in cages offshore, all with a staff of five. His oyster beds yield similar numbers. The harvests, minus the small portion sold by Marie, are shipped around the world.

But it’s Ms. Valenti’s goods and the funky environment that lure the locals, if she does say so herself. “This place hasn’t changed in 40-some years,” she said. “It’s very real. It gives people a sense of what was here before.”

Wendy Van Deusen, a James Beard Award-winning chef and the former owner-operator of East Hampton’s 1770 House, is a regular customer, comparing the shopping experience there to a “magical mystery tour.” Ms. Van Deusen, who said she’s known the Valentis for 40 years, said that they treat her like family. “I think that’s the way they make everyone feel,” Ms. Van Deusen said. “Marie will look at photos of the grandkids and Bob will end up with a big hug, like it or not.”

Published on The New York Times: An Old Fish Farm, but With Gourmet Takeout

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