Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bushwick for seaside fare in an unlikely environment.
Despite all the hipsterish changes to this neighborhood over the past few years, there is still something delightfully incongruous about eating at a full-on clam shack in the heart of industrial Bushwick.
I mean, it's not surprising that someone—in this case, owner Dana Gardner, a New England native but local Bushwickian for more than a decade—thought to open a restaurant like Cape House in this part of town, already home to a number of unique venues, both established and new. But it does still feel slightly like you've discovered a secret as you enter the fenced-in patio on Knickerbocker Avenue, leaving the rumbling cement trucks behind for boats of fried clams, and umbrellaed picnic tables.
We still have a few weeks of alfresco weather left (right?), and the triangular outdoor terrace is definitely where you want to be at Cape House. In addition to the wooden tables, Gardner and his partners have installed an all-new outdoor bar facing the interior, which also makes for a pleasant dining and drinking perch. The room inside retains the same basic layout as when the place housed Amancay, but the decor is now all nautical, with netting, starfish, buoys, and such.
On this past Sunday evening the dinner music was both live and lively, with Reverend Vince Anderson banging the ivories by the front door. The sky was pretty as the sun went down, the air still warm for the lovely day, the crowd all seemingly pleased with life at that moment.
Cape House opened just a couple of weeks ago, and I was told that the menu is still a work in progress, but the most important thing to know is that everything that has clams in it is good.
Start with the soul-satisfying New England Clam Dip, a bowl of thick, chunky, and creamy dip, shavings of lemon zest on top, surrounded by extra-crunchy Cape Cod potato chips. I asked for hot sauce and mixed it in, and you should too. In fact, maybe they should just put bottles of the stuff at every table. Nothing fancy. Even (especially?) Trappey's Red Devil would go great with just about everything here.
The Whole Belly Clams are excellent too, breaded and fried with a light touch, the sea meat tender, briny, juicy. These are a better bet than the fried Sea Scallops which, although properly cooked to a buttery softness, lacked the elemental sweetness that usually make them my favorite mollusks. The breading didn't really add much here, flavor-wise, which is fine because it all slid off immediately anyway. And though both do the job, the plump Littlenecks from the raw bar part of the menu outshine the rather mingy Wellfleet Oysters.
Clam Dip (Scott Lynch/Gothamist)
In non-bivalve news, the Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich was okay. There's a hefty amount of thigh meat here, and the pickles are a smart addition, but the heat comes from chili powder dumped on like a condiment after cooking, rather than being integrated into the process, which just kind of dries everything out. And my Rainbow Carrot salad was silly, a few random things—roasted carrots chopped into little discs, gooseberries (which are apparently indistinguishable from raisins), some hemp seeds—thrown on a plate, nothing tying it together.
A selection of OddFellows ice cream is available for dessert, which is never a bad idea. Personal pick hits in this department include Banana Pudding and Miso Cherry.
Cape House delivers on its most important promise: terrific clams in a pleasant, casual, boozy-if-you-want-it environment. Get here soon though, while the patio's still an option, for a final taste of summer before we all have to huddle inside.
Cape House is located at 2 Knickerbocker Avenue, flanked by Morgan and Ingraham, and is open on weekdays from 4:00 p.m., on weekends at 11:00 a.m., and every night until very late. (718-821-2580; capehouse.nyc)