Whenever anyone finds out I’ve lived in Montauk, they invariably ask the same question. “Do you watch ‘The Affair’?” The answer, I’m afraid, is no, but I have seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still, one need not be a Showtime devotee to know a thing or two about The Lobster Roll, the iconic, Napeague stretch restaurant at which Alison Lockhart purportedly works. In summer, anyone driving between Montauk and the rest of the Hamptons would be hard-pressed to miss the restaurant. Nor should they.
The history of The Lobster Roll (also referred to as “Lunch,” by locals, because of its massive neon sign that screams the word) reaches back to 1965, when Frederick H. Terry, Sr. and his father, Richard C. Terry, Sr. purchased a roadside clam shack on the spit of land connecting Montauk to Amagansett. In 1978, the duo welcomed a third partner, Andrea Anthony, and then, in 1981, a fourth, Paul DeAngelis. Anthony and DeAngelis continue to own and operate the restaurant, 37 years later.
The menu is, naturally, devoted to more than just lobster rolls, including strange Long Island specialties —like clam strips. (An aside: I’m from New England, and I’ve always maintained that the best part of a fried clam is the soft, silky belly, so I have no idea why anyone would want to eat just the rubbery necks, but that’s Long Island for you.) As everywhere else on the East Coast, steamers — a softer shelled clam served steamed in broth and with a healthy serving of drawn butter — are market price.
To be clear, the life of your seafood dreams, Hamptons style, won’t come cheap at this iconic haunt, where the average appetizer costs around $10 (but can run as high as $18). Still, you get what you pay for: ambitious portions of fresh seafood; a bustling “Montauk” “diner”; and enough seafaring options to shake a very long fishing rod at. The lobster roll itself is a “Maine-style,” which means it’s made with mayonnaise, as opposed to butter. There’s tarragon in there, and lemon, too, so it’s a reliably gussied-up version of an old classic, but that’s ok. You’ll leave neither disappointed nor hungry.
The Lobster Roll has other nostalgic options, too, like an array of fresh fruit pies, served warm (and á la mode, if you request it), all of which are baked in house. For those who prefer their dessert served with a straw, consider the specialty drink menu a throwback to easier times: vanilla milkshakes, chocolate egg creams, cherry Cokes, frozen lemonades, and root beer floats all recall a certain soda jerk ethos, which is, in some sense, the key to The Lobster Roll’s character. This isn’t a fancy joint, and it’s not meant to be, either.
What the Lobster Roll is, in all its glory, is a stopover on your way to somewhere else — the gravel driveway pooling into the roads, the cars parked in nooks and crannies and even along the road’s shoulder, the red, white, and blue awning and waving American flag punctuating that seemingly endless lick of highway. You’ll suffer the wait in the languid heat, digging your heels into the gravel, watching the cars speed past toward Hither Hills.
You’ll eat a little too quickly, because you can hear and smell the sea, and that ocean is compelling, compelling enough to drive you either east or west, and quickly. And after you’ve balled up your red-and-white checkered lobster roll-holding paper, and wiped the last crumbs from your Formica-topped booth, you’ll wish, as most do, that you’d lingered a little longer. But, hey, the road calls.