You’ve got to admire a joint that has the audacity to offer “chaos” as a featured menu item. The Shack in Centerport has proudly dished out “clams and chaos” since 1980. Don’t expect white tablecloth service. Dining at the Shack is like a summer day at the shore, a raucous street food festival and a classic car show all heaped into a deliciously briny bowl of steamers.
A simple, weathered clapboard structure—strung with holiday lights and surrounded by picnic tables and gravel—the Shack revels in its ramshackle good nature. Tucked into a curve in the road on Route 25A, it sits at the intersection of suburbia, the Long Island Sound and the Gold Coast—a symbolic crossroads where good food and good times are available for absolutely anyone who might happen to drive by. Indeed, The Shack attracts bikers, bankers, seniors, college students, moms, dads and kids alike.
The chaos is palpable and encouraged. Completed meal orders are broadcast via loudspeaker amidst the sizzle of fried food, the scraping of pebbles underfoot, lively conversation, music and the sound of automobiles whizzing by. It’s classic Long Island food and attitude.
Owner Mace Colodny is the spiritual guru of the Shack’s bouillabaisse of fried food and frenzy. Colodny earned his merit badge in chaos as a musician playing with bands at New York clubs like CBGB. But, when his family took over the Shack in 1980, he says, “the business picked me.”
Colodny says the history of the place has a lot to do with his repeat business. The structure was built in 1927 and is one of the oldest restaurants operating on Long Island. Colodny thinks tradition is part of the Shack’s appeal.
“Their parents went there and their grandparents went there, and they went there when they were kids,” he says of his customers.
The enterprise is a multi-generational affair, with Colodny siblings and their children working the counter. Staff return season after season. The feverish pace of feeding a steady stream of hungry visitors lunch and dinner seven days a week is a boost of adrenaline for the team.
“We get off on the chaos,” says Colodny.
For a community that spends so much time in cars and on highways, it’s surprising that few traditional roadside eateries still remain in Nassau and Suffolk. The Shack is the genuine article, and has persevered through historic storms, blackouts and even terror attacks, always welcoming the community.
The Shack opens “unofficially” on Memorial Day, and usually operates until October 15. “Uncle Sam to Christopher Columbus,” says one staffer. It features an eclectic menu of traditional seafood entrées, fried snacks, salads and dressed up nouveau cuisine. You can get a mountain of golden fried clams with salad or fries ($11.95), and the fresh lobster roll—at market price—glistens with chunky, straight-from-the-ocean goodness. Or you might consider homemade crab cakes ($7.95), a Creole catfish sandwich with sweet potato fries ($14.95), or a plate of linguine in white clam sauce ($13.95). It’s a far cry from the burgers and hot dogs served more than three decades prior when the Colodny family first acquired the restaurant.
“The building hasn’t grown, but the menu has grown substantially,” says Colodny. “We’re notorious for fresh.”
Menu categories are listed as Ocean Bound, On Bread, Garden Greats and Landfood. Many of the options have been added over time and were inspired by customer requests.
“When we first started, the menu was very simple,” says Colodny. “As people’s tastes changed, we started adjusting our menu toward what people liked. They used to come for the burgers, and now they come for the blackened swordfish.”
The parking strip would make any middle-aged male suffer severe automobile envy. During a recent visit, a Ferrari, a collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a BMW, a red Corvette, and a blue Mustang were spotted. Sometimes it’s a delicate balance with the neighbors. Parking is tight and every effort is made to coexist. Several signs posted throughout the parking area politely request, “Please don’t rev your engines.”
Colodny’s summer of 2013 promises to be chaotic as he prepares for the opening of a second Shack restaurant located at 46 Gerard Street in Huntington Village. Sometimes the business of a seasonal restaurant can be tough to predict, so he’s committing to a year-round location to satisfy those “Shack attacks” that fans might experience during the long cold winter.
Yet, while growth and expansion are to be applauded, there is still something comforting and remarkable about an unassuming shack that has existed for
decades and reopens consistently each May to dish out archetypal summer fare. As you sit at a picnic table—basking in the filtered sunlight of a late afternoon—and you dig into a plate of crispy fried clams with a cold Sam Adams in hand, it’s a little heady, kind of frenetic, a bit nostalgic and a lot like home for anyone who grew up on Long Island. Colodny says it’s the friendly, communal atmosphere that keeps people coming back.
“It’s all walks of life. Everyone just gets together and gets tables and sits together. It’s like a melting pot. That’s really the charm of the place.”