There’s so much to be excited about the opening of Reel Kitchen in Kings Park, a new seafood market and restaurant by Stephen Cardello, chef/owner of Relish just across the street: chemical- and preservative-free, ethical seafood, fresh off the boats; pop-up dinners with guest chefs; chef-prepped dishes to help you conquer cooking fish; free advice and tips from the pros in the kitchen.
But if you prefer to leave your seafood in the capable hands of the talented chefs that helm this shop never fear, the options are designed to excite. Because when Cardello says that his approach is to “let the quality of the product speak for itself, or get the hell out of the way,” you know Long Island is in for something really special.
No pre-made bases for soups are allowed, real stocks only, lovingly skimmed and ruthlessly reduced. No cheats for the chowders, traditional rice bases go all the way. No shortcuts: their salmon burgers will be made and ground in-house. No MSG or other flavor enhancers, who needs them when Meredith Machemer is smoking her own bacon? No instant noodles, only the best, fresh ramen from New Jersey’s Sun Noodle will do. And no twists without first mastering the authentic originals, from po-boys featuring French bread, cornmeal breading and Crystal hot sauce to Maine- or Connecticut-style lobster rolls and fried, full-bellied Ipswich clams. Even the soda doesn’t take the easy way out; Reel Kitchen is serving Mexican Coca-Cola, real sugar and all.
And that’s just speaking generally.
The entire menu is bursting with items guaranteed to generate a cult following. Made completely from scratch from the floor of the sea up, the red and white chowders will make winters like the last one infinitely more bearable. The daily fish tacos promise to lend lightness to the summer, taking you from Main Street Kings Park to a bright, sunny day on the streets of the West Coast. Handmade corn tortillas are the vehicle for Baja-style fillings, including lime-pickled cabbage, poblano guacamole and shaved radish, with fresh catches or traditional mako nestled beneath it all.
The lobster rolls also have the power to teleport, but it’s your choice if you want to go to Connecticut or Maine. If you choose the latter, you’re in for a treat. A butter-toasted roll gently hugs a leaf of lettuce, which in turn curls softly around generous chunks of scarlet and snowy-white lobster cooked to perfection and bathed in a rich, subtly smoky dressing lightened by the refreshing crunch of cucumber and celery. Tony Connecticut gets its turn the next time I visit, because it certainly wasn’t the last.
But if you’re more in need of some serious comfort, the grilled cheese is guaranteed to please. King crab is folded into a mild jalapeno cream cheese with cubes of house-made bacon, smoked to a smooth testament to balance. Slivers of freshly plucked jalapenos roast on Havarti, which in turn melt on Texas-cut Blue Duck bread finish the ultimate indulgence.
Sprightly red peppers brighten oversized crab cakes, so chock-full of the crustacean they threaten to fall apart before being carefully and skillfully grilled on the flat-top in cylinders. The lack of filler lets the meat, seasonings and quiet heat light up your tongue in a joyful symphony of eye-opening flavor.
Another standard that becomes a song are the big stuffed clams, buttery without being greasy, sweet, fresh and utterly addicting. A coarse chop keeps the flesh tender and a proprietary, house-made breadcrumb mixture, sprinkled in with restraint, remind you that there’s not a trace of silt in these beautiful mollusks.
All that being said, are you ready for April 13?