I’m not much of a beach in the wintertime kind of guy. But when I found out that Whit’s End Rockaway was still open in the winter, I knew I’d be taking that long bus ride down Woodhaven Boulevard, not for surf and sun, but for top-notch wood-fired pizza and other goodies served up with a healthy dose of attitude.
Whitney Aycock is a chef who gives a fuck. A fuck about food from dishes like pig tenderloin with baked tomato and mortadella toast to the wood-fired “Fuckin Good Burger,” to the dozen pizzas. In fact as my buddy and I bellied up to the bar he was giving a fuck to somebody who entered his establishment reeking of weed. Once the fellow was properly chastised Aycock turned his attention to my buddy and me.
“Tell me about the clam pie,” I asked as someone bellowed, “She’ll never give you sex again if you don’t vote for Trump.” Aycock, as it turns out gives a fuck about clams as well. The Littleneck clams he uses on his pie are seeded in Rockaway and finished out East. “These are sand to sand not sand to mud,” Aycock shouts over the pulsing world music soundtrack and barroom bravado.
“There’s a big difference genetically. These clams are fucking amazing dude,” he says before whipping around to frenetically split some wood in front of the woodburning pizza oven that is the heart and soul of his raucous restaurant.
Joining the clams on the salciccia e vongole pizza are housemade sausage seasoned with spezzaforte, pepperoncini, and shaved garlic. Aycock likes to refer to spezzaforte, the aromatic blend of clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice as “Tuscan grandmother spices.” The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and Parmigianno Regianno with the other toppings made for the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s.
The Croat prosciutto that started out our meal was simply amazing. Cured in salt, and then smoked over hickory and oak before hanging it had a sweet nutty flavor. Aycock gets his Berkshire pork from Pennsylvania, and is ready with a pithy primer on a Croatian Charcuterie. “The inland ports . . . the air is really perfect for cured meats,” he says before wheeling around to serve a customer an ice cold beer.
I have a feeling I’ll be making more trips than ever to the beach this winter.
Whit’s End, 97-14 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Rockaway, 718-812-2460