I must have driven past the cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood on Long Beach Road thousands of times in my life. It was a favorite of my father’s, but for some reason we never ate there when I was growing up. Some 30 years after first laying eyes on the cheery blue and white building, I finally got the chance to dine at the 76-year-old institution and try their infamous Ipswich clams, among other things.
“Let’s take a ride out to Bigelow’s and get some soft shells,” Chef Dave said to me a few weeks ago. Rockville Centre might not seem like much of a road trip, but Bigelow’s is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The dining room, if you can call the circular lunch counter taking up 99.9% of the space that, is lined with all matter of nautical ephemera from harpoons to water skis. Little has changed since Russ Bigelow set up shop in 1939, decades before the City, as Long Islanders call Manhattan, had ever heard of a Pearl Oyster Bar or a Mary’s Fish Camp.
Soft shells were not in season yet, but that didn’t stop Chef Dave, our pal Richie, and I from ordering up a storm of fried seafood. As I sat waiting for my order of Ipswich clams and fried smelts I watched the fry man work his magic. Corn meal, flour, bread crumbs, and egg wash were all part of his arsenal. Former fry cook that I am, I tried to figure out his process, but gave up and sipped my iced tea in silence, letting the atmosphere of Bigelow’s wash over me.
Silence—near reverence—was how we ate our meal too. It was my first time trying the sweet belly clams, and they were impeccable. Corn meal must’ve have played a role in the crispy smelts. Tartar and cocktail sauces with a dash of Tabasco made for a nice accompaniment to the fried seafood bonanza.
I can’t wait to return to the temple of fried seafood that is Bigelow’s and try their soft shell crabs.
Bigelow’s Seafood, 79 North Long Beach Rd, Rockville Centre, 516-678-3878