Wandering Rockaway A Tasty Treat
If you’re a regular reader of either New York or Time Out/New York magazines, you couldn’t help but notice the many Rockaway-related entries in recent weeks. Stories about summer plans highlighted Rockaway’s beaches, surfing spots, and the many new eating opportunities.
While hipsters and others from the five boroughs have been following the magazines’ recommendations for the past few summers, The Wave sent an intrepid undercover team, cleverly posing as a hungry family of five, for a walk down the boardwalk last weekend to sample the new locations to see if they were “safe” for Rockaway residents and worthy of their time and money.
The undercover team made their way east from the Beach 120s, armed with $100 (The Wave’s entire Travel and Food budget for the year), a camera, and the need to feed two adults and three children (ages 5, 10, and 13) for the afternoon. Names have been changed to protect the budding Food Critic Family’s anonymity.
After a quick family photo on the dunes (a family tradition and apparent violation of at least three Parks Department regulations), the group made it only as far as Beach 116 Street, when all three kids took turns spouting the expected, “when are we going to be there …. I’m thirsty … I’m hungry.”
Mom and Dad sprung for iced tea and water at the Sand Bar at 116th Street and found the place strangely inviting and relatively clean. None of the family members were accosted or asked for cash, a tremendous improvement over years past.
Ten minutes later, the family approached the Beach 105 Street Concessions. After 40+ years of visiting this location, only to be turned away by the lack of choices other than burgers and dogs, the adults in the crew thought they had seen an “oasis” in the desert.
“Caracas Rockaway” beckoned, with Venezuelan foods and an extremely friendly staff who patiently explained to the kids the differences between arepas (corn based wrap) and empenadas (wheat based wrap) dishes while Mom and Dad shared a frozen sangria under the watchful eyes of both the NYPD and Parks Enforcement Patrol standing nearby (no alcohol outside of the concession allowed, it cannot be consumed on the beach or boardwalk … but, insider hint: the frozen red sangria looks an awful lot like grape ices).
Being either remarkably adventurous or extremely hungry, the kids sampled various cheese arepas and both cheese and chicken empenadas and sweet plaintains.
All the dishes were big hits, with “seconds” on the chicken empenadas. At $3-4 each, the dishes were delicious and a bargain. More expensive beef, pork shoulder and other dishes ran in the $5-7 range, not out of the range of most families. Rice and beans and other inviting dishes were available but the kids needed to reserve some appetite for other concessions. Water, iced tea, and sodas were also available for $2-3.
After some time on one of the public hammocks that the concession offers for relaxation, and enjoying the entertaining children in another family who were climbing poles and tackling each other on the boardwalk (“don’t behave like those children”), the superior Mom and Dad led their offspring trio eastward in search of additional culinary surprises.
Less than fifteen minutes later, the newly minted “foodie family” arrived at the Beach 96 Street concessions. There were many choices here, ranging from seafood to pizza, and southwest/Mex to Cajun to Italian ices. The family decided that journalistic integrity trumped personal choice here (though not using those words exactly) and ordered different dishes from each concession to share.
The big hit here was the Lobster Joint, a satellite of the Greenpoint restaurant. This outpost offers lobster, shrimp, and crab rolls, each in toasted buns. The lobster roll ($16) was surprisingly fresh and full of meat and included a claw the size of a 10-year-old’ s fist, which coincidentally was the hand that was used to pull it apart. (Note to Parents – Teaching your kids to be adventurous with food is cool and trendy but ultimately very expensive. While other kids down McBurgers and hot dogs, we’re stuck springing for sushi and “fisherman’s platters,” but it’s our own fault …. we got what we deserve).
A very close second choice at 96th Street was the $7 nachos at Pelican’s Jungle, to which all three kids and Mom gave a “thumbs up.” Also available were a spicy grilled cheese sandwich, wings, cheeseburger, and salads, all of which looked fresh and were available for $6-9.
The ices at DiCosme ices were good, but the biggest disappointment was at DP Pizza, which apparently has another location in New Jersey. The staff was friendly but none of the kids wanted more than a bite of what reminded them of the lousy stuff you endure at a minor league baseball game. It was the only dish of the day that was thrown in the garbage. Stick to Rockaway favorites (Insert one of the following: “Elegante, Ciro’s, Plum Tomatoes, Slices and Ices” here).
Another pleasant surprise at Beach 96 Street was “Motorboat and the Big Banana,” where shrimp, fish, chicken and oyster “po boys” sit side by side with cheese fries and also bananas with various toppings. Prices were reasonable, and only the fact that most dishes were fried and we weren’t as hungry as before prevented us from sampling several choices. The cheese fries were way overdone and crunchy, but they were better than the pizza for our 5-year-old.
The Low Bar is also at Beach 96 Street, with a separate area clearly for non-kiddies. Three organic (boxed) wines (one white, two red) were available for $7 per glass, and the syrah/cab/carignan blend was nice when chilled and went down well with the nachos and the po’boys. The Bar also offers slushies, margaritas and various beer choices and other drinks, but they must be consumed within the boundaries of the concession area. Also, hard drinks weren’t available until after 6 p.m. (right after lifeguards leave the beach, the alcohol flows, go figure!).
Trendy favorite, Rockaway Taco also has an outpost here, but the menu is different from the shack down near Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 96 Street. We all got hooked last summer (despite 30 minutes waiting on line) on the Fish, Carne, and Chorizo Tacos but none of those choices were available here at the boardwalk location. Instead, flautas and other appetizers were good, but there were no fish options and no tacos. Spicy cucumbers were available here and were a great treat.
After our beach buffet, we visited Boarders surf shop’s concession where T-shirts, surfboards, and lots of beach stuff (toys, sunscreen, etc.) were available. The stand also rents bikes for $10 an hour (although riding them on the boardwalk violates additional Parks Department regulations).
Two additional small stands at Beach 96 Street, Santa Salsa and fresh fruits weren’t sampled on this visit. They each have stand alone areas separate from the other concessions.
On our slow walk back toward home, we stopped once more at Beach 106th Street for Steve’s Craft Ice Cream. We loved the small batch ice cream, with options in cups, cones, or as part of cookie ice-cream sandwiches. The various iced teas and chickory flavored iced coffee were also good.
There were nine ice cream flavor choices, none of which would be found at Baskin Robbins, and all of which can be sampled for free.
All in all, our attempts at being DFDs went well. We highly recommend Caracas Rockaway and Steve’s Ice Cream at Beach 106 Street, and the Lobster Joint and Pelican’s Paradise at Beach 96 Street. Only the 96th Street location has an ATM though, and almost every concession takes cash only, so bring money with you. And don’t forget to bring your handy dandy Parks Regulations book, if only to see which ones you’re violating.