Metro-Tech and the Marriott be damned, Brooklyn's past resonates more vividly than its present. Jackie Robinson and Ebbets Field, Nathan's and Coney Island all seem more real than Cadman Plaza. As the borough strives to slough off its working-class image, its myth endures. Which is why Brooklynites like the ones who run Lundy's, the revamped seafood emporium on Sheepshead Bay, celebrate (not to mention sell) their own legend. After all, countless egg creams and enough shore dinners to feed the state of Maine on the Fourth of July have slid down gullets there for generations. Intrigued when my Aunt Minnie casually mentioned dining there in the '40s, I headed out with a friend to discover whether her 50-year-old recommendation held up.
The red tile roof and California colonial architecture could have been transported from a Buddy Faro flashback, an impression reinforced by the big-band trumpets accompanying the Chairman of the Board as we entered. Only the color television over the bar, the jogging suits on some of the diners, and our ponytailed waiter signaled the true date. My friend selected a megasized "cup" of red, Brooklyn's entry in the chowder sweepstakes ($2.95). The large chunks of carrot, potato, celery, and onion in a minestrone-like broth defined comfort food: hot, soothing, and tasty. My Brooklyn chopped salad ($6.25) was a prep chef's nightmare of perfectly diced zucchini, carrot, cucumber, beet, radish, and tomato arranged in a rainbow of color. The veggies were crunchily delicious more so when I devised my own dressing of blue cheese and creamy vinaigrette after sampling the house mix of tartar sauce and ketchup. My monster-sized sea scallops ($16.95) were fried greaselessly in a crisp breading. But with scallops as with many things, big is not always best, and these were tasteless despite their valiant basil-and-garlic dipping sauce. The juicy two-pound lobster ($36) we ordered in the absence of smaller fry sent us home without dessert.
The music had segued to doowop, but nostalgia still held sway a week later, when I took Mom, Aunt Minnie, and Uncle Herbie, who prepared for the joust to come by snagging a toothpick at the door. The ongoing chowder argument continued: Aunt Minnie sang praises of the butter-rich New England ($2.95 a cup) and pocketed her oyster crackers, while Uncle Herbie swore by the red. Outtalked, Mom quietly scarfed down the pinwheel of six succulent shrimp in a meal-sized cocktail ($9.50). With the insouciance of the over-80, Minnie and Herbie then honed in on the fryer. This time the scallops were properly sweet and plump, while Minnie delighted in her crisp, tender flounder filet. Without nostalgia to guide us, Mom and I fared less well with more-contemporary dishes: My roasted snapper ($17.95) was strangely mushy, Mom's lobster ($24.25) woefully overcooked, albeit mounded with enough scallops and shrimp to make another meal. Stuffed if not satisfied, we knew dessert called for simplicity. Mom had a cornucopia of fresh fruit ($5.95), Uncle Herbie ice cream ($2.95). But with their pretzel swizzle sticks, the egg creams Aunt Minnie and I stuck to ($1.85) were beyond simple: sweet and sparkling with a touch of the unexpected. Sorta like Brooklyn in a glass.
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