Drive to the mouth of Sheepshead Bay, take a quick left, then a quick right, and find yourself on Harkness Avenue, a stubby street that dead-ends in Shell Bank Creek. A lush postcard view spreads before you, anchored by a white saltbox house with peeling paint that might have been blown from Monhegan Island by a fierce northeaster. Naturally, there’s a lighthouse out back, and beyond that, a pier lined with lobster skiffs. Across a parking lot a 15-foot lobsterman looks down impassively, a cement lobster trap crowding his cement boots. Could this be Brooklyn?
Indeed it is—further evidence of the borough’s uncanny ability to evoke other times and places. A combo lobster pound and retail seafood store, Jordan’s Lobster Dock mimics Maine circa 1950, but step inside the dining room and find graceless modern decor featuring a tropical-fish mural and fast-food furniture. Luckily, there are dozens of picnic tables outside. Place your order at the counter, pick a picnic table around the corner by the dock, and wait for your number to be called. The sine qua non of Jordan’s is lobster, of course, available in the standard 1 1/4 pound size ($14.95), and also in two- and sometimes three-pound versions ($12.95 and $10.95 per pound, respectively). Though you can get them steamed or broiled, the former is greatly preferred, leaving the shell a dull dripping red and the flesh sweet and moist. A two-pounder easily feeds two, and features enough meat in the legs to make them worth cracking and sucking. In the pared-down style of Maine, your accoutrements are limited to a waterlogged ear of corn or a basket of decent fries. Contrary to what you might expect in the midst of this general dilapidation, the drawn butter served on the side is actually butter. For those who want to expend more elbow grease, there’s often a special of three small lobsters for $30 (see chalkboard).
This being a true example of a New England lobster pound, a lobster roll ($10.95) is available, the traditional landlubber’s choice since it requires no crustacean wrestling. It’s a beaut, the soft toasted bun lined with lettuce and heaped with nearly twice the chunks of snowy meat you’ll find in Manhattan renditions, swamping the paper boat. Unaccountably, there’s no mayo with the lobster, though a single foil packet of Hellman’s is provided on the side. Ask for more packets, remove the meat from the bun, and mix the salad properly.
The menu is bewildering in its length, partly because the pound serves as a final resting place for the fish from the adjacent seafood market. You might thus wisely avoid the salmon, swordfish, sea bass, and tuna. Also omit the breaded items, including fried clams (described as “tender strips”) and fried oysters, which have assumed a suspiciously boxy appearance. Instead, order the baked whole clams. Soupwise, the New England clam chowder was a runaway hit (cup $3.95, bowl $5.95), liberally laced with cream, though some fellow picnickers preferred the lobster bisque, which costs only 50 cents more, cup or bowl. For the sybarite, an additional handful of lobster meat can be added for $1.50.
You wouldn’t expect it, but lovers of raw shellfish will also find a haven at Jordan’s, where a handsome young shucker distinguishes herself by opening clams and oysters faster than I’ve ever seen, even in Boston or New Orleans. Though the bluepoint oysters are large and scintillatingly fresh, I prefer the littleneck clams ($9.95), so delicate and sweet you can easily down a dozen as an appetizer or an afterthought. Clams are the logical choice, anyway. This is Brooklyn, after all, not Maine.