Manhattan’s latest seafood shack, Ditch Plains, sails in the wake of Pearl Oyster Bar, Mary’s Fish Camp, and their numerous imitators—some of which, like Shore and Bongo Fry Shack, have already gone belly-up. The unlovely but memorable name was inspired by a Montauk surfing spot that boasts the best waves on Long Island. While wannasurf.com praises the swell, it warns you to watch out for hodads and kooks (dangerous inexperienced surfers): “Ya know the ones who are down from New York City for the week.” Inside, there’s no reference to surfing, apart from a couple of monitors tuned to The Endless Summer.
Any seafood shack rises or falls on the sumptuousness of its lobster roll, and Ditch Plains doesn’t disappoint. The standard puffy bun cradles a mountain of sweet lobster meat, almost justifying the $23 price tag. Thankfully, there’s less mayo than usual, and pungent capers added a welcome zing the first time I tried it. Unfortunately, by my third visit the capers had been replaced by celery. It’s your choice whether to eat or ignore the sweet-potato chips that come alongside. You could get a side of french fries ($6), but while well-browned, they’re often dry and chalky inside.
Ironically, the tweaked seafood is superior to the clam-bar standards. In the latter category, a batch of fried clams ($15) were virtually inedible—rubbery, thickly breaded fragments of the type evasively known as “clam strips.” At that price, you should expect tender bellies. The clam chowder ($9) was much tastier, but the taste was more of bacon than seafood. In fact, dredging around in the bowl, we found just over a teaspoon of actual Littlenecks, hacked into small fragments. Ditch Plains is to be congratulated for offering raw clams, Brooklyn style, but these babies are better baked. Fifteen dollars gets you six on the half shell, cunningly wadded with chorizo into a delectable clam hash.
Among the tweaked fraternity, find a salad of ghostly pickled anchovies in a lemon vinaigrette, darting among baby plum tomatoes and cucumbers shredded like spaghetti ($11). It just might be the best thing on the menu. A sautéed shrimp salad, this time with the seafood tangled in frisée, is also dope. A calamari salad constructed along similar lines suffers from a too-sweet Southeast Asian dressing. Hey guys, stick with the Eastern Seaboard! Ditch Plains modifies the shack formula by conjoining diner food to its list of seaside snacks, a very good idea. Thus there are eggy breakfasts, an excellent chicken pot pie wearing a biscuit toupee rather than an annoying puff pastry, and a very good hot dog with fries ($7).
For $11, Ditch dumps mac and cheese on the dog to create the signature Ditch dog. Though the price is astonishing, the concept is brilliant. Find some rich uncle to buy you one. Another stunner from the breakfast menu is the bowl of creamy grits, priced at $5. Turn it into an entire meal by accessorizing with one of the 13 add-ins, which run from spinach to smoked mozzarella to lobster. My fave is chorizo (add $3). Admirably, Ditch Plains is open every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., offering its entire menu. Which means you can bolt a lobster roll as soon as you wake up, right before you head for the gym.