Community Columns

Does the North Fork really have the ‘best crabs?’

Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

It seems I’ve failed. During past weeks, I’ve spent so much time searching for something that appears not to exist. And all because of a great big sign I saw outside Modern Snack Bar on Main Road in Aquebogue.

The sign read “The Best Crabs Are Here.” Now I know our North Fork has the best of many things. From beaches to bays, to warm summer days, we are blessed. But crabs? I knew I’d have to investigate. 

And so, on a quiet evening, I visited the restaurant. I was sure I’d have a good meal and I certainly hoped to spot a few outstanding North Fork crabs. No such luck. Our waitress was cheery and folks at other tables seemed mighty happy. Lots of laughter and not one fussy child in the crowd. Obviously I’d have to search elsewhere for a North Fork crab.

Somehow I thought then of my first crab encounter. I was a kid, maybe 9 years old, and I liked to play a certain game we called “Russia.” My friend Marilyn and I would bounce a small rubber ball against the side of my brick home and do all sorts of silly gyrations before the ball returned to our hands.

Now in the house next door lived, upstairs, a lady named Mrs. Cassidy. I rarely saw her but often heard her shrill voice complaining, as she leaned out from a window, about the noise of our ball whacking the wall. Gosh, was she crabby. We should have asked her to come out and play with us. Instead, Marilyn and I just sat down and read some Nancy Drew for a half hour — before resuming our ball game.

When I asked my husband if he knew any North Fork crabs, he just laughed and pointed at me. OK. I should have known better. But asking a person to turn off the light when he leaves a room, to put his ice cream dish in the sink, to stop tightening every jar lid so a wrench is necessary to remove it — all this is not crabby! So on to someone else who might know a North Fork crab.

If you ever meet Southold’s Jane Utz, ask her to tell you about the crab in her life. Seems Jane had a high school English teacher who was never pleased with a student’s behavior or work. Nothing a student ever wrote was good enough to merit an A. Matter of fact, Jane said, this lady never even smiled from September to June.

But Jane smiled when she told me what the kids named Ms. English Teacher. They called her “Sniffles” because her nose was constantly running and she was always searching for her handkerchief. Not a pretty sight.

However, the Sniffles experience did not stop Jane from becoming a teacher — first in Southold, then in Greenport. Now I know for a fact that Jane smiles frequently. And I have never, ever, seen her when she needed a handkerchief. Furthermore, Sniffles was not a North Fork crab. She taught in Pennsylvania.

Recently, on a fine summer morning, I met a lovely young woman in a Southold shop. She works in an equally lovely New Suffolk restaurant. I can’t identify the woman or the restaurant for obvious reasons but I’ll let you know the restaurant is a favorite of mine. I talked with Ms. X a bit and found out she’s had quite a few crabby experiences.

First, it seems some restaurant customers complain about the parking. Not enough of it or too distant from the restaurant. Then there’s the wait for a table. Instead of walking along the waterfront until a table is ready, crabby people will stay in the restaurant, shift from one foot to another and check their watches.

Then there’s the menu. Extensive and delicious as it may be, Mr. and Ms. Crab are always looking for something unavailable or prepared in some unusual way. Finally, the crabbies often complain about prices. Never mind the cost of food in a supermarket, some customers want a bowl of soup for a buck. No pleasing ’em. But take Ms. X at her word. She claims the crabs are from other locales — not a North Forker among them.

Well, I didn’t have too much luck, did I. Guess the only North Fork crabs are the kind you eat. Even so, when I think crabs, I always think Mrs. Cassidy. You know, they say crabby people are often dehydrated. Perhaps all Mrs. Cassidy needed was a lemonade.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.