Three years later, this seems like a good enough place to resurrect this old nightmare. In the current "What constitutes a restaurant?
" thread, I mentioned that I had a similar experience last summer and would write it up, as I didn't want to detract from the discussion over there.
Last year, I made a purchase from this guy
. As a matter of fact, three of us, including Roadfood.com member Lexi
and her son Ben made the trek out to Greenspoint. It was maybe a month after we paid a visit that he got his shut down notice from the Board of Health.
My personal take was that Ben (Dr. Claw, not Lexi's Ben) was always looking for attention for his "underground" operation. If I am not mistaken, one of the NYC food blogs called his lobster rolls one of the worst kept secrets in New York. Heck, I found out about him by reading New York Magazine - not exactly sworn to secrecy. On the night that we went, there was a film crew from a European television show doing some filming, so he was inviting some people down in to see his operation. We arrived about the same time as a hipster-looking lesbian couple (very appropriate to this section of Brooklyn), and he invited them in. No amount of begging from Lexi was going to change his mind about us. Face it - we just didn't have the "look" for TV. We looked way more like tourists than hipster Brooklynites.
The procedure was to "like" a designated page on Facebook (again, this information wasn't all that hard to come by). Once there, you were given a phone number to text your order - with strict instructions about phone calls versus texts and other rules and information. You were supposed to text your order while standing in front of a red garage on a tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
OK...we found the tree-lined street and we found the red garage door.
From there, you had to wait for a text confirming your order, then walk around the block a few times and he would text back the location of the meet. As it turns out, the meet up place was right out in front of his house. His neighbor was outside, too. Again, if you are trying to keep this thing a secret, he wasn't doing a very good job of it. I could see neighbors getting annoyed at a parade of people coming through their street, engaging in activity that looked suspiciously more like a drug deal than a lobster roll deal. I guess you could get the neighbors "in" on it - ply them with lobster rolls once in awhile to keep their mouths shut, but the more people who know, the more people who could turn you in to the Department of Health. I'm not SURE of what shut him down, but if I were to bet, my gut says that it was a neighbor fed up with the unwanted traffic who blew the whistle on him.
In what one could only describe as irony, when we were doing our laps around the block, we found that the local police station was about a half a block from where the guy was doing business. Why would you want to run an operation that looks like drug deals taking place in the middle of the street in full view of the local po po?
If I remember right, the lobster rolls were $14 each. I handed the guy $45 - he doesn't make change on the street. We were happy to consider the extra as a tip, even though we were disappointed that we weren't deemed "hip" enough to get the underground tour. We took our stash and made for the subway.
OK...so how was the lobster roll?
In short, it was good. Really good. There was just enough mayo binder to hold the thing together, but it was mostly drenched in butter - a la the Connecticut-style, rather than the dreaded lobster salad version. The lobster was obviously fresh, and even after waiting a few minutes for the subway, when we unwrapped our packages, the rolls were still warm - so, his packaging worked, as well. The looks from other subway riders was priceless. New Yorkers, usually a bunch of folks who don't ever look up from their newspapers to see anything, were gawking like there were celebrities on the train.
Overall, a fun experience. The prices were obviously kept in check, as compared to local restaurants, by NOT getting any regulatory approval and minimizing other overhead expenses. Is that fair? No.
In some ways, as I have said, I think the guy wanted to get caught. It makes for a better story. Well, he did get caught - and, as for the better story. He managed to parlay his notoriety into a new show on the Cooking Channel