Living in the Hamptons, we often run into the ultimate oxymoron - great waterfront dining. It is not easy to find. The view is almost always the best part of any Hamptons waterfront establishment. We keep trying to find one that is the whole picture -- great food, great view and reasonable prices.
The Canal Cafe in Hampton Bays comes pretty close. The restaurant overlooks the Shinnecock Canal (hence the name) where one can watch some pretty impressive boats cutting across the South Fork of Long Island.
As you can imagine, a place like this gets fairly packed on weekends and does not take reservations. I had called about 15 minutes ahead to see if there would be a wait at 5:45PM on a Saturday. I was told "no wait now", so I implored JB to haul it. Our car screeched into the marina parking lot where I jumped out of the car to put our name down. We grabbed the second to last outdoor table. Phew.
The setting really is spectacular. If the chairs were a little more comfortable (mine was metal, JB's was wood and little D had a stool), you could sit there all day. Alas they do need to turn their tables and therefore they try to keep the meal pace moving.
Seafood is the name of the game here. The blackboard of specials is longer than the printed menu. Order them fast because once they are erased from the board, they are gone for the night.
JB was in the mood for an appetizer so we opted for the fried calamari. I'd give it a B+, it had the right amount of breading (not too much), the fish itself tasted deliciously fresh, but dare I say it was a little bland. Luckily, they provide a spicy tomato sauce for dipping. They do have another killer looking appetizer on the menu - lobster corn fritters - I'll get those next time.
Our mains were from the Specials Board. I chose the Grilled Tuna Sandwich for just $14. I asked for the tuna as rare as possible. The sandwich was simple - tuna, lettuce and tomato on ciabatta bread. The fish was cooked perfectly and I thought the ciabatta was a good compliment. The dish also came with fries that I generously donated to my boys.
JB opted for the lobster roll which was a fair-priced $22. It was actually listed recently in Hamptons Magazine as one of the best lobster rolls in the Hamptons. He disagrees. Yes, the lobster itself was good, but it was on the same ciabatta bread as my tuna sandwich and it overpowered the lobster. The lobster should be the star which is why the hot dog bun usually reigns.
Our landlubber boys, of course, had a well done burger with some fries, and it may have been the al fresco atmosphere (or the Corona Lights) but I thought it was excellent.
Speaking of Corona Lights, I'd also recommend a kid-free stop at Canal Cafe for a drink, to listen to the live music and watch the boats go by. It is a mini-vacation of sorts.
Lunch, dinner or drinks, go. And go early. The line was out the door when we left.
44 Newtown Road
Hampton Bay, NY