1776 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
I sit here shivering. Ends of fingers white, no blood. Only my hands are warm. And that’s because I’ve got them wrapped around a toasty-warm glass of, uh, beer.
No kidding! I was just as surprised myself.
This is on Shelter Island, at the end of a fishing pier, eight at night, at a bait-and-tackle place, surrounded by guys zinging their lines out over the black water till they go plop! 50 yards out, and then silence, while they wait to see if there’re any takers down in Davy Jones’s Locker.
I came up here because I’d seen Chad Deal’s piece on this pier-end bait-shop bistro last July.
Boy, the owner, Dennis Borlek Jr., what heart. His dad Dennis Sr. was an underwater explorer. Dennis Jr. has lived nearby and worked on the water and underwater all his life. He says developing this shop is a tribute to his dad. Dad’s ashes are even sitting there on a window that looks out past the harbor entrance to the open sea.
And under Dennis, the bait-and-tackle shop has become this little bistro, complete with home-made sausages, burgers, hot dogs, salad, and beer. Lots local. Even a “Pier Beer” that Helm’s Brewing in Kearny Mesa made especially for Dennis.
I’m sitting at one of those round stone tables right by the pier fence. You look straight down to the inky depths. On the wall, a giant red octopus has wrapped his tentacles around a beer barrel. The company logo. Hundreds of moored yachts wink and nod in the moonlight. And when a night fishing boat goes by, the whole pier creaks and complains.
They have some inside seating but outside is it. But who would way out here to freeze their fannies just for a local beer they can buy all over town? Lots, if tonight is anything to go by. You see shadowy couples, hear murmurings all over the pier. Especially in this table area that’s cordoned off by wine barrels and chains.
But...hot beer? I mean, yes, with mulled wine, glühwein, where they stick a red-hot iron into your mug. But I’d never heard they do it with beer.
I wouldn’t have known they do that here except for the little notice on the door. “Now serving our own version of Belgium’s GLUHKRIEK! Heated Petrus Aged Red Ale with Brown Sugar & a Stick of Cinnamon, $8.”
Not cheapest, but on a night like this, who could resist? I head inside to what feels like a small ship’s cabin. Intimate and kinda brassy, ropey, timbery. Sean, the guy at the servery says glühkriek is not a problem.
He gets this little red-labeled bottle called “Petrus Aged Red, the key to heaven,” empties it into a heating urn. “From Belgium,” he says. While he’s letting that heat, he opens a jar and brings out a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar and empties it into the urn. We wait a couple of minutes, then he pours the steaming ale into a handle glass, drops a whole stick of cinnamon into it, and stirs it all around.
I take it out. Sit down, warm my hands around the glass. It’s hot but holdable, and sweet in a malty-beery way. Like it. Like it a lot. Huh. First real new thing I’ve done in a while.
So. Check the eats menu. Dilemma rears its ugly head. I’d love to have one of their home-made sausages, made here in the bait shop on the pier, like the spicy Italian with provolone and red sauce on a six-inch Amoroso roll ($7); or their burger, with blue, cheddar, or provolone; or one of their hot dogs — say, the World Famous Fathom Explodo dog (Vienna Beef dog wrapped in bacon with pepper jack cheese, kimchi, mustard, $5); or, okay, their one salad, a wedge of iceberg lettuce covered in blue-cheese dressing, with grape tomatoes and bacon ($6).
I mean, no contest. Spicy Italian sausage is the winner. I want something hot with this hot beer. Except, dang it, conscience. Still trying to lose ten pounds; three down, seven to go.
“Gimme the salad,” I say before I have time to think.
And it’s not too bad. Has enough flavor with that bacon and blue cheese to give the hot Petrus a run for its money. And reward for virtue? I’m just finishing up when this wall of lights starts coming toward us. I mean a wall. Gets bigger and bigger. I’m checking where I can run to in case it hits, when this behemoth slips silently by, right by the pier, close enough to touch, I swear. It’ s a cruise ship, heading for Mexico. Awesome.
Okay, confession time. I come back a couple of days later, desperate to know if the Italian sausage tastes as good as it sounded. And this time I brave a cold beer, the Ballast Point Fathom ($6). I like it, but it’ll take a lot to match the thrill of that first-ever hot cerveza.
Sausage-wise, I take my first chomp. Feel like a judge drinking whiskey during Prohibition: double the guilt, double the taste-bud pleasure. Man, it’s good. And spicy. It means it. Plus, it’s totally smothered by a thick red sauce, nice kicky provolone, and lotsa garlic. Yes, I’ve dropped off the wagon, but I’ll be back, till I crack 200 pounds.
After that, all bets are off.
- The Place: Fathom Bistro Bait &Tackle, 1776 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island, 619-222-5835,
- Prices: Spicy home-made Italian sausage with provolone and red sauce on six-inch Amoroso roll, $7; Fathom burger with blue, cheddar, or provolone, $7; Fathom Explodo hot dog (Vienna Beef dog wrapped in bacon, with pepper jack cheese, kimchi, mustard), $5; wedge salad (iceberg lettuce wedge with blue-cheese dressing, grape tomatoes, bacon, $6; Pizza dog (marinara, pepperoni, olives, mozzarella), $5; Weekend brunch: Loco Moco (burger, eggs, gravy, or kimchi on rice), $7; dunkin’ fruit bowl (soaked in wine 24 hours), $6
- Hours: 3:00–10:00 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday; till midnight Friday, Saturday; (10:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday
- Bus: 28
- Nearest bus stop: Anchorage Lane, near Shelter Island Drive