RANDAZZO'S HAD SUCH A GREAT REPUTATION FOR SEAFOOD THAT I DON'T EVER RECALL TRYING ANYTHING ELSE. I EVEN TOOK THE CHARACTERS IN MY SHORT STORY, "SCREAMERS," THERE TO INTRODUCE THE INDIANA FARM BOYS TO REAL FOOD !
In my lifetime, Randazzo's grew from a tiny storefront clam shack, to a popular hang-out for a snack and beer, to a full-sized restaurant specializing in Italian-style seafood. A typical visit for my mom and I included splitting a dozen little necks, a bowl of chowder and ordering our own entree. She liked shrimp oreganata and I gravitated to either scungilli or calamari (or a combination of both) over linguini fra diablo.MY SON ANDREW HAS NEVER HAD THE PLEASURE OF RANDAZZO'S. I ONCE OFFERED HIM A TASTE OF MY SCUNGILLI SOMEWHERE ELSE. HE ASKED WHAT IT WAS AND I SAID, "ITS A SHELLFISH CALLED CONCH." HE WANTED NO PART OF IT. I COAXED HIM INTO IT AND HE'S BEEN A SCUNGILLI-MAVEN EVER SINCE.
Mom and I would lop-up every speck of Randazzo's spaghetti sauce during our great conversations. Sooner or later we'd get around to poking fun at my dad who liked to say about such delectables; I wouldn't eat that with your mouth!I MET A WOMAN WHO OWNED AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT IN WEST VIRGINIA. I TOLD HER MY SON LOVES CALAMARI AND SHE MADE ME TELL HER WHAT IT WAS. WHEN I SAID, "SQUID." SHE CURLED HER LIP AND SAID, "NEVER HEARD OF IT!"
The irony of eating at Randazzo's was and still is...a hallow joy. Because a half-block away was the empty, cathedral of all fish restaurants...Lundy's. To walk-off our dose of Randazzo's, it was our custom to go by and reminisce. So regardless of how filled we were, we were never fulfilled... because we felt like we were missing-out on the real prize.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Irving Lundy sold clams from a pushcart. In 1907, he and his five brothers started a tiny dockside eatery. Two brothers died in a boating incident in 1920, so the remaining four opened a formal restaurant in 1934. The Lundy Brothers continued expanding and by the time the restaurant closed in 1977, it was the largest in the United States...with a seating capacity of 2,800. LUNDY'S WAS DECLARED A LANDMARK IN 1992. IN ADDITION TO ITS GREAT LENGTH, IT WAS ALSO WIDE AND HAD A LARGER DINING ROOM ON THE SECOND FLOOR. IN ITS HEY-DAY FROM THE LATE-50'S TO EARLY-70's, THEY COULD SERVE 15,000 MEALS ON MOTHER'S DAY.
Just being in Brooklyn with its 20 gazillion residents should have been enough but Lundy's had a great location too. Being convenient to the subway and bus traffic was one thing. But both Manhattan and Brighton Beach were nearby with mega-Coney Island only a little farther.
It sounds like bragging but Lundy's had the best everything! More importantly, the prices were reasonable and the portions were big. Every item on the menu from the lobster to the hash browns, to the peas and homemade pies were all incredible. Plus, I didn't even mention their famous shore dinner, signature biscuits and a Manhattan clam chowder...to die for. My favorites main courses were broiled scallops or blue fish. I always left room for desert because in-season, they'd give you an eighth of a watermelon. Other times, I went with the huge scoop of the creamiest coffee ice-cream.
My dad was the real champ. Not only because he'd foot the bill but he wasn't a big fan of seafood. He was happy ordering a bland fillet of sole and watching the rest of us feast. I DON'T RECALL A SINGLE BAD EXPERIENCE. MY EARLIEST MEMORY OF LUNDY'S, WAS 1963, ( I WAS 8). IN ALL THOSE YEARS, WE NEVER LEFT ANYTHING OVER AND I DOUBT THEY EVEN OFFERED A DOGGIE-BAG OPTION.
Lundy's was also quirky. You literally had to give up a lot to reap its benefits. The most important problem occurred when they were extremely busy. Lundy's had NO hostess service. That meant it was YOUR job to scour the place for a vacant table. During summer weekends or holidays at prime dinner hours, you were left on your own to compete with other families to scout-out this two-level football field-like dining room. It should also be noted that Lundy's had other smaller, intimate nooks and crannies in the labyrinth of rooms along Ocean Avenue.
In emergencies, we traveled in pairs to hunt down unoccupied tables. If there weren't any, one of us would stake a claim on a table while the existing party was finishing. Then the other would run to alert the rest of our clan.
Being in Brooklyn, the atmosphere was loud. There were always clanging dishes, boisterous conversations and bickering among the staff. The dress code was casual but because we went there on special occasions when I was young, I recall being forced to wear a shirt and tie.
Another drawback, (to me) was the dingy, dark decor. It was called Spanish Colonial Revival but it was ugly to me. The Lundy boys must have had a love of 4o-watt light bulbs because the place was a cave. The sand-colored stuccoed walls gave the place a mausoleum feel and the black tiled men's room complete with black stalls didn't help. The rest of the architecture featured sloping red mission tile roofs, arched entrances, corbel tables, decorative ironwork and leaded glass windows.
Once you were seated, the service was decent except that the all-Caribbean waiter team fought over silverware. Arguments broke-out when one of them was caught looting another man's horde.
While waiting for service, each table had Oysterette crackers to snack on. They tasted great but my sister and I preferred to use them as missiles against each other as our folks were enjoying their pre-meal cocktail. Unfortunately, my family's size dwindled and by the early 70's, we weren't going in hard-to-seat gangs of ten or more. That's when we discovered that the food was just as delicious on Tuesdays in November.
When I was old enough to drive, I took one date to Lundy's and on other occasions brought friends including SLW. He and I liked the clam bar. Sometimes we ordered the fried oyster dinner, (at $3.95...it was the cheapest entree on the regular menu). As long as no one was standing behind us later that night, nobody's nose got hurt.
THE CLAM BAR ENTRANCE. BACK IN '77, YOU COULD GET A DOZEN RAW CLAMS FOR $1.35 AND A SIX-OUNCE PABST BLUE RIBBON BEER FOR 20c. WE ALWAYS PRE-TIPPED THE CLAM SHUCKER AND GOT PLENTY OF EXTRAS AND FREE BEER.
A short time after the last Lundy brother (Irving), died, the restaurant closed. The building stood vacant and decayed for twenty years. Finally, an Asian group re-opened a smaller version using the same name...I heard it was good but it wasn't the same. They lasted ten years. Today, just west of the Knapp Street exit of the Belt Parkway, you can look down and see what Lundy's has become, a sub-divided mini-mall with professional offices.
You can see how the joy of Randazzo's was easily tempered by the memories of Lundy's. After all, my Uncle Al never mistook a finger-bowl for "clear-broth" at any other place than Lundy's.
The last time I took mom to Randazzo's, we didn't get a chance to stroll down Lundy's Memory Lane.
When we came outside, a man approached us. He was a little disheveled but sincere when he politely asked, "Could you drive me to Albany?" I said, "Sorry, Albany Avenue is out of our way, we're headed to Canarsie." The man said, "No. Not Albany Avenue, the state capital in Albany."
Mom and I laughed so hard, we didn't go towards Lundy's. And the laughter that little story gave us, remained strong for the next twenty-plus years !