185 North Ferry Road
Lunch and dinner daily
Taking the short ferry ride over to Shelter Island is always a pleasant experience. Although you are only “traveling” for about five minutes, you really feel like you’ve gone somewhere. Somewhere quiet and charming and low key. A group of us took this little trip recently to try the Dory restaurant on North Ferry Road. You’ve seen the building, a pretty brick red structure with a dory on top.
Entering the Dory feels like walking into “The Twilight Zone,” perhaps into one of the more unsettling episodes involving hoarders, a time warp, and a guy at the bar who hasn’t moved in 35 years. Continue walking through the bar cluttered with flotsam and jetsam and mounted fish and cranky signs about tourists and you will come upon one of the loveliest views out here. A big outdoor deck looks out onto Chase Creek, green and quiet, a row boat here, a barely visible house there, and one lone cormorant performing his toilette with punctilio.
The back deck is also pretty cluttered. There’s a bar, another bar, and a tiki bar, lots and lots of promotional beer paraphernalia and various neon signs. A blackboard announcing the specials of the evening offered “Senior Sangria.” We’re pretty sure they meant “Senor Sangria” but agreed that “senior” was pretty cute.
The warmed rolls — sourdough, whole grain, and pumpernickel — served when we were seated were quite good. For appetizers we began with fried calamari, clams on the half shell, coconut shrimp, and Caprese salad. Oh, and a pretzel dog from the bar because I’ve never had one and my friend insisted they are a taste sensation, nice gummy, chewy pretzel dough wrapped around a sodium nitrite piggy product. It really was good, the one bite I took.
The fried calamari was very good, a generous portion and super crunchy. It was offered with basil aioli, which did not exist, so we were given marinara sauce. The clams were clams, served with some okay cocktail sauce. The coconut shrimp were excellent. The six big shrimp were coated with lots of coconut and served with a sweet, slightly Asian-style sauce, kind of like Saucy Susan with sesame oil or something. The Caprese salad was a nice looking platter with thick slices of red beefsteak, yellow, and green tomatoes and slabs of mozzarella. In place of basil, however, the salad was adorned with mint leaves. We weren’t sure if this was a boo-boo or if someone in the kitchen was being creative. Do not try this at home. Mint does not taste good with mozzarella and tomatoes. Other than that, it was a good salad.
For entrees we ordered the grilled local striped bass, tuna tartare, a steamed clam special, and chicken Milanese. The grilled striped bass was served with roasted fingerling potatoes and a vegetable medley of wax beans, green beans, and baby carrots smothered in jarred garlic. The striped bass was neither grilled nor seasoned with anything like salt and pepper. It had a drizzle of something brown and slightly sweet. The potatoes may have spent a few nights in the refrigerator before being reheated. The beans were pretty good. The tuna tartare wasn’t so hot. The bottom layer was some pretty well ground up tuna with a lot of mayonnaise. The top layer was smushed avocado and more mayo and bit of wasabi, topped with black and white sesame seeds. It needed a hint of citrus or vinegar or salt or something.
The steamed clam special was the best of the lot. It was a good-size bowl of clams with bacon bits and sun-dried tomatoes. The chicken Milanese was very, very cooked and needed salt and pepper.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect great food at the Dory. It’s more of a bar that serves food. I approach places like this the way I approach blind dates; if I have low expectations I am bound to be delightfully surprised. Or at the very least, get a free meal.
The service was pretty good. We only had to ask for utensils once and water twice. Our waitress was friendly enough, but had a knack for ignoring my wide-eyed, hand-waving “excuse mes.” There were perhaps three other tables of diners on the patio this particular evening . . . on a weekend . . . in August. Ouch.
The prices are moderate, but for the quality of the food, I’m going to say too expensive. Appetizers are $5.95 to $18.95. Entrees are $14.95 to $37.95. There was only one dessert, cheesecake, which our Eastern European waitress assured us was “special, made locally.” I had visions of a sweet, little old lady living in a Victorian house in the Heights whipping up cheesecakes for local restaurants. When pressed, our waitress informed us it was from J. King’s, which is, in fact, a pretty huge industrial restaurant supplier. Oh, well. It was gummy.
I wouldn’t say don’t go to the Dory. I would say absolutely go, go for the restorative view of the creek, and have a beer and some clams or coconut shrimp.