Forum photos by Patricia Adams
Arugula salad, Big Ass Shrimp and Artichoke Pizza were clearly all as appealing to the eye as the taste buds.
By Patricia Adams
For Howard Beach and Ozone Park residents, it’s just a short ride and a toll over the bridge in Rockaway. And for the most part, having to pay the only intra-borough toll in New York can sometimes be really irritating. But as the old saying goes, on occasion, the end does justify the means. And reaching Whit’s End on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 97th Street is certainly a justification of exponential proportion.
As unlikely as it may seem to encounter a gastronomic paradise near the site of the former Rockaway Playland Hotel, it is in fact an undeniable truth. We first heard about Whit’s End from friends who generally offer a reputable opinion of great food. This time they didn’t say nearly enough. I recall words and phrases such as “great,” “unbelievable,” with a splash of “OMG” thrown in; but after a spontaneous trek down to the peninsula early Thursday evening it was quickly apparent there would be a shortage of positive adjectives to adequately describe this food encounter of another kind.
Met at the door by an ever-so-pleasant server we were shown to one of about 20 or so eclectic tables—none matching, but all well suited to their surroundings. Actually, the ambiance is somewhat difficult to describe but all amusing, casual and comfortable.
We would later learn that being served this food in a mud hut in a hurricane would be just fine.
Hand written menus with “colorful” language appeared as soon as drink orders were taken (this is a BYOB spot) and decisions were made rather quickly despite the difficulty in choosing between a very healthy selection of dishes.
We started with an arugula salad that arrived shortly: a thick pile of organic greens, the nutty scent drifting off the plate as it was set down, studded with watermelon, mango, strawberries goat cheese and sticks of perfectly ripened pear, dressed with a concoction of fresh herbs, spices and an olive oil likely priced more for an ounce than a small jug of the cast of imposters served at so many eateries.
Next up was the “Big Ass Shrimp.” One glance at the plate and you know this dish could never have been called anything else. There they were, eight of them, larger than anything we’ve seen––typical jumbos would have appeared as dwarfs next to these. The pile was built atop grilled brad strips, oiled and seasoned. Had there not been four of them, a fight at the table would certainly have erupted. Dressed in a thin red chili sauce, which did exactly what sauce is supposed to– compliment, never overwhelm– the shrimp were accompanied by shaved garlic, wilted greens, spring onions and bits of sweet red pepper. Even conjuring up all journalistic prowess to describe this dish, from conception to flavor to presentation, would never succeed. It was simply one of the best shrimp dishes we have ever had.
Last up was one of the signature brick oven offerings, the carciofi. A 10-inch pie topped with charred lemon ricotta, parmigiana, artichoke hearts and bits of fresh herbs all vying for the spotlight atop a crust that would have any Neapolitan pizza master scratching their head.
The restaurant’s owner, Whitney Aycock, was raised in
Jamaica, where his family operated an upscale eatery. As far as we are concerned he should be named a national treasure.
The only way anyone creates food like this is when he or she has a passion so pure that it consumes every fiber of their being and is translated on the dish. You need know nothing about the man to know that he is up before the sun rises and out every day securing the freshest of fish and meat. He selects produce that is incomparable and puts it all together with masterful culinary ability. His commitment to quality is engraved in every component at Whit’s End. As if none of that were enough, when he steps away for a moment, your dish will be prepared by sous chef Tommy, someone who has absorbed every ounce of mastery passed to him under Aycock’s tutelage.
This place will rock your senses, and we are going out on no limb when we tell you that if you have to get here in a wheelchair wearing a body cast, go.
If you don’t like this food; frankly you should just stop eating.
Whit’s End is located at 97-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd. (718) 945-4100. Visit them online at whitsendnyc.com.