Walking into Cliff’s Elbow Room in Jamesport, the first thing I took note of was the local crowd at the bar, because you just couldn’t help but notice how much fun they were having. The small but inviting dining room is located just across from the bar and the sense of casual fun emanated throughout the establishment. The décor is decidedly nautical with rustic touches. Cliff’s many awards are displayed proudly in the bar area, which most recently includes a trophy for Best Chowder at the Greenport Maritime Festival, and Dan’s Papers 2011 Best of the Best for Best Burgers and Clam Chowder.
It wasn’t too difficult to decide what to eat—I’d been doing my research and talking to friends and colleagues. My husband and I started with fried calamari, shrimp cocktail, and Cliff’s red Clam Chowder. The breading on the calamari offered a satisfying crunch and the flavors were subtle enough to allow the calamari to shine, which it did as it was cooked until perfectly tender. Paired with Cliff’s chunky marinara and some lemon, the fried calamari was excellent. My husband particularly enjoyed the jumbo shrimp cocktail because of the cocktail sauce, which our wonderful waitress Carol (who has been serving guests at Cliff’s for over 40 years) confirmed was homemade – you could see the freshly grated horseradish running throughout (and you could certainly feel it cleanse your sinuses!).
Cliff’s Clam Chowder was everything I had expected it to be – hardy, comforting and delicious. The chunks of clam were like jewels in my bowl of soup, and the broth was complex with flavors and the essence of fresh ingredients. It’s no wonder they have so many Chowder awards – they deserve them!
For our entrees, I’d been advised to try Cliff’s steak, with its signature marinate. Well, I don’t have to be told twice to eat steak. We chose a New York Strip Steak for my husband and I decided to try the Surf & Turf, which included a Filet Mignon and a whole lobster tail. The strip steak was excellent, a superb cut of meat cooked to perfection. To accompany the NY Strip, we chose a baked sweet potato served with Cliff’s own cinnamon butter, which was devilishly good eats.
My Surf & Turf meal was enormous. Cliff explained to us that he chooses South African lobster tails specifically for their excellent quality and taste. My lobster tail was meaty and succulent, with a sweetness that you get only from the best lobsters. My filet was cooked perfectly medium, and it cut like butter. It was, quite frankly, the best steak I have ever eaten. As Cliff and Carol explained, the steaks at Cliff’s are flash marinated and charbroiled. The charbroil cooking method gives the steak that delicious crunch on the outside, and the marinade is salty, savory and just plain delicious. It’s a recipe that’s been working for Cliff’s since 1958, and I will definitely be back for more.
Every good meal deserves dessert, so I asked Carol what her favorite one was (and believe me, there is quite a long list of desserts) and she immediately answered “the Toasted Almond Cake.” Even though we thought we couldn’t fit anymore in, we made room for that cake and finished the whole slice. Layers of white cake and vanilla-almond filling, topped with toasted almonds and mounds of whipped cream – it was light and delicious, the perfect end to an amazing steak dinner.
It doesn’t get much better than Cliff’s Elbow Room in Jamesport. You can enjoy casual yet sophisticated food in a laidback, comfortable atmosphere, on the North Fork. Cliff’s is moderately priced, with entrees ranging from $16 to $36.
Cliff’s Elbow Room, 1549 Main Road, Jamesport. 631-772-3292. Open daily. www.elbowroomli.com.