Ever dream you’d be savoring a $16 clam roll just off the banks of the Gowanus Canal? Yeah, me neither. And yet, Littleneck feels like it’s been tucked into Third Avenue forever, thanks in part to the huge battered mirror behind the bar, the staffers sporting longshoremen beards and snug flannel, and the small touches that give the industrial space a nautical air—a loop of thick rope here, a beat-up buoy there. But it’s the clam roll that’s transporting. Lightly battered and plump whole-belly Ipswich clams are piled high on a soft hot dog roll with a spritz of lemon, a confetti-like sprinkling of thinly shredded lettuce and a daub of tartar sauce. The clams are remarkably juicy, as though they’d been lifted from the sea and placed directly into the fryer. And wait, is that the sound of a seagull overhead? No, cap’n, it’s just Rod Stewart fronting the Faces on the stereo. (Note: While the seafood is locally sourced, none of it comes out of the odiferous Gowanus Canal.)
The menu is small, but they’ve got more than that clam roll, which we preferred to their classic, mayo-dressed Maine lobster roll ($18). Both rolls come with a side of complexly flavored pickles—was that a hint of cinnamon in the brine? Our waiter couldn’t remember the pickle purveyor’s name offhand, but thought he might be from Greenpoint. It’s the kind of place where commanding your waiter to go find out the name of the pickle guy would be really lame. Our server didn’t seem particularly excited about the raw bar, either, as he rattled off oyster names and descriptions a mile a minute, so we were surprised by the freshness of the shellfish, served alongside a pitch-perfect mignonette and a tangy cocktail sauce. Our favorite was the salty-sweet Buckley Bay oyster, as cool and fresh as a slice of midsummer cucumber. If seafood ain’t your thing, the people at the next table were flipping out over the glazed Polish bacon with tomato jam ($7)—they’ve also got an $11 burger, and their fries are perfectly salty and crisp and come in a generous helping priced at five bucks.
A well-curated tap list rounds out the menu—everything tastes a little better beside a dark and creamy Mother’s Milk Stout ($6) from the Hudson Valley’s Keegan Ales, or a Jack D’Or ($7), a farmhouse ale from gypsy brewer Pretty Things. Our advice: check out Littleneck now, while the servers are still getting their sea legs. With brews and food this good, the crowds are a-comin’. And bring cash because these sailors don’t take plastic.