It was a Sunday afternoon and I was on my way to Midtown to sell an iPad Mini to a Craig's List rando, very much looking forward to getting it over with so I could go home and sit on my couch and very purposely waste the day, when I got a text from my friend Brian: "Wanna grab lunch on City Island?" I pondered for a moment, and thought... fuck. Yes, I do. Dammit.
City Island had been on my to-do list for over a year, and given my resolution to squeeze every last drop out of the dwindling summer, I would have to rally some energy and the couch would have to wait.
Brian met me in Queens with his car and we got on the road. One thing that makes City Island a hidden gem of New York City is that you really need a car to get there, something most city-dwellers lack.
Though it's part of the Bronx and only about a 30-45 drive from central NYC, most popular coverage of City Island would have you believe it's more Nantucket than New York. But I felt weirdly at home in the Baltimore-esque, blue collar community, which makes sense considering their shared history of ship-building. We searched Yelp to find a place to eat until Brian's vague recollection of visiting as a child brought us to Johnny's Reef Restaurant, one of the many cafeteria-style seafood restaurants for which the island is renowned; a real throwback that felt worlds away from the city nearby.
After saying "This place is so weird" to each other a minimum of three times each, we got our bearings and attempted to make sense of the bustling "lines" to order food. Brian took the fried counter and I went for steamed; to divide and conquer is a good technique here. The people are hungry, there are lots of them, and they're not gonna wait for you, city kid.
To be honest, I wasn't amazed by the prices, til I saw the portions. You get a lot of food. We went for the fried clams ($12), fried red snapper ($15), steamed shrimp ($14), all of which we shared, and a round of banana daquiris because we classy. Since the portions are so massive, I'd say come hungry, with a group, and do it family style. We had quite a bit of food leftover, and for some reason, Brian declined to put the last few shrimps in his pockets (which he definitely regretted later).
The food is straight-forward, but good. Considering the place has been open for over 60 years, it'd have to be. If you're after a ginormous tray of no-frills but tasty seafood, then City Island is for you. I'd say the setting at Johnny's isn't exactly what you'd expect when a place has been compared to New England though, in fact it reminds me more of Penn Station or Coney Island, but it is NYC after all.
TLDR KEY FACTS & DETAILS
- City Island is about 30-60 minutes from central NYC, depending on traffic
- You will need a car (or taxi or Uber) to get there
- Johnny's is CASH ONLY, come prepared
Any blogger worth her salt will tell you that a post is supposed to end with a question to the reader, y'know to start a conversation. So where's your favorite place that feels so very... out of place?
Johnny's Reef Restaurant
2 City Island Ave
Bronx, NY 10464