They call him the “Pizza Nazi” of Rockaway Beach, but this past Sunday, a shirtless Whitney Aycock was sprawled out on a deck overlooking a quiet marina in the Rockaways, vibing on reggae and sipping beer. He was the embodiment of Ole Man Chill, the dockside hang spot where he’s been spending a lot of time lately.
If you didn’t know better, you might think the so-called Pizza Nazi had retired. Or, if you knew he got busted last month for allegedly growing a pot plant in the back garden at Whit’s End, you might wonder if he’d been hiding out on one of the many wrecked vessels in the scrappy marina. Neither is the case. While Whit did reveal to us that he’ll close his Rockaway Park takeout joint in the next weeks (“the lease sucks,” he said), he intends to find a new location. In the meantime, he has his hands full running Ole Man Chill, and he’s planning to open an off-season restaurant at Jacob Riis Park in mid-October.
Ole Man Chill is more of a social club than a restaurant. It has no sign, it isn’t on Yelp, and you pay what you want for beers out of the cooler and hot dogs, burgers, steak, and fish off of the grill. The place is so under the radar that it’d be a dick move to give out the address. For that, you’ll have to befriend one of the locals that have started gravitating toward it, or look for its hashtag on Instagram. We’ll say only that the marina is about a 10-minute drive west of the one where a houseboat fire recently broke out, and its gravel parking lot is located off of a dead-end street. Look for the camper van that belongs to Tracy Obolsky, whose Rockaway Beach Bakery doles out croissants, sticky buns, quiches (made with ingredients from nearby Edgemere Farm), and other baked goods there most weekday mornings. If you see this shack, next to an old phone booth, you’ve come to the right place.
Ole Man Chill is generally open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, but don’t be surprised if no one’s there the day you go. “If we don’t feel like coming in, we don’t come in,” said Tommy, a sunbaked, shirtless cook who on Sunday was making sliders stuffed with juicy chunks of mahimahi that had been caught by spear 110 miles offshore.
“It’s not for everybody, bro,” Whit said. But the boaters and neighbors who were lazing away at the deck’s handful of tables appeared to be enjoying themselves. One of them, in a hat that said “Respect the Locals,” first started coming to the marina shack for burgers and hot dogs sometime in the ’70s. The guy who leased the yard back then kept a pony there for kids’ birthday parties, he recalled.
While the marina seems perfectly frozen in time (minus the pony), other parts of Rockaway are changing, and Whit is at the forefront of that. He already operates Slice O’ Whit at the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, and plans to keep slinging pies on the Riis boardwalk “as long as is physically endurable.” When the Bazaar closes for the summer at the end of the month, he’ll move over to the central Bay 9 pavilion and operate a restaurant through the off-season.
The pavilion, which was occupied by Wildfeast last year, is a fantasy locale for a restaurateur who deeply loves Rockaway. Whit grew up in Jamaica (the island, not the neighborhood in Queens). Years ago, he found a similar seaside vibe in Rockaway and moved there. When we bumped into him at a preview of Brooklyn Bazaar, he said it was one of the few times in recent memory that he’d gotten out to “the city.”
At Riis, he hopes to create what Dominique Cannelongo, GM of the Bazaar, called “Hemingway on the beach– a sporting man’s paradise.”
Though Whit may not be able move his Naples-style oven over from Whit’s End, he’s considering installing a Roman oven and offering a different type of pizza. He also hopes to fire up an open flame for cooking whole animals, and plans to do “big proteins, lots of fish– kind of what I do now but bastardize maybe even more.” He’ll use the massive production kitchen for hosting pasta-making classes and curing meat.
To be sure, Riis Park is about as remote as it gets in the winter. But Cannelongo believes it can become a destination. “Whit has a notorious reputation,” he says, “but at the same time is a culinary hero in a way. He has a ‘fuck you’ attitude but at the same time is very giving and loving.”
If nothing else, the view of the beach will make for an amazing brunch backdrop. “I fucking hate brunch,” said Whit, “but I’m going to do a killer fucking brunch.” Among other things, you might get crab cakes inspired by his favorites in Duck, North Carolina. Or conch fritters that evoke his childhood in Jamaica. Whit knows a guy who harvests whelk off of Coney Island, after all.
Just don’t be a wiseass and ask for pot brownies, because the man can only be so chill about his “ridiculously silly” arrest and the online chatter that ensued. “I’m dealing with the accusations in the most correct way and it’s all going to come to a very correct closure,” he said, later insisting, “It’s false, the way about it was incorrect, the charges are incorrect.” (Aycock told the whole story to Grub Street a few weeks ago).
At one point during our conversation at Ole Man Chill, Whit ambled down to the dock, to run a hose for some swans that had floated over. As soon as he turned on the fresh water, they took turns lapping it up.
“Look, they love him!” said one of his delighted friends. “He’s like Dr. Seuss.”