Something’s been cooking over at 2 Knickerbocker, the triangular lot that was once home to Amancay’s Diner, a late-night “spin the bottle” diner opened by a restauranteur known for his jello-wrestling glory days. The new tenant, Cape House, is a bit more serious minded, and aims to fill a big ol’ hole in the city’s food scene.
“New York City has food from all over the world,” said Dana Gardner, who recently opened Cape House with partners Andy Miller and Ben Ward. “But I couldn’t find this clam shack food anywhere.” Garner claimed he had to drive all the way to Cape Cod to get the stuff.
Originally from the beachy, oceanside town of Ipswich, Massachusetts (he moved to Bushwick a decade ago), Gardner grew up eating what he described as “fried seafood stuff.” But wait a sec, aren’t we just talking fish and chips?
“We don’t do fish and chips– it’s haddock and fries,” Gardner explained. Just like they do in Cape Cod proper, he’s switching out cod fish for haddock (with fries for $14), which has a more distinct flavor and holds fast when it comes to form. And where fish and chips are traditionally beer battered, making for a heavy filet-o’-grease, Gardner is using cornmeal to recreate that ultra-crisp, “light and flaky” fry.
The distinction is an important one to understand, since fried fish n’ things– whole belly clams ($10-$18), scallops ($14-$25), clam fritters ($6), onion rings ($5), French fries ($4)– are a major chunk of the menu at Cape House, which Gardner said is all about that “smutty, nostalgic food.”
For those of us who don’t wanna look like a puffy, beached grease whale all the time, the restaurant is also offering “healthier, seasonal” fare. Dishes like “Romanesco cauliflower” (aka trippy LSD fractal broccoli) with pepato, pear, and pumpkin seed, and rainbow carrots with gooseberries, rutabaga, and hemp seed (both dishes $11 each), offer a major departure from fried-everything.
Healthier grilled fish options are available as well ($14 squid and $22 whole Porgy). There’s even a modest raw bar with equally modest prices: $1 Littleneck clams and $1.75 Wellfleet Oysters. There’s one fancier-pants offering too, the Fluke Crudo ($16).
Cape House is a fully-fledged bar, too, open till 4am and serving late-night food until 2 am on the weekends. You can grip a pint of beer and a shot for just $6 at all times. During happy hour, drafts and wells are $1 off (open till 7 pm), and for 10 bones you can cozy up to a burger and a pint of the house juice, Cape House lager.
The beachy, leisure club-style decor matches the cuisine. “This is my homage to the Cape house where I grew up,” Gardner said. Somehow they’ve managed to nail the weather-worn nautical look without looking too much like a theme park cafe. A framed picture of JFK is coming soon.
Also on the horizon: a live-music venue. The basement is getting a total makeover and will eventually open as a “disco nightclub” with a “cocktail lounge/speakeasy vibe.” Ideally, the place will be bumping Thursday through Sunday, with more sedate music– Gardner mentioned an “’80s pop night”– during the rest of the week.
For now, Cape House is hosting weekend brunch with Reverend Vince Anderson (who’s long had a regular show at Union Pool) playing “dirty blues” on the little upright piano in the dining room.
Maybe being a beached whale isn’t so bad after all.
Cape House is located at 2 Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick.