How do you recapture a summer’s day? Try lobster rolls and blueberry wine. They’ll bring it all back—the brilliant sunset, the salty air, the sea, and the sand.
And that’s what owner Tommy Chabrowski wanted when he opened the Lobster Joint in Greenpoint over the summer—to be reminded of the sea. An avid surfer, he loves the water. When he was 14, he bought a used surfboard and went surfing in Far Rockaway, and later in Montauk and Costa Rica. By the mid 90’s, he was living a surfer’s life in Puerto Rico, tending bar by the ocean. One day, he noticed an unused kitchen behind the bar. He asked the boss if he could do something with it and soon found himself flipping burgers, grilling chicken, and owning a piece of the action. When he had his fill of Island life, he came back to Greenpoint and opened the Mark Bar, and later, The Lunch Box.
Now in his late thirties, he is a new father with a six month-old baby girl named Chloe, and his bar partying days are behind him. Today he wants to run a local eatery, where families and locals can come and enjoy an authentic New England seafood dinner in a relaxing setting.
To be clear, this is a lobster “joint” not a “shack.” There are no dime store fish nets, colorful buoys, or dried-out starfishes from the Depression era on the walls. There are no fishy smells coming from the kitchen and no sticky old ketchup stains permanently left on weathered picnic tables. Everything in his Lobster Joint is spic-and-span, with white tiled walls and picnic-style tables that are made of knotty old English pine and polished to a river stone smoothness. The hardwood floor is painted a deep sea blue. The restaurant’s minimalist decor is meant to reflect the clean and simple style of the food.
The menu is classic New England and is prepared by Chef Justin Ernsberger, who trained at the French Culinary Institute. Previously, he worked as executive chef at the Mermaid Inn and Walter’s Food. Justin describes his cooking style as purist, allowing the true taste of the food to shine through. “People have powerful food memories,” he says. “When they bite into a lobster roll, they know what it should taste like.” Despite that, there are plenty of opportunities for him to be creative.
“I do daily specials,” he says. “I might do a crab taco one day and a tempura the next. There is so much you can do with seafood.” He points out that in addition to the traditional New England clam chowder, he also offers a lobster and corn bisque which has no cream added. “It’s much lighter with fewer calories. Something you can eat every day.”
Ernsberger was a child actor who worked in tv commercials. He also appeared in several sitcoms and even went on Saturday Night Live once. The last time he was on tv, he was a sous-chef on an Iron Chef battle on the Food Network. “The secret ingredient was crab; I was allergic to lobsters and crabs and had to wear gloves to get through the show.”
WAIT! Did I hear that right? The chef of a lobster joint is allergic to lobsters? What is this? A sitcom? Dreamboat golden hair surfer dude teams up with jovial, cherubic faced ex-child actor to open a lobster joint in Polish hipsterville. Life is good, except for the fact that the chef is allergic to sea bugs?
Not to worry, insists Justin. The Iron Chef episode was years ago. “I’m no longer allergic to lobster,” he assures me.
“After many years of exposure to crabs and lobsters in all kinds of seafood restaurants, I have gotten used to them. I have completely conquered my crustacean allergies.” Talk about bravery and dedication to the profession! It’s just so unfair that firemen get all the love.
Tommy says diners can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where they announce the daily specials and newly arrived wine and beer. They’re currently serving an intense blueberry port wine. I’ve had blueberry wine before, but this one was the purest yet. It reminds of the wild blueberries I once picked while vacationing in Wisconsin’s Starr Lake.
Cocktails recommended by Tommy include the Dark and Stormy and the Lobster Bloody Mary, garnished with a fresh pink claw.
The lobster roll I had was piled high with large chunks of Maine lobster on fluffy white bread, lightly toasted and slathered with warm butter. By going light on the mayo and the herbs, Justin allows the lobster meat to do all the talking.
The crab rolls were made with jumbo lump crab meat and have a hint of spiciness. There are also crab cakes and grilled salmon sandwiches. During weekday happy hours (4 to 7), there is a dollar oyster special.
The Lobster Joint is designed for people to come together to relive sultry summer days all year round. Its menu accommodates a variety of tastes and budgets. Lobster rolls are $17, Crab rolls are $14, hamburgers are $12, and the fish and chips platter is $14. There is a lobster mac & cheese and veggie melts, and the sides ($4 each or three for $10) are corn on the cob, beet salad and fries. There is a large backyard designed to look like a beer garden, with long picnic tables and a large oak tree that sways in the breeze.
Tommy’s parents still live in Greenpoint, and they visit often. Dad (Tad Chabrowski) is an accomplished poet who published over 23 volumes of Polish poetry. He likes the fish and chips, while Mom, a structural engineer for battleships, loves the lobster dishes. Justin was raised by a single mother on the Lower East Side. She started him in showbiz and later was instrumental in getting him started in the restaurant business. “When I was seventeen, my mom said, ‘there’s a new restaurant opening down the street, go get yourself a job,’” he laughs.
“My mom is my greatest supporter,” he adds. When she’s in town, she checks on her son and orders the Lobster Platter with red potatoes, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. Greenpoint hasn’t had a good seafood restaurant for many years. This one is sure to create many happy dining memories for the locals for years to come.
The Lobster Joint
1073 Manhattan Avenue (near Eagle St.)
Open noon to 2 a.m. serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch