The scene at Rumba in Hampton Bays gets going early, even on a weeknight. At 6:15, my car is one of the last to be valet-parked in the crowded lot behind the restaurant.
A sign at the entry declares it's "Island time." I start to unwind as two of us are shown to the patio and the last available seats at a long counter facing out onto the parking lot -- and, beyond, the Shinnecock Canal. The crowd is a happy mix of families and couples. Lots of Hawaiian shirts.
The sound system pumps out a mix of reggae and Jimmy Buffett. I'm glad my rum punch is both fruity and potent, that the "Dominican" ribs we share are fork-tender, sticky with a chili-ginger-soy glaze, showered with fresh cilantro. Then, there's a fish taco -- sage-breaded mahi mahi topped with a perky slaw and a squiggle of rémoulade -- nestled into a soft corn tortilla. Festive food, for sure.
Now that the parking lot is full, guests are transported from a satellite lot (at the nearby Mariner's Cove Marina) on the restaurant's "Rum Bus."
My guy's jerk chicken (juicy, boneless thighs) comes up smoky and spicy. It's served over a coconut risotto I find achingly sweet. My salad of jumbo local diver scallops with papaya, avocado, tomatoes, corn, frisee and mâche is delicious; the scallops (lots of them) are hidden beneath the greens, to be ferreted out like buried treasure.
The finale is grand: a slice of sweet-tart Key lime pie on a buttery graham crust with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. It's pie that eclipses anything remembered from the Florida Keys.