Catch Oyster Bar
63 N. Ocean Ave., Patchogue
SERVICE: Efficient and friendly
AMBIENCE: Streamlined style, open kitchen, minimal kitsch
ESSENTIALS: Open Sundays to Thursdays 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays to 11 p.m. Weekend reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Very tight dining area; seating, mostly stools.
Catch Oyster Bar opens to unveil a pearl.
This bright spot, about as big as a bluepoint, shucks its way into Patchogue with casual flair and room for about 30 satisfied diners.
Most sit on stools, taking in the chefs at work and sports on TV, either from the busy bar or a few elevated tables for two. There are a couple of banquettes for quartets.
Above dangles an artfully distressed mermaid sculpture, as if to oversee the action. Models of fishing boats also have their space in what used to be a unisex hair salon, at the same level with exposed ductwork and beams. Subway tiles and smaller, glassy ones, some in ocean hues, decorate the joint.
Catch favors in-the-moment style and attracts an audience of mixed generations and varied appetites — the smart work of Michael and Jim Avino, whose son-and-father project aims at staying local and keeping an open kitchen. After a dozen on the half shell, you’ll start wondering why there isn’t a Catch in every downtown.
Michael Avino once was a live-events coordinator at MTV and worked with his father at the departed Bellport Chowder House. Jim Avino continues to run Avino’s Italian Table in Bellport. And there are dishes here with Italian accents.
First, however: raw oysters. Have a sampler. Try those sweet, moderately saline No. 9s; sample briny bluepoints, coppery and sweet Wild Fire Island bivalves, and give in to those creamy, deep-shell Kumamotos and balanced Mermaid Cove beauties.
If you must toy with them, use the shallot-laden mignonette instead of the taste-killing cocktail sauce.
Equally recommended are the crisply coated, well-dressed bluepoints in the oyster po’boy; and the expertly fried riff on oysters Rockefeller, finished with a Parmesan-fueled cream sauce. Likewise, the house’s savory New England and Manhattan clam chowders. You’ll get one of them with the so-so crabcake slider.
Baked clam “stuffies,” generous and sparked with bacon, rival these winners. So do the bluefin tuna crudo with sesame seeds and the octopus salad, entangling discs of sliced, tender cephalopod with good greens.
But calamari “Sicilian lifeguard style,” perhaps a tribute to Mario Batali’s dish, seems cooked a lot longer than two minutes but not to deep-marine flavor. The ringlets are tough, the sauce spicy enough to mask everything.
You’re better off with the South Shore fish stew, with calamari, cod and shellfish in a satisfying garlic-tomato broth. Linguine with clams could use a fistful of chopped parsley.
Bland and a bit overcooked: the house’s warm but limp lobster roll, served in a grilled and buttered split-top bun. You’ll be asking for salt, pepper or more lemon zest in the mayo. Refresh yourself with the tuna poke, which is on the sweet side but still worth choosing.
Shrimp-and-chicken jambalaya equals surf-and-turf here, and it’s fine, spurred by andouille sausage. Stay landside with a buttermilk-ranch fried chicken sandwich, crunchy and moist. Or order the “grilled dockside dog” with kielbasa, slaw, onions and pickles, which would be welcome at any ballpark.
Missing: an oyster pan roast and an oyster stew.
You can accompany much of the menu with a local brew on tap. Notables include Barrier Brewing’s grassy Icculus Kolsch; Greenport Harbor Brewing’s Tidal Lager; Crooked Ladder’s West Coast-style IPA; the mild Montauk Wave Chaser; and, of course, Blue Point’s Oyster Stout. The wine selections are modest, but look for sauvignon blanc and dry riesling, an unoaked chardonnay or a sparkling number.
No desserts are served. That’s probably a wise move by the Avinos. There’s a Carvel on Main Street.
The best advice, however, is the simplest: Eat more oysters.