When Paddy McGees closed for renovation in 2005, the number of good fish houses on Long Island dropped about 33 per cent.
Polished and perked up, the old joint is back, grilling and frying, baking and steaming. The dining room has regrouped wandering and dispersed diners -- and caused considerable dismay in the lobster community.
Visually, not that much has changed. The framed Sports Illustrated covers are gone, or at least consigned elsewhere. But the waterside eatery is festooned with even more black-and-white photos of fishermen, markets and the catch. Vintage signs endure. Blackboards advertise specials.
On them, you'll find the day's oysters, the sizes of the lobsters, and a brief number of finfish preparations. Generally, however, customers have an idea of what they want before getting out of their cars.
A few Wellfleets and bluepoints get things started with a briny flourish. The ample shrimp and crabmeat cocktails are dependably first-rate openers. A combo of four shrimp and a one-pound lobster spurs the appetite for two.
Basically, straightforward and unfussy food is what counts here, even more than before. Once the concept turns elaborate, and anything veers too far from traditional, the restaurant seems to rebel against itself.
New England-style clam chowder, while on the thick side, leads the soups, rivalled by Maryland crab soup. The lobster bisque shows up dense and dull.
Fried calamari materialize blond and crunchy, flanked by acceptable lemon-thyme aioli and a fra diavolo sauce suited more for Purgatory. Roasted clams are an erratic group, with the casino crew preferable to the bland stuffed and oreganata duet.
Listed as "Paddy's Classics" are plump, tasty Maryland crabcakes, accented with corn relish. The designation shouldn't apply to the overcooked mussels in garlic-and-wine broth. Cornmeal-crusted fried oysters earn it.
Steamed lobsters, two pounds and up, are buttery and sweet. You'll also enjoy the broiled and crabmeat-stuffed lobsters on a one-way trip from Maine.
Moist, grilled swordfish, with a stew of plum tomatoes and fennel, an herbaceous white-bean puree and arugula heads the school of finfish. Grilled salmon, with wilted frisee, French lentils, lardons and a mustard vinaigrette amounts to a spirited update on the usual. Rosy grilled tuna, minimally dressed, similarly succeeds.
Seared dayboat scallops attract, but a pasty "risotto cake" mars the dish. Seafood fra diavolo: overcooked. And the fried seafood combination, uniform and boring, needs a lot of tartar sauce. Instead, have your lemon sole broiled.
For the carnivore, Paddy McGee's grills a flavorful Black Angus steak; and a sirloin hamburger.
The brownie sundae and the cheesecake, big and blunt, are the top desserts, followed by flourless chocolate cake. Skip the apple-cherry crisp and the Key lime mousse cake.
Despite some lapses, Paddy McGee's remains a comfortable, unpretentious and appealing restaurant. You'll have plenty of reasons to say welcome back.