Down along the Seaford waterfront, tucked away beside seaside homes and docked boats, lies the elusive, beautific White Whale. She is a beauty, no question. And she sure knows how to serve up a good time. Families, friends, and even an occasional pirate or two, gather here to celebrate life, enjoy great meals and toss back a few solid drinks.
The restaurant boasts panoramic water views, outside seating and over-the-top hospitality. It touts a stocked menu, ranging from “Old World Favorites” like Sauerbraten and Weiner Schnitzel to “Super Combo Specials” such as Lobster Tails and Sirloin, among many others. Its specialty is seafood. The White Whale’s belly is spacious, with an adjacent dining room off the main barroom in addition to enclosed patio seating. The bar radiates a warm, welcoming feeling—as if you’ve just entered the galley of an old ship, as if you’ve just returned home.
How I happened upon this enigmatic restaurant, I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it began with a barrage of text messages to some very dear friends. I’m so happy I did. For what Captain Ahab had spent his life searching for, these cats already had found.
It was a Saturday night, if I recall correctly, and I was hungry. So, I shot out a flurry of quick texts to see where everyone was, what they were all doing. Mariko was the first to reply. She was at Matchless, in Brooklyn. I knew the place well.
“Aw,” she wrote. “Brunch is tomorrow around noonish. Nothing set in stone but ill keep u updated.”
Around midnight, another text:
“Brunch at the white whale for jerry’s birthday eve,” she wrote. “Noonish. Let me know if you can make it please : – )”
The White Whale. I had ventured there only once before, but the vision of that historic night will be forever etched into my cerebellum. Yes, I remembered her well.
Jerry, a dear friend, had held an after-wedding party at the restaurant about two months earlier. It was unlike any post-wedding gala I had ever experienced, fellow food marauders. A party bus, carrying a caravan of outlaws, gadabouts, vagabonds and drifters—the truest and most caring souls anyone could ever hope to meet or know—rolled up late-night. This crew parties, hard.
Let me stress that—hard.
Most of these pirates are covered in tattoos and present or former members of various bands: Heston Rifle, Playing Dead, Monkey Chunks, Come Out Fighting, Blood Hearts, TomAraya, Endangered Feces, to name a few. Some traveled from across the country to attend. Names like Heavy Metal Chris and Booger. Stories ranging from impounded Winnebagos to money seizures at San Francisco International to the sheep farms of Cyprus. Camping outside Johnny Cash’s childhood home. Spending a winter living in a van. A cheese that grills but yet does not melt. Great people. Great friends. Great times.
Already a bit tipsy from the ceremony (another column, entirely), this ship’s sailors had sought the White Whale in search of adventure—and to celebrate with Jerry and his bride Denise. They had come to set the night and early morning on fire. And they did—that post-marriage gathering winded down about dawn.
Jerry, the groom, made the rounds, showing off a scar on the top of his head from his bachelor party a few nights before (long story, for another column entirely).
Yes, it was total rock and roll.
I shot Mariko back.
“How much money cost,” I texted.
“18 + tax and tip all u can eat and drink (alcohol included),” she wrote.
I showed up around 12:30 p.m. and pulled up a barstool amid the ranks: Jerry, Dave, Scotty and Miriam.
Most had already ripped through their first plate and were washing the meals back with unlimited mimosas, Bloody Marys, Screw Drivers and beer.
I ordered a coffee and recognized the bartender, Cindy, from the after-wedding festivities.
“Sugar?” she smiled.
“Oh yes,” I replied.
It was my first cup of the day. As I sipped, I stared at a big black catfish scavenging the bottom of a gigantic fish tank at the center of the bar.
“So how you been?” asked the birthday boy. I filled him in.
“Yeah nobody’s really been doing anything,” he said. “All this rain. Missed you at the barbeque last weekend.”
“How’s married life treating you?” I asked. “How is Denise?”
“The hell if I know,” he half smiled, taking a slug of his mimosa and shrugging his shoulders. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen her. After the honeymoon she went to Philadelphia. Now she’s in Miami.”
This crew has been coming to the White Whale’s Sunday brunch about once a month for the past several years. I had heard the stories before: the endless food, the endless booze, the laughs, the occasional tears (another story not for this entry, but perhaps a future column). The gatherings had become legendary. Yet this was my first time. And the place was packed.
Besides my friends lining the bar, the adjacent dining room was filled with another crowd—another birthday, perhaps, along with maybe an anniversary party? Who knows. The line snaked to the buffet table, though, about a dozen thick.
The array of food was a vision of pure beauty: trays upon trays of Roasted Turkey, Mussels Bianco, Homemade Lasagna, Yams, Stuffing, Scrambled Eggs, Home Fries, Sausage, Ham, fresh-sliced Roast Beef, hot Belgian Waffles, a parade of desserts and salads and chilled crustaceans. I know I’m forgetting some.
I heaped together a combo plate containing most of the above, minus the desserts and salad.
Forking through the weighty, gorgeous mess, I first concentrated on the saucy, cheesy, multi-layered lasagna, scooping up fragments of the childhood favorite with strands of turk and lumps of stuffing. Unreal. I yanked the insides out the mussels—its garlicy wine sauce colliding with the Italian and turkey juices to create a fragrant moat of pure joy—and added them to the foray. Oh, so good amid a forkful of lasagna. Oh, so great inside a mouthful of turkey, stuffing and a slab of roast beef. The meat was tender, juicy and swallowed well. I continued the onslaught, trading off at times to blanket shards of the waff with slivers of roast beef and noodles of lasag. Yes, I dressed her up, then I toppled her down.
Next, I killed the coffee.
Cindy took notice, quickly circling back to pour a refill.
“Thanks,” I smiled. What service.
Somewhere between the first plate and the next round, the troops began to rumble about birthday shots.
“Not yet,” said Dave, waving his hands at Cindy. “I need to get more food in me.”
Jerry and Scotty were ready to go.
Round two: As I piled a duplicate plate, a little heavier on the turkey and the lasagna, I came upon two fresh, steaming vats of waffles and eggs.
“Oh yes,” I thought.
“Oh yes indeed,” murmured my stomach.
The woman manning the breakfast station must have sensed my yearning.
“Oh, now you’re going to have to have some of these waffles,” she said. “They’re hot off the presses.”
“Oh I definitely want some waffles,” I told her.
“And you’ll have to have some of these scrambled eggs, too,” she said.
“Oh I definitely want some of those eggs,” I said.
As I reached for the tongs for the waffles—balancing my loaded plate in my left hand and figuring I’d toss them atop the lasagna and mussels—she said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, at least not for some time. She said something wonderful. Something unexpected. Something amazing. Something you wish you’d hear much, much more often at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The magic words: “Go ahead and grab another plate.”
At first, it didn’t process.
“Wha—” I stumbled.
“Go ahead, turn around and go get another plate. You’re going to need another plate for these waffles and eggs.”
Still only semi-registering, my body moved, almost on autopilot, and brought back another virgin plate.
She piled it on: half a waff and a heaping, steaming mountain of scrambled eggs.
“There you go,” she smiled. “You’re a growing boy.”
“Whoa,” said Jerry as I sat back down. “Hungry?”
“Oh yeah,” I laughed. “It was the woman manning the station. She said I was a growing boy.”
“What woman?” he said, looking across the bar with Dave. “Oh. That’s the owner.”
I took a swig of coffee and sized up the two boatloads of food.
“Gorgeous,” whispered my intestines.
“Are you really going to eat all of that?” asked Jerry, sucking on another mimosa.
“Oh yeah,” I told him. “I’m a growing boy.”
They split for a cigarette break. I lunged in, once again starting with combo forks of lasagna, turkey and stuffing. I made sure to spoon a few extra pools of sauce in between the mussels and the roast beef, so the stuffing made for an extra-heavy sponge, mushier and more soaked than on the first round.
Following two or three mouthfuls, I made the switch: What began as a casual summer fling of waffle-egg combo scoops cascaded into an all-out avalanche of hybrid shovels, each one heavier and more passionate than the previous. There was the egg-turk-waff swath. There was the egg-turkey-lasagna trifecta. There was the waffle-egg-turkey-mussel quad hit. And there was the egg-waff-turkey-stuffing-mussel-roast beef monsoon. None were left in her wake. The default was usually the egg-turk-lasag triple play.
Gotta tell you, fellow food adventurers, if you haven’t mopped a chunk of mussel with a wad of eggs through a puddle of garlic wine and Italian sauce, following it up with a solid, sinewy slab of meat, you have not lived. You have not lived.
Onward: I continued with the hybrids, occasionally switching to more traditional, just straight-up eggs or straight-up turkey and eggs or simply straight-up eggs and waff, for the better part of a few minutes. The last man standing was the roast beef, and I could feel my gut pushing outward a wee bit as I sliced through the red, chewy flesh and mixed with the egg.
By this time, my coffee was cold, but a liquid was required. I downed a few swishes and trudged joyously forward, cutting and lifting and gnawing and licking till almost all was down my esophagus and peacefully reunited in the vast and enigmatic chasm that is my gut.
“Well you definitely had everything,” said Jerry upon his return to the bar. “You also took the last plate.”
Cindy arrived again, and the conversation quickly turned to the many fish wading around the tank. Jerry explained that he had been there when one of the fish gave birth, and Cindy had to immediately reach into the tank with a net to scoop the youngsters out before they were eaten by the others. She laughed and laughed as he retold the tale.
Dave, bassist for Playing Dead, remained fixated on a certain fish, that black bottom-dweller, which had attached itself to the side of the tank facing us. Its mouth and gills were constantly opening and closing, as if it were trying to eat the glass. Other fish shot back and forth, zooming by, stirring up residue and creating swirling clouds. Dave muttered about the top-shelf quality of the White Whale’s Eggplant, an entrée unfortunately not on this visit’s lineup. He was trancelike.
Another cigarette break.
“So get this,” Jerry said, outside. “So I put an ad on Craig’s List [looking for people to jam with]… So this guy answers… He says he’s been playing in bands since 1992. Great… He’s 40, but that’s fine… So I send him links to Heston Rifle’s stuff [Jerry plays bass] and he writes back yeah, he’s into it, but that he wants to do stuff that’s not as boring.”
“What the—,” I said. Heston Rifle kills.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “What do you say to that? How am I supposed to respond to that?” He took another pull from his cigarette.
“You tell him to [expletive] get lost,” I told him.
“He’s recording all this, you know,” said Scotty, bending down and talking into my pocket. “He’s recording everything we say. Hello! Hello-o! Hell-o!”
“What?” asked another smoker.
“Oh, he records everything,” Scotty told him. “Yeah. Oh you didn’t know that? Oh, yeah. He keeps a tape recorder in his pocket.”
Back inside, I paid a visit to another dear friend slumped across the bar, Erik D. He, too, loves food, he told me, and he is starting his own food blog [ENTER LINK HERE WHEN IT’S UP AND RUNNING]. I told him I would plug it. He went out for a smoke and his lady friend asked me for help.
Turns out she had worked at a posh shoe store near Mulberry Street, [ENTER NAME HERE], and hadn’t been paid. She was being shafted by its owners [ENTER NAMES HERE] and had complained to the Department of Labor, but the investigator assigned to the case [ENTER NAME HERE], “has got to be the laziest DOL investigator ever,” she said. She told me she’s due more than $2,500. I felt bad.
Didn’t know how much a simple food blog could help, I told her, but I was willing to try something. Need a little bit more information, though.
Then came the birthday shots.
“He’s in,” shouted Scotty, pointing at me.
As the shot glasses were doled out, we asked Cindy what exactly they were.
“It’s a surprise,” she smiled, as one somehow creeped its way into my hand.
“Happy Birthday Jerry!” the place exploded.
One by one, two by two, three by three, the shots disappeared. They were brownish-orange. Tasted a bit like a Creamsicle, with a slight bite.
The clock on the wall said it was nearing 3, the end of free drinks. Orders began pouring in to Cindy to get under the wire. Jerry and the crew pressured Dave to drink as much as he could, as quickly as he could, before the bar shut down. Apparently he’s done this before.
Cindy poured a beer. Dave inhaled it.
Cindy poured another. Jerry restarted the timer. Dave downed it in 6.3 seconds. Then he said he felt sick and wandered outside.
Only a few more minutes to go. The jeering started back up as soon as he came back inside. Dave refused to drink any more, waving his hands again at Cindy and murmuring something about handball. Mariko, Dave’s girlfriend, whispered in his ear: “Be your own man.”
The revelers misinterpreted the comment as something else.
“Don’t write about this, Cooke,” Dave slurred. “This is a family restaurant.”
Jerry was relentless.
“C’mon, little hat Dave,” he chided.
“Loud guy in a little hat,” chimed Scotty.
“This is not a little hat,” Dave said. “This is not a little hat.”
“Another, for my birthday,” Jerry pleaded. “C’mon, one more for my birthday.”
“I can’t,” continued Dave. “I won’t be able to play handball.”
“Cindys, cut me off,” he said, flailing his arms. “Cut me off Cindys.”
As the clock approached 3, Dave, dressed in his little gray hat, continued to refuse and make excuses. Soon, the time came. Another Sunday brunch was over. The group split up. Some headed across the street to pick up more beer for the handball courts while others gave their goodbye hugs. I headed to my van.
Again I thought of old Capt. Ahab.
“The White Whale,” I mused. “Some keep searching, while others grab hold and don’t let go.”
Yes, I’ll be returning. So should you.