If something in your Greenpoint building smells fishy, it might actually be fish.
Former Surf Bar owner, Boston native, and self-proclaimed chowdahead Ben Sargent has been so frustrated in his citywide quest for the perfect lobster roll that he taken the unusual step of opening up a New England-style lobster shack in the basement of his Brooklyn apartment.
“Everyone is trying to do their own, lame traditional New England lobster roll,” said Sargent. “Every place seems to have its own spin on it. It’s not something that needs to be spun. It’s perfect just the way it is.”
It’s not the first time Sargent has bared his lobster claws. In 2001, after a revelatory afternoon surfing in the Far Rockaways, he approached two actor friends who lost their jobs on As the World Turns about buying their fledgling candle shop on North 7th Street for about $900.
“Their characters got killed off and they were very unhappy,” said Sargent.
He took over their lease and began selling surf boards, fishing rods, and eventually pots of clam chowder and lobster rolls, just like the clam shacks he encountered in childhood summer vacations to his grandparents’ home in Orleans, Massachusetts, which have held a lasting impression on his cooking. He called his father for the chowder recipe and set about recreating it.
“My father would come home from fishing and dig up clams as if fishing weren’t enough,” said Sargent. Those were good memories for me. When I walk into a fish store, it reminds me at the best times of my life.”
He named the restaurant Hurricane Hopeful but after about three years, creative differences with his co-owner led to a split. While the restaurant exists under a new name, Sargent has not been back often and instead sought to recreate his idyllic Cape Cod clam shack closer to home. He began making authentic New England lobster rolls using only the purest ingredients and lobsters sourced from Maine and he named the venture, The Underground Lobster Pound.
“The bun that I swear by is not fancy, not a baguette. It’s a store-bought bun with high fructose corn syrup. I’m not going all organic or enriched blah blah blah, or gluten free-this, I don’t care about this,” said Sargent.
News of the new venture spread by word of mouth until it began appearing in blogs like FreeWilliamsburg in late January and other media outlets began pounding his door to get a taste of summer.
“Then it went viral,” said Sargent. “It was awesome on one end, but that’s where I freaked out. Wait, it’s on FreeWilliamsburg? Now I’m going to have people on my front stoop, loitering, and that’s not good for the underground portion.
The lobster rolls are donation only, which Sargent suggests to correspond to market price. rolls are market price, which these days is between $10 and $20.
“When I was growing up, a lobster is not a $40 item, it was market price,” said Sargent. “When lobsters are an all time low, like last year, restaurants in New York are making bank for their rolls. It’s on a hot dog bun, how fancy can it get?”
Sargent will not reveal his address, but if you email his website at www.brooklynchowdersurfer.com he will weed out the lobster lovers and seafood foodies from the state Department of Environmental Conservation law enforcement officers.
Sargent aspires to make his lobster rolls taste like the ones made in the parking lot of a gas station in Maine.
“All they’re doing is taking fresh lobster that came out of lobster that morning, put a little mayo in, a little butter on there, and putting it on a toasted bun,” said Sargent. “It’s like Heaven.”
For more information about The Underground Lobster Pound, visit www.brooklynchowdersurfer.com