Welcome to a new series we’re calling A Small, Good Thing, which is a reference to the Raymond Carver story and NOT Martha Stewart’s “Good Things.” Anything can be a small, good thing: a song, a sentence in a short story, a scene from a movie, a particular episode of a television show, a side dish at a restaurant—so long as it’s worth celebrating.
On a trip to Maine last summer, we happily fulfilled our mission to gorge on lobster three meals a day—either steamed and served whole, picked over and piled into rolls, or even showcased at cheap Chinese takeout spots, such as the ramshackle Bar Harbor eatery, Chow Maine. But what we never could have anticipated was that, once back in Brooklyn, our fondest food memories would have a lot less to do with scarlet, butter-sluiced water bugs than plentiful, plebeian mollusks; namely, fantastically plump, eye-poppingly orange and supremely succulent Maine mussels. While we’ve grown up enjoying mussels well enough, we can’t remember an instance when we’ve been particularly wowed by them—our primary associations being bland and scrawny PEI’s sold for a song at area fishmongers; or drowned in red sauce, predictably rounding out the antipasti section on Italian menus; or used to economically beef-up bouillabaisse, like so much melon in a fruit salad. But the wild blue varieties that dot the coast of Maine effectively opened our eyes to what true mussels could be, and what we’d not experienced before or since—until a recent fateful dinner at Williamsburg’s Extra Fancy.
After an impressive progression of more universally celebrated shellfish—including oyster topped with uni and quivering live scallop, delivered artfully in its shell—we spotted them, discretely tucked alongside head-on shrimp in a rustic, Southern-style perlou. They were far too full-bodied, too distinctively briny and sweet to be those over-harvested specimens from PEI, and indeed, we were thrilled to discover that they were, in fact, from Bangs Island, lovingly hand-raised in the crisp, pristine waters of Maine’s Casco Bay.
Sean Telo first got wise to the small, family-owned company when he was working as a chef in Atlanta, and a formerly Maine-based compatriot enticed him with stories of their mussels—grown suspended on ropes above the ocean floor, positioned away from sandy, salty tidal zones, and meticulously hand-harvested instead of being removed en masse with powerful, damaging machines. Working with a series of inside contacts, Telo eventually became the proud owner of the very first bag of Bangs Island Mussels ever to cross the Mason Dixon line (they’re generally snapped up by local restaurants), a feat he’d not managed to replicate at Extra Fancy until just a few weeks ago.
Telo has literally spent the last year and a half attempting to create a clear line of trade from Maine to Brooklyn, working with the most influential seafood purchaser he knew. And the finagling finally paid off, resulting in a second bag (with more to come) of the highly prized bivalves, currently found cuddled alongside gold rice and pork sausage in that savory perlou, or served simmered in verjus and accompanied by house made bread, and establishing Extra Fancy as the only borough purveyor of what they—and we—wholeheartedly agree, are the world’s most mouth-watering mussels.
302 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg