Grab a beachfront burger and more at Lenny's
Long ago, friends of my family would stay at Hawk’s Nest Beach in Old Lyme for a month every summer. As a friend of their youngest daughter, I was invited to stay and hang with her for extended, multi-day visits. It was Judy-Blume delightful.
Sometimes, we’d wander over to Sound View Beach next door. At that time, adults wouldn’t feel too weird about letting girls under age 12 walk around the popular summer hotspot. Cutesy shops along Hartford Avenue offered beach stuff, ice cream, and Slush-Puppies, and the beach and ocean were steps away. To us, it was the coolest little strip.
A revisit as an adult squeezed my heart with nostalgia. Many of those cutesy shops are boarded up now, and most of the action seems to center around Lenny’s on the Beach and the Pavillion next door (a place my mother expressly warned us NOT to go years later). Now that I’m out of my mother’s jurisdiction, I figured it was time to sample the Sound View scene, preferably with a meal, so off to Lenny’s I went with a pack of pals.
Lenny’s starts hoppin’ pretty early, so my troupe of tasters headed out mid-afternoon on a drizzly weekend day. Despite it, we sat outdoors, eschewing the overall humidity pervading the indoor dining area. Our waitress was good enough to towel down our chairs and table, and we nearly had the entire deck to ourselves for a spell. In smug acknowledgement of our wise planning, we ordered a round of drinks — two of us opted for a “loaded” Corona, in which the suds are topped with a shot of Cruzan rum available in several flavors ($9). Not to be outdone, I ordered a flight of local beers crafted by Sound View Brewing Company ($14), exclusively brewed at Lenny’s.
Four flavors of Sound View brew were available that day: Flat Rock Amber Ale; Hartford Ave IPA with Grapefruit; Hawk’s Nest Wheat Ale; and Ocean Spray IPA. Note: Flights include six samples, so if you consider one, you might have to double up on a few beers depending on what’s available on tap that day.
I’m admittedly a fussy beer drinker, with a palate that prefers wheat beers, Mexican-style lagers, or smoother, malty brews. Predictably, the Flat Rock Amber Ale emerged my favorite, thanks to its soft sudsiness and malty notes. Somehow, the IPA with Grapefruit was my second favorite. It’s a bright, quaffable, and not overly acidic concoction in which the grapefruit offers the slightest twist of flavor without overpowering the beer.
My IPA-loving friend enjoyed all four beers, but the Cranberry IPA and wheat beer were too bite-y and hop-forward for me. Still, the cranberry in the IPA was as subtle as the grapefruit variety, but be ready for a punch of cran-tart on the back-end of each sip.
We paired our drinks with the chips and pineapple salsa app ($7), and it’s good we did, since it would be some time before our lunches would arrive. Still, we unanimously enjoyed the salsa so much, we forgave the clearly store-bought chips that came with it. The chef did not skimp on the cilantro, an ever-important salsa ingredient, and balanced the sweet, juicy pineapple with little savory kicks of heat courtesy of peppers and red onions.
You might imagine that one would appreciate some napkins to go with salty chips and drippy salsa, and we certainly did once they arrived. Regrettably, they showed up well after our meals did. We’d asked for them a few times, but the single waitress working the entire restaurant was flat-out swamped with a steadily growing number of tables to cover — napkin requests were not a priority. Understandable, but why not call in some more staff? Lenny himself was somewhere on the premises, according to the waitress, but apparently he, too, was otherwise engaged. To wit: When the drizzle picked up a bit, we asked our waitress for some guidance in opening our table’s stubborn, heavy, tiki-style umbrella. She assured us she’d send out Lenny to help us, because, she explained, she had trouble opening them herself. Many minutes later, when we finally got our napkins, we asked after Lenny and his umbrella-opening genius again. The suitably embarrassed waitress reported that he would not be coming out to assist us after all, no explanation provided. She offered to towel off another table with a less fussy umbrella, but the drizzle had tapered off by then, so we laughed off quirky Lenny for her benefit and, when she’d gone, conferenced and reassured ourselves that, indeed, we were not living in some alternate universe in which customer service doesn’t exist, and therefore our request was not unreasonable. Duly noted, Lenny.
But good fortune did not abandon us, because every item we ordered was unexpectedly good, if not very good. Naturally, we calibrated our expectations to beach-bar levels, but our dishes exceeded that designation a bit. First place went to the beautiful Tuna Avocado Wrap ($14), bursting with lightly seared (to order) and very fresh ahi tuna, an abundance of fresh greens and chopped tomato and onion, and, of course, the titular avocado. The crunch of the thick layer of greens created an excellent balance for the soft, silky tuna and avocado. We also appreciated the slight grilling on the wrap — all the better to keep your ingredients inside the wrap.
The Southwestern Buffalo Wrap ($11) was similarly well executed and balanced, with fresh leafy lettuce, tomato, and onion — a nice counterpart to the flavorful and crispy (but not greasy) chicken within. The spicy ranch sauce would be the cherry on top if not for the other star ingredient: bacon. Still, I’d hesitate to call the ranch sauce “spicy,” but it did bring a nice little zip to the whole package.
I give the Soundview Classic Burger ($9; comes with American cheese and a pickle) second place of the bunch in a nod to its preparation as ordered (medium) and the tender, juicy patty that did not resemble or taste like the frozen variety. Like the other dishes, the accompanying lettuce and tomato were fresh and crisp and perfect toppers for the tasty burger beneath. What’s more, the chef is stocked in quality rolls, soft and just a teeny bit of sweetness that make a savory package stand out even more.
And though they were very heavily spiced, most of us would order the chicken tenders again. We’d selected the dry Cajun rub (other flavor options include buffalo, BBQ, sweet chili, or garlic parmesan), and Cajun dry rub is what we received in abundance. If you’re a fan of the cumin-cayenne profile, you’ll like these tenders, which, bonus spice aside, were very tender and tasty and not overly fried.
A basket of curly fires ($6) satisfied everyone at the table; we suspect a light touch on the grease and the mild bit of seasoning elevated this menu staple into truly enjoyable fare.
Here’s my overall assessment of Lenny’s: it is what it is. It is a beachfront bar with food that goes beyond standard snack-bar eats in variety and quality. It is also teeming with colorful characters, with colorful personalities that might not reflect your usual experience. If you’re ready for an adventure, go forth and have a burger. If not, grab takeout, find a patch of sand and a sunset and dig in.
Lenny’s on the Beach
88 Hartford Ave., Old Lyme
(860) 598-4484; Facebook is best way to find info online
Cuisine: Pub grub and seafood plus cocktails aplenty; menu features house-made Sound View Brewing Co. beers and a popular all-you-can-eat lobster night
Atmosphere: If Gilligan had opened a bar on the island, it would look a lot like Lenny’s. The deck is where it’s at, with ample seating, water views, excellent people-watching, and umbrellas that mostly work. Fairly spacious interior sports-type dive-bar décor with some seating and a well-populated bar.
Service: Spotty and woefully understaffed on a recent Saturday. The one waitress working did her best, given the circumstances.
Prices: Quite fair; the priciest item on the “By Land” menu is the Bleu Burger at $12; the hot lobster roll tops out the “By Sea” selection at $19.
Hours: 11 to 1 a.m. daily; open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday
Credit cards: Accepted. Note: According to the menu, customers may not split checks.
Handicapped access: Some dedicated parking spaces, and a ramp provides access through the back of the house. An entrance from the deck area has two steps. Deck area is paved and spacious; interior is neither big nor small.
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