A Small Village Within a Vast City
To cross the City Island Bridge — “Welcome to City Island, Seaport of the Bronx” — is to enter an anomaly: a small town that lives within the borders of a great metropolis, an active fishing village with a 718 area code. People like to say that City Island is a slice of New England only 15 minutes from the Cross Bronx Expressway, but in fact its atmosphere is even more peculiar. Less Cape Cod, perhaps, than a tiny, Stephen King-like town on the lonesome Maine coast.
8 A.M. Take the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park and the BX29 bus across the bridge, then settle in for breakfast at the City Island Diner, 304 City Island Avenue, at Fordham Street, (718) 885-0362 . It’s a little wainscoted place with prints of sailboats and some old-timers in the back discussing dead mobsters and the ponies. Catch up on your local news with the house copy of The Island Current (the feral-cat issue is heating up) and drink the coffee, which is not only strong but practically free when amortized over the number of attentive refills you receive. With a long day ahead, go heavy: the Belgian waffle ($5.50) or the “Man Overboard” omelet ($8.95), which has everything, the menu says, except the kitchen sink.
8:45 A.M. Walk two traffic lights back toward the bridge to Jack’s Bait & Tackle, 551 City Island Avenue at Cross Street, (718) 885-2042 , You can ask for Jack himself (large and ruddy) and rent a motorized dinghy ($60 a day, gas included, fits four) and some bait and tackle ($10 a person, more or less, depending on your lures). Eastchester Bay and Long Island Sound are popular fishing grounds for fluke, flounder, striped bass and, in the evenings, bluefish. Fishing, do not forget, is actually a euphemism for doing as little as possible, with beer.
1 P.M. Shake off your sea legs at the bar of Artie’s restaurant, 394 City Island Avenue, at Ditmars Street, (718) 885-9885 , a brisk walk from the dinghy launch at Jack’s. This is just a snack, so order light: a vodka on the rocks ($6) and the cold scungilli salad ($11). Keep your eyes peeled for Jackie Kyle Kall, the gadfly and City Island real estate maven. Should you actually see Ms. Kall, an Artie’s regular, ask about property on King Avenue — near the bridge — which is dark and leafy and faces the Sound.
2 P.M. To get a better sense of your surroundings, walk four blocks south and make a left to the City Island Nautical Museum, 190 Fordham Street, (718) 885-0008 . The museum, in an old schoolhouse, offers classic small-town memorabilia: rusty nautical gear and photos of the founders. City Island was part of a 9,000-acre piece of land that Thomas Pell, a physician, purchased in 1654 from the Siwanoy Indians.
4 P.M. Get back on the BX29 to the end of the island, then walk to Johnny’s Reef Restaurant, 2 City Island Avenue, (718) 885-2090 . Among the true pleasures in life is a basket of fried seafood (clams, $10; lobster tails, $22), a $3 Heineken, and a picnic table with a view of the freighters passing Throgs Neck Point. The sun is hot, the seagulls whine hysterically, and for all the world you’re no longer in New York City.
By ALAN FEUER