Johnny Pancakes, And Other Hamptons Memories

5 Dec
Our first trip to Montauk as a mini-family occurred in the summer of 1989 when it was just me, Carey and 2 1/2 year old Jeff.  Carey and I have always loved the beach, and while we have visited many with our kids, from Nantucket to Kiawah Island to Laguna Niguel, there was no beach spot where we vacationed more often than the Hamptons.  We probably vacationed in East Hampton at least a half dozen times since that initial trip, and this past spring I decided to book yet another one (after getting confirmation from Drew and Jeff that they would actually join us) for this past summer.  Our family memories of the Hamptons were warm and many, and something told me that I should book this one, because it would likely be our last one all together, the five of us.  Not because I had some premonition about what ultimately happened, but rather because at 19 and 23 years of age, I just figured that my boys’ willingness to spend a week away with mom and dad was nearing an end.  Our beautiful Hamptons memories can be grouped into three broad categories: Beach, Mini-Golf, and FOOD (with Jeff involved, what else ?)
Beach:  We all loved all the normal beach activities like boogie-boarding, frisbee, football, volleyball and wiffle ball, but the one that Jeff pioneered for us- “smash-ball” (you know, those small wood paddles and the little colored balls)- was what kept us howling with laughter.  You see, it wasn’t enough for Jeff if two of us simply played for fun.  We had to strive to set some sort of world record for how many times we hit the ball back and forth before it finally hit the sand.  And Jeff, in his unique and creative way, came up with the idea that the two best players (he and Drew) would someday succeed in reaching a number of consecutive hits that would correspond to the year we were in.  So during our trip in 2004, the bogey was set.  Jeff and Drew (then only 13) would need to hit the ball back and forth 2,004 times before it hit the sand.  I don’t believe they achieved the goal that year, but it was 2005 when it finally happened.  In the blazing sun, they were out there hitting the ball to each other for so long that a crowd of people actually gathered around them to witness the event.  Hilarious.  And sure enough, after hit number 2,005, Jeff threw down his racket in triumph, not needing to prove anything else.  With that, he plunged into the water.  We didn’t bring our smash-ball rackets this summer, but in 2009 in Nantucket, they did it again, surpassing their old record by 4.
Mini-Golf:  Puff & Putt Golf on Montauk Highway in Montauk will always be special to our family.  From the time Jeff was a toddler, he insisted we go there several times per trip to see if he could beat his own best score, and of course, beat the rest of the family in the process.  Once both his brothers were of mini-golf age, the competition was on.  Jeff held his title as family champion until just a few years ago, when Drew took that title and never relinquished it.  This summer, Drew beat us all each time, but the competition remained fierce and it was hell of a lot of fun.
Food:  As other blog posts have noted, food was a great source of enjoyment for Jeff.  Thankfully, exercise was too, so he always looked great.  And certainly over a period of many years, we had our clear East Hampton/Montauk favorite restaurants that we would visit religiously during each trip.  There was East Hampton Point and the legendary Gosman’s Dock (both known for their amazing views of the water),  and the also legendary Lobster Roll (also known by the name “Lunch”).
Jeff loved Gosman’s because it is the place where he had his first ever lobster that he cracked open himself.  You should have seen him in that lobster bib.   The Lobster Roll is known for serving the best greasy fried fish and seafood anywhere, and Jeff was in his glory there.
And then there was Mr. John’s Pancake House, which courtesy of Jeff having a nickname for everybody and everything, came to be known in our family as simply “Johnny Pancakes”.  Johnny Pancakes is a dive.  It is a cash only, diner style pancake house with mostly unfriendly waiters and waitresses who try to rush everyone in and out to accomodate the enormous lines to get into this place during peak season.  But it is a Montauk icon.  We have on several occasions waited an hour at mid-morning to get in .  And while I often wondered aloud why we wouldn’t just go across the street to the empty pancake house there, Jeff would have none of it.  He was all about traditions, and going to Johnny Pancakes was just that.  Once in, you could make this your one meal for the day.  Jeff’s clear favorite was the chocolate and peanut butter chip pancakes with gobs of butter and syrup for good measure.  Seeing how much all my kids enjoyed going to this place made it well worth the wait.  And in August of this year, we went to Johnny Pancakes as a family of 5 for the last time.  It was just great, and Jeff enjoyed it as much as he did when he was a kid.
It will be difficult to go back to East Hampton any time soon.  But nonetheless, the memories we created there as a family will be in my heart forever.
Rich Klein
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