An important question is written in bold white letters on the backs of the servers’ black t-shirts at Randazzo’s Clam Bar: “Can you say galamah?” Fake Italian accents are welcome at this iconic spot in Sheepshead Bay, but if you’re feeling shy about your “calamari” pronunciation, just order “the combo,” a hearty sampler plate of mussels, fried shrimp, skoon-JEEL (a.k.a. scungilli or cooked sea snail), and of course, gala-MAH. Just make sure you get a taste of the calamari, battered and fried to airy perfection and doused with a ladleful of marinara that could bring you to your knees.
This sauce is so deeply flavorful, so intensely rich with melty, caramelized tomatoes and an undercurrent of earthy oregano, it tastes like it’s been simmering on the stovetop since the restaurant opened its doors in 1932. It comes in two levels, medium and hot. The medium is worth making a trek to Sheepshead Bay. But the hot has the smoky, smoldering essence of chile peppers riding on waves of the caramelized tomatoes and aromatic oregano—it’s so profoundly delicious that it breaks your heart a little bit. Whichever level of heat you pick, it would be stunad (that is, really stupid) to order the calamari with sauce on the side. The point is to let the sauce start to sink into the batter. You’ll devour it before it begins to get soggy.
It’s hard to imagine a better snack spread that some saucy fried calamari, some crispy-crusted mozzarella sticks, and a plateful of baked clams, rolled in crunchy breadcrumbs. The clams on offer, Little Necks or Cherry Stones, are also available fresh, steamed, or in a steamy bowl of red or white zuppa. The lighter side of the menu also includes grilled chicken or broiled fish served over pasta or salad. All the food here is served garnish-free on diner-style plates over striped paper placemats that are decorated with a map of Italy. Though the décor isn’t fancy, Randazzo’s is the kind of place that can ruin you for your neighborhood white-tablecloth Italian spot.
For my husband and I, this is the kind of place that makes us feel at home, but even if you don’t come from an Italian-American family, spending too much time here could get you to the point where everyone else’s marinara sauce seems way too thin. If you take your kids here on the regular, you might find yourself raising the type of people who address undercooked calamari by pinching their little fingers in the air while shouting, “You cawl this gala-MAH? Fugeddaboudit!” I see this as a positive thing.
Anyway, yes, you can totally bring your little chooches here. It’s a super casual and kid-friendly spot, well equipped with high chairs and booster seats. If somebody’s being a scooch about all the seafood and the red sauce, Randazzo’s will gladly serve pasta with butter. My kids were impressed by their chicken tenders and fries, and they played more than a few rounds of I Spy, thanks to the restaurant’s many sea-faring adornments, like a lobster wall-hanging made of painted driftwood. On a cold winter Saturday in the early afternoon, we watched the place fill up with families as the servers pressed together tables to accommodate multiple generations of relatives. There’s no better place to gather your clan and mangia.
Randazzo’s Clam Bar, 2017 Emmons Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11235