The five best menu items at a Pridwin Cookout

The sunset at the Pridwin Hotel Wednesday evening. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The sunset at the Pridwin Hotel Wednesday evening. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

As I sat on the expansive lawn of the Pridwin Wednesday evening watching the sun set into the Peconic Bay, I gave some thought to what it is that makes the hotel’s weekly summer cookouts so great. 

I’m sure for many people it’s the hilltop view as the sailboats race each other and the sun. Or maybe it’s the people-watching and the interaction with strangers during the community-style barbecue that makes it extra special.

In reality, it’s probably how each of those elements combine with delicious food and fun live music to create such a unique dining and social experience.

The element I feel gets most overlooked at the cookouts is the food itself. Of course the gatherings began decades ago as an effort to feed hotel guests while also giving the kitchen staff one night off each week.

What you’re getting isn’t exactly fine dining, but rather items you might ordinarily eat at a backyard barbecue. But imagine for a moment you actually went to a home cookout and they were serving that much good food. It would have to rank as the greatest backyard party ever.

Looking at it through this lens, it’s actually incredible how consistently tasty the food served during each Pridwin cookout is.

My wife and I were late-comers to the event, attending for the first time in 2011. We’ve returned at least once each year since.

As we ate Wednesday we began debating which cookout menu items were best. Eventually we settled on an agreed upon top five. We’re curious to hear if you agree or what items you might choose instead, but here’s our list.

Pridwin crowd

5. Peel-and-eat shrimp: OK, so I didn’t get a good shot of the shrimp, but I think it’s safe to assume someone in this photograph is eating shrimp. This was a tough call over the clams and mussels. While the act of peeling the shrimp can be a bit annoying, you dip it in cocktail sauce and eat it and it was worth the effort. Before you know it, you’re on your second plate and 20 shrimp deep.

grill

4. Ribs: Again a tough call among the meat options. Are the ribs tastier and meatier than the chicken? Perhaps not, but then again, don’t you eat chicken all the time? We went with the ribs, cooked perfectly over a flame, like shown in the photo above, which I took at a cookout last July.

cucumber

3. Pickled cucumbers: It’s hard to put a salad over the top meat or starch, but this is probably the best cucumber salad I eat each summer. Just perfect and a standout among the vegetable options.

mac

2. Baked macaroni and cheese: This recipe will make it impossible to enjoy a box of Annie’s ever again. It’s the one item I request every single time I get in line at the cookout. (Don’t be afraid to ask for an extra scoop, too!)

tuna

1. Tuna: When I interviewed Glenn Petrie a few years back about the cookouts, he told me his father and brother catch the tuna themselves on the morning of the cookout. Perhaps that timing is what makes it taste so good. It’s also perfectly seasoned and grilled just right. There’s nothing more depressing than getting to the front of the line at a Pridwin cookout and seeing an empty tuna tray.

Pridwin Wednesday Night Cookouts include all you can eat food and draught beer for $42. They begin at 6 p.m. and food is generally served until about 8:30 p.m. The live music then continues near the upstairs bar. It is recommended you call ahead and let them know how many people are in your party so they know how much food to prepare. The Pridwin Hotel is located at 81 Shore Road, Shelter Island. Call (631) 749-0476.