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Photos: Bridget Kenny/QNS

The passing of Tony Mazzarella, a pillar of a man in Long Island City, was deeply felt in the early months of 2015. A retired boxer and relentless giver, Mazzarella’s contributions went far beyond charity or money. His restaurant, Waterfront Crabhouse, provided a place for the community to gather, for fellow former pugilists to catch up, and for local families to mark moments in their lives.

The old Waterfront Crabhouse was as beloved by the people of Long Island City as Mazzarella, and when it followed its founder into the great beyond just a month after Mazzarella’s death, its absence was felt keenly.

Thankfully, local restaurateur Joseph Licul and his partners, known for their work at Skinny’s Cantina and SHI, saw an opportunity to rescue a cherished neighborhood institution from the fate of being turned into another Hunter’s Point high-rise. Working closely with the Mazzarella family, their team gave Waterfront Crabhouse a modern update while preserving elements from the previous iteration: the iconic street lamp in front of the restaurant, the ivy hanging from the chandeliers—and the dedication to seriously good crabs.

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Rebranded as Crabhouse and reopened in August, the restaurant offers both a crabhouse and a steakhouse experience. Fried soft-shell crabs share table space with luxuriously tender rib eyes, while diners clink glasses of dry red wines or fruity whites over lobster arragiata. If you like chicken, beef, pork or fish, you’ll find something you like here.

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General manager Sean Cummings provided us with the ultimate Crabhouse experience, starting with the Ringside Tiki cocktail, a tribute to the previous restaurant’s important place in New York City’s boxing scene. The delightfully fruity rum drink was perfect for that extra warm week or two when summer always manages to sneak into fall. After that, we proceeded to sample from the beer taps, all dispensing local Queens beers. We sampled drafts from Singlecut and the LIC Beer Project, but there were also entries from IcoNYC, Big Alice Brewing, Rockaway Brewing Company and more.

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While I’m more than content with a frosty pint in front of me, Cummings was eager to share his wine list with us — and let it never be said that a QNS writer turned down an opportunity to be plied with more booze. Cummings prioritized quality and value in the curation of the restaurant’s wine list, and he made a point of including a plethora of New York state offerings. We sampled Sauvignon Blancs, Sancerres, Bordeaux and more, and were just as impressed with the wine as we were with the beer.

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We showed up hungrier than we were thirsty, and we weren’t left unsatisfied for long. Our first course, roasted garlic-chili blue crabs and fried soft-shell crabs in a mind-blowing butter sauce, graced our table quickly. After one bite of the soft shell, we knew we had to place our next order immediately—these babies were going to go fast. There was an unexpected (yet welcome) subtle sweetness to the soft-shell crab that played nicely with the butter sauce. Grab an order for the table when you go.

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Next up was rib eye served on a massive butcher’s block. It was savory, juicy and tender, and while the restaurant recommends you pair it with a 2008 Les Allées de Cantemerle Bordeaux, Singlecut’s Weird & Gilly IPA paired with it remarkably well, too.

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Not far behind the rib eye was lobster arragiata, a cracked whole Maine lobster, lightly fried and served over spaghetti with broccoli rabe. It was paired with a 2013 Jura Chardonnay, described as a “burgundy-like white wine” by Cummings. I may not know enough about wine to know if it tastes like a burgundy, but I know when a wine just works. And with this lobster, it undeniably did.

If you like lobster, you’ll like this dish. If you don’t like lobster, you’ll still like this dish. If you’re allergic to lobster, this dish is worth a trip to the ER. Sweet and succulent, tangy yet savory at the same time, the lobster arragiata runs the gamut of what you’d expect from lobster, and then it hops the fence and starts pulling from other cuisines. Its sauce had the tangy, lemony flavor one would expect, but there was a spiciness that managed to be attention-grabbing without being overwhelming at the same time. It was one of the most interesting takes on lobster I’ve ever experienced.

As we finished our wine and built up a desperate mental fortitude to fit the last lingering pieces of succulent lobster and steak into our stomachs, Cummings brought out yet another member of his impressive team: Belin the pastry chef.

The pastry chef.

While something in me cried out in silent protest (I assume the part that evolved to keep me from gorging myself into becoming an easy meal for an extremely lazy jaguar), the rest of me told that part of me to shut up and make some room. Blueberry cheesecake and a triple chocolate cake came out, followed by a 2014 Vidal Blanc ice wine from Standing Stone Vineyards in the Finger Lakes.

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The blueberry cheesecake was sweet and thick, and its crust (arguably the best part about any proper cheesecake) was delicious. The triple chocolate cake was surprisingly light and, I feel, a misnomer: chocolate cake, chocolate filling, white chocolate crumbles and a hard chocolate shell icing on top is a decidedly quadruple chocolate cake. But I wasn’t there to quibble about semantics, I was there to eat ridiculously decadent food.

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It was when we were offered espresso and coffee that I simply had to start refusing. I am only one man, with one stomach, after all. I have limits, whether I like them or not.

Our night at Crabhouse was wonderful and full of great drinks, amazing food and improperly named chocolate cakes. Should you decide to swing by, order the fried soft-shell crabs for the table and some tasty Queens beers, and try the lobster arragiata. If you’re not in a shellfish mood, the rib eye is your friend, or simply ask any of their incredibly helpful staff for their suggestions.

The Crabhouse will be rolling out a full brunch menu soon, and the staff has already started testing out a Bloody Mary bar. With valet parking returning soon and stunning skyline views a short post-dinner walk away, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad thing about Crabhouse.

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The restaurant might not be as boxing-centric as it used to be. Fight cards and boxing gloves no longer adorn the walls, and with new management has come new takes on classic dishes. But if Tony Mazzarella’s goal was to provide a place for a community he loved to celebrate their lives with good food and drink, then his legacy is in good hands.

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