It was a beautiful, sunny day in Southampton, a perfect day to take lunch outside. And where better than on the patio at The Driver’s Seat? This Job’s Lane institution offers indoor and outdoor seating, plus a casual bar area. If you sit on the lower patio, you can even bring your dog!
It was to this lower, red brick patio that we repaired, admiring the diverse plantings that surround it, including a pair of banana trees that lend a tropical feel. Those who want to take their tropical leisure to the next level might want to start their lunch with one of The Driver’s Seat’s frosty blender drinks, like the Frozen Margarita or the Strawberry Daiquiri. On the other hand, those who envision a productive afternoon might stick with coffee. I’ll let you guess which way we went.
Our server Abby left us to contemplate the lunch menu, which differs considerably from the dinner menu here. For lunch, the emphasis is on smaller salads, sandwiches, burgers, and some simple seafood dishes. For those with larger appetites, there are the House Specialties, including Irma’s Fajitas, a dinnertime favorite at The Driver’s Seat. And, of course, the lunch menu has the Baked Clam Casserole!
You see, The Driver’s Seat has been around, in one incarnation or another, since 1960. After that many years, you develop certain signature dishes. At The Driver’s Seat, the signature dish is the Baked Clam Casserole, an appetizer that can best be described as the world’s biggest stuffed clam. It’s butter, breadcrumbs, butter, clams, more breadcrumbs, clams and butter baked in a small casserole. While it’s delicious, and it’s on the lunch menu plain as day, my advice is that the Baked Clam Casserole might not be something you should eat at midday. My middle-aged constitution, at least, is not up to that kind of strain. I did gaze wistfully upon its name on the menu, though, and promised myself to come back for dinner soon.
My lunch companion had just rolled out of bed, so I thought he might be attracted to the Omelet, with Swiss cheese and mushrooms, that was listed as a special. After some careful analysis, however, he ordered the Burger, which comes with your pick of French fries, sweet potato fries, or coleslaw. He could also have gone with the Grilled Chicken Breast, a Vegetarian Burger, or the Organic Turkey Burger, and topped any of them with a choice of cheese, but he went with the beef burger with bleu cheese and French fries on the side. It’s not everyone’s idea of breakfast, but the kid’s a good eater. The burger was promptly dispatched upon arrival, but I did get my hands on a few fries, which were crispy good.
One thing from the specials list that attracted both of us was the Tomato Mozzarella Salad with fresh basil. Alternating thinly sliced, juicy red tomatoes with thin slices of fresh mozzarella and garnished with basil leaves, this is a nice, light refreshing salad that’s big enough to share as an appetizer. Look for it when you go.
I ordered the Cuban Sandwich, which combines tender roasted pork with honey ham, Swiss cheese and pickles on a roll. At The Driver’s Seat, they heat the sandwich on a Panini press, which gives the roll a tender-crisp texture that’s very pleasant. On the side I had the coleslaw, which I found under-seasoned, but I know that’s a subject of intense debate. I will say this: don’t expect horseradish in your coleslaw.
We wrapped things up with the Rice Pudding, made from an old family recipe. The current owner’s Italian mother-in-law’s recipe, to be precise. It’s the kind of old-fashioned, firm rice pudding that I’ve had in many a country home. No distracting raisins. Topped with cinnamon and whipped cream, it’s a great lunchtime dessert that won’t send you into a sugar-high tailspin for the remainder of the day. There’s work to be done, after all.
Driver’s Seat, 62 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-283-6606, www.thedriverseatrestaurant.com