Classic New England Seafood Shacks

When we think about summer in coastal New England our minds are steered by our bellies to the savory scenes of a classic seafood shack.  Let’s face it, you can find delicious seafood up and down US Rt. 1 from Westport to Wiscasset.  But nothing beats the no frills laid back atmosphere of a waterside chow-down on fresh lobster or clams.  Our list had a few requirements for consideration.  There has to be a take-out “window”.  Part of the allure is leaning in towards the opening and catching a whiff of the bubbling deep-fryer and the salty air circling throughout the premises.  Whether you give your name or take a number, being able to wait outside and soak in the view of the coastline sure beats being crammed in a waiting room or crowded bar.  Having your food handed to you on a tray and bellying up to a weathered picnic table brings a certain satisfaction to a summer’s evening after a long day in the sun and surf.  The “shacks” we picked aren’t all small little huts.  Some have full restaurant and dining room service as well and all of them are on or very near the water.  Here is our list, state-by-state, of the best places to grab a bite and enjoy the best of what fresh New England seafood has to offer.

 

Connecticut

A lot of seafood shacks follow the same format.  Deep fried, steamed or boiled seafood served alongside burgers, dogs, fries and ice cream.  We found The Place on Rt. 1 in Guilford that cooks their seafood as any Great Blazer should, over a wood fire.  A self-proclaimed “unusual restaurant”, The Place has been serving folks along the Boston Post Rd. for over 40 years.  Not only do they cook with wood, but you “put your rump on a stump” next to a red picnic table and enjoy their signature roasted clam dinner or anything else on their menu that towers over the dining area.  They do steamers too, but we recommend trying the wood-roasted seafood for a unique flavor.  The Place is BYOB and also welcomes you to bring your own sides.  Open seasonally from the last weekend in April until it’s too cold to sit outside.  They are cash only, serving dinner 7 days a week and both lunch and dinner on the weekends.   901 Boston Post Rd. Guilford, CT (203)453-9276

One of the things we like most about the shacks on our list is many of them are right on the water.  At Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough in Noank diners sit on picnic tables and look out over Morgan Point or east towards Seal Rocks.  Since 1947 Abbott’s has been serving fresh steamed lobster and other seafood delights and their name has become legendary on the southern Connecticut shore.  Abbott’s is right on the Mystic River channel and the scene is quintessential seaside New England.   Like a lot of our favorite shacks, the fare here is served without frills.  Their “Hot Lobster Roll” is known far and wide as the best.  The creamery butter dressing and perfectly toasted round roll make the absence of the New England style bun more than acceptable.  Try their “clear” broth chowder or the delicious lobster deviled eggs before the main course.  With their own dock Abbott’s is also accessible by boat.  Open for lunch and dinner from May 1st thru Columbus Day, they are weekends only before Memorial and after Labor Day. Otherwise open 7 days a week.  117 Pearl St. Noank, CT (860)536-7719

 

Rhode Island

Go figure that the “Ocean State” would have some of the most venerable shacks on our list.  Any serious Rhode Islander will tell you that after 95 years of serving fresh seafood, Aunt Carrie’s in Narragansett could be considered the original seafood shack.  The Cooper family has been feeding the people of Narragansett and vacationers taking the Point Judith ferry to Block Island since 1920.  Four generations have cooked and served fresh seafood, homemade bread and the best pies on the Atlantic coast.  Their award winning clam cakes are made using Carrie Cooper’s original recipe and dipped in a bowl of the delicious chowder you can see what all the fuss is about.  The seafood tastes freakishly fresh and the place is dripping with history.  They are just as well known for their desserts and if pastries aren’t your pleasure try the homemade Indian Pudding ice cream, a New England favorite that is increasingly hard to find these days.  After this many years it almost has to be good, right?  Aunt Carries is open April 1st thru Labor Day, although Fri/Sat/Sun only until Memorial Day weekend.  1240 Ocean Road Narragansett, RI (401)783-7930

 

A true sign for us that a seafood shack is up to par is the sign itself.  If it looks like it’s been out there awhile and even better, if the classic red and white Coca-Cola insignia shares space with the shack name, chances are you are at the right place.  Pulling in to Evelyn’s Drive-In in Tiverton you know you are.  Don’t let the recent Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives exposure fool you, Evelyn’s has been cranking out quality homemade food for over 40 years and have cemented themselves on the New England coast as one of the best places to get gourmet seafood at drive-in prices.  If you’re tired of lobster rolls and whole-bellied clam platters (who could get sick of those?) try their one-of-a-kind dish the Lobster Chow Mein. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!  As any reputable Ocean State eatery would, Evelyn’s serves up a combo of 4 homemade clam cakes and their version of Rhode Island Clam chowder.  Open 11:30am-8pm every day from mid-April until it gets cold.  You could call the place Evelyn’s Drift-In as they have dock space available.  They’ve also gone green by recycling their fry oil into Biodiesel that is used to power their signature VW bug. 2335 Main Rd. Tiverton, RI (401)624-3100

Flo’s Clam Shack sits on the east side of Easton Bay, near the southeast corner of Easton Pond, just east of Easton Beach.  Seems like this Middletown institution could be most anywhere and the food would be just as good.  Just a quahogs throw away from the mansions of Newport, Flo’s has been perfecting the art of coastal cuisine since 1936.   Over the years hurricanes have forced multiple resurrections of the seaside cottage that Flo’s calls home.  One thing has remained consistent, the fried clams here are some of the best on earth.  Lightly dusted in batter and fried golden tan, Flo’s clams are tender and juicy with that perfect balance of sweet and brine that almost eliminates the need for tartar sauce.  Almost.  Upstairs they have a raw bar with succulently fresh offerings.  Flo’s knows seafood for sure.  They take cash only and have an ATM on site.  They are closed from Thanksgiving until March 1st and have limited hours during the non-peak seasons.  There is also a smaller walk-up location in nearby Island Beach Park.  4 Wave Ave. Middletown, RI (401)847-8141

 

Massachusetts

The Commonwealth has always been at the forefront of American seafood cooking.  The early colonists started salting cod and digging clams long before they severed ties with the British throne.  From the cutting edge culinary artists of Cambridge to the B&B’s of the Berkshires, kitchens all across the Bay State have perfected preparing the fruits of its native sea.  We think perfection sometimes lies in simplicity and the guys at The Lobster Trap of Nantucket are keeping it pretty simple.  This shack is the one place on our list that actually doesn’t have a take-out window.  They make up for it by having a food truck parked permanently at nearby Cisco Brewery.  They also have the unique service of take-out via a program they call “Meals on Keels”.  Delivered anywhere on the island, these pre-packaged lobster dinners come with everything you need including utensils, wet-wipes and plates.  You can get steamers, corn, grilled meats and all the fixings brought right to you and most times within the same day you order.  Brilliant.  When you’re on Nantucket the last thing you want to do is wait in line for food.  The Meals on Keels are packaged to eat at the beach or wherever you are enjoying the island lifestyle.  The owners are certainly living it.  They are commercial fisherman by date and operate “The Trap” at night.  The restaurant itself is more of a tavern with a great bar where they have live music on occasion.  Unlike most on our list, they are only open for dinner 5pm-10pm 7 days week.  It’s a hip new take on the traditional seafood shack that has islanders and tourists singing its praises.  23 Washington St. Nantucket, MA (508)228-4200

  

From the trap to the pool……The Lobster Pool that is.   The Tedesco family in Rockport is perfecting the art of “dining in the rough”.  The Lobster Pool is self-service and provides stunning views of Cape Ann to diners enjoying some of the most ocean fresh seafood available.  They literally have a lobster pool with live lobsters swimming around.  Like a lot of these places The Lobster Pool is BYOB and but they warn that they have no ice.  You can even bring your dog.  Order your food and take a seat, or bring one of those too as the seating provided outside is limited.  This placed instantly endeared itself to us by having a campfire area where they roast s’mores “for all ages” on Saturday and Sunday nights.  The little red shed offers all the basic seafood shack staples plus extras like a delicious “lazy” lobster pie and fried oysters.  Come here if you want a rustic dining experience with world class fare and be prepared to pay market price.  Like all of the places we’re recommending, you pay for what you get, and what you get is phenomenal.  Call ahead for hours as they vary.  329 Granite St. Rockport, MA (978)546-7608

As legend has it, “Chubby” Woodman and his wife Bessie introduced New England to the fried clam on July 3rd 1916 as a way to kick-start sales at their market on Main St. in Essex.  What started on a whim quickly became a sensation and in no-time folks were coating their clams in batter and dropping them in lard.  Almost 100 years and a few expansions later Woodman’s and is still the torch bearer of New England seafood shacks.  They’ve become a full-service restaurant and caterer and have a published cookbook.  They’ve received accolades from all over the world, host weddings and have had movies filmed on the premises.  Like others mentioned Woodman’s will also deliver you a clambake dinner right to your door.  They fry an average of 35 gallons of clams and boil 400 pounds of lobster a day.  There is almost always a line in the summer so be prepared to wait.  On special days they serve boiled lobsters from an iced trough on the side of the road.  You have to get the fried clams.  You just have to.  They are the originals and believe it or not also gluten free.  Woodman’s has woven itself into the fabric of the New England lifestyle.  And they give back.  Heavily involved in the local community, they have a scholarship fund that has given over $675K to aspiring students.  Unlike a lot of our shacks Woodman’s is open year round.  Simply a must on any list of this kind.  121 Main St. Essex, MA (978)768-6057

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If Woodman’s is the home of the original fried clam, J.T. Farnum’s just down the road is the guest cottage.  Hard to believe that there are two places this close to each other serving the same caliber of crustacean goodness.  With a lot less fan-fare but with the same fresh flavor, Farnum’s fried clams are just as renowned as their illustrious neighbor’s (actually we think they are a tad better…..shhh).  Their marsh-side locale is perfect for a late summer evening picnic table post-up.  They also serve a variety of chowders steaming with fresh seafood including a spicy Manhattan style scallop version.  The service here is quick and friendly (in a Massachusetts kind of way).  There are a bunch of picnic tables outside and ample parking.  They do serve beer and wine, but inside only.  If there is line down the street at Woodman’s and even if there isn’t, we wouldn’t hesitate heading down to Farnum’s.  They are open the first Friday in March through the last Sunday in November.  88 Eastern Ave.  Essex, MA (978)768-6643

 

New Hampshire

With a comparatively small amount of shoreline the Granite State doesn’t have the access to the same bounty as the other New England coastal states, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t find a shack where you can fill your gunnels with delicious seafood.  The burgeoning city of Portsmouth is home to a lot of new and trendy restaurants.  Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook Beach right next door has been trending in the world of family style seafood since 1950.  Still operated by the Brown family, patrons here enjoy everything from the fried and boiled seafood to their baked lobster pie.  Being a pound as well, they have live lobsters and steamer clams for sale on site.  You can enjoy your food on Brown’s sunny back deck over the water.  You can spot the distinctive yellow building (with the customary Coke sign too) as you traverse your way through the lower reaches of Great Bay along the MA/NH border towards Seabrook Beach.  Brown’s is less than a mile from sandy dunes and refreshing salt water and open at 11am year round.

 

Maine

When we think seafood shack, we think Maine.  Up and down its craggy coastline, The Vacation State is littered with dual-windowed palaces of pleasure.  There is something about Maine that is special and different than the rest of the places on our list (tops of any state with 6 entries).  It’s hard to describe.  There is more of a small town, community feel to many of the seaside towns and villages that swell with tourists from mid-June to late August.  Sure it gets crowded, but it seems that the crowds have a certain communal mentality that keeps everyone care-free and relaxed.  From Down East to the rocky-coastline of Bar Harbor you will find dozens of seafood shacks.  The furthest one south may be the best.  The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport has stood on the east side of the Taintown Bridge overlooking Grist Mill Pond to the north since 1968.  Owner Steve Kingston puts on a fresh coat of white paint every year and opens the windows every day at 11am sharp to throngs of patrons.  A lot goes on in this little hut and in the seafood market adjacent.  The clams are great, but the lobster roll here is definitely worth waiting in line for.  Winner of the Travel Channel’s Food War show for best lobster roll, The Clam Shack makes their signature roll with all the meat from a fresh 1 lb Maine lobster.  Dressed lightly with the perfect amount of mayo, this lobster roll leaves a lasting impression on anyone who sinks their teeth into it.  They even market a kit that you can send as a gift that comes to you chilled and overnight and includes meat, a half-dozen rolls (the square New England style kind of course), the mayo and all you need to make your own roll.   All the standards are there but this is the only shack where we found a clam cake “burger” on the menu.  They serve fresh lemonade and fried dough to satisfy the sweet tooth.   A sure sign of summer in Kennebunkport is seeing Steve out there with his white can of paint.  He’s open until 8pm 7 days a week and closes for the season when the line to order is no longer.  2 Western Ave. Kennebunk, ME (207)967-3321

 

Heading up the coast to Cape Elizabeth we find The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.  For over 40 years the red picnic tables and rocky Atlantic shoreline have been home to one of the Portland area’s dining institutions.  Another spot where dining in the rough is the norm, the views here are just as tough to beat as the food.  The sounds of the gulls squawking and the fog horns from the Portland harbor ship activity make this shack’s ambience quintessential Maine.  Whether you order the lobster dinner (with an option to add an extra lobster!) or the signature lobster “stew” it’s clear the folks at Two Lights know how to prepare the state’s signature harvest.  They open the window in late March and it stays that way until the last weekend in October.  In July and August they stay open until 8:30pm, otherwise 11am-8pm daily.  225 Two Lights Rd. Cape Elizabeth, ME (207)799-1677

Not far up the coast in Harpswell is another place that seals the deal for us Blazers by having a glorious outdoor fire-pit to add to your enjoyment of the delicious seafood.  Estes Lobster House is primarily an “eat-in” type of place, but they do have counter service and some seating outside.  Those fortune enough to time it right will have one of the most breathtaking coastal vistas to go alongside the extensive offerings that owner Larry Crooker has been cooking up since 1963.  You can order 3 different a la carte Maine lobster dinners and traditional shack grub like chowder and a pint of whole belly clams.  We recommend also trying the lobster dip and their signature haddock roll.  Their location towards the end of Harpswell Neck is easy to find as follow Rt. 123 south “till you come to the sea”.  Estes is open seasonally, 7 days a week 11:30am-8:30am 1906 Harpswell Neck Rd. Harpswell, ME (207)833-6340

A relative newcomer to the seafood shack scene, Five Island Lobster Co. is making waves along the mid-coast with its remote location and extraordinary fresh cooked seafood.  Perched on a working wharf on the island village of Georgetown, this is one of the few places that doesn’t have the signature “window” and they could have a few more tables but what they lack in take-out service, they make up for in ambience.  The deep, cold waters of Sheepscot Bay are ideal habitat for lobsters and at Five Islands they are never “tanked stored”.   People make the pilgrimage to this tiny little fishing town to taste the Maine lobster and fresh steamed clams and as they should, the lobster is simply amazing.  They have 3 different buildings offering sit-down and take-out service and along with ice cream.  The weather determines their operating hours, so call ahead or just take your chances.  Even if they are closed the scenery is worth the trip.  Someone told us the cheesesteak here is really good and we decided to take their word for it.  Sorta sounds like ordering a lobster roll at Geno’s.  1447 Five Islands Rd. Georgetown, ME (207)371-2990

Along with The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, the most authentic and probably our favorite shack on our list is Red’s Eats in Wiscasset.  A tiny little building on the corner of Water St. and Rt. 1 just before the road crosses the Sheepscot River over to Davis Island.  There is a tiny little window and a few tables to sit at.  The lobster roll here is the simply the best anywhere.  And it comes to you as you see above.  Tail and claw meat over-flowing a soft New England style hot dog bun and served with sides of drawn butter, plan mayo and a few lemon wedges.  With almost an entire lobster in each roll it’s best to not even try and dress the bun.  Just dip before each bite and take plenty of wet-wipes.  It’s virtually impossible to be driving up Rt. 1 and not stop and order the lobster roll.  Be prepared to wait in-line.  People have been known to do so for hours.  We’re sure they have other food here, but we don’t really need to know about it.  It is all about the “lobstah” roll.  41 Water St. Wiscasset, ME (207)882-6128

The windows at Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville have been open to diners since 1946 and not much has changed.  The building itself is twice the size as the original but that’s about it.  The whole belly clams are perfectly battered and delicious.  They serve a haddock sandwich where the piece of fish is 10 times the size of the soft bun it is served on.  Brooksville is a tiny town nestled within the crags of Penobscot Bay and finding Bagaduce isn’t easy.  If you can get close you can almost roll the window down and follow the sweet smell of the fry-o-later.  The prices here are very reasonable.  Like most of the places on our list, the drive to this old school take-out place is worth it in and of itself.  The tables are spread out along the banks of the Bagaduce River and you are not far from Bagaduce Falls.  Load up your red tray and satisfy your salt tooth.  They are open seasonally 11am-7pm (close at 3pm on Wed.)  19 Bridge Rd. Brooksville, ME (207)326-4197

 

One thought on “Classic New England Seafood Shacks

  1. I’ve tried many of these places and can vouch that they all deserve a spot on your list, I’d like to add one , Arnold’s Clam Bar eastham Ma

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