Labor Day weekend marks the end of many a pleasant summer tradition: school-free days, weekends at the beach, guilt-free visits to your favorite ice cream shop and all the fried seafood your stomach can handle, lovingly served up in a checker-lined plastic basket.
Much like summer fashions, summer eating is a more casual affair, with preference given to the laidback eateries where no shoes don’t equal no service. From the crustacean-teeming waters of New England to the internationally-influenced west coast, we’re paying tribute to Top 10 Seafood Shacks Across America.
—By Jennifer M. Wood
Location: North East, MD
Website: Woody’s Crab House
If you’re going to opt for seafood in Maryland, you’d better make it a crab dish. Steamed, caked or chowdered—as long as your chosen dish features the Old Line State’s preferred crustacean, you can’t go wrong from a culinary level. And if you ask a local for a list of their favorite places to indulge in the state’s signature dish, Woody’s Crab House is bound to be on there.
Founded in 1993, Woody’s has been praised by critics and patrons near and far—including Travel and Leisure Magazine—for its Chesapeake Bay-sourced lineup of dishes, including a generous Crab Sampler, featuring Woody’s famous crab cake, crab au gratin and crab imperial. Best of all, you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own couch to get a taste of Woody’s award-winning delicacies: Woody’s jumbo lump crab meat cakes are available for shipping.
Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
Website: Hudson’s On the Docks
There’s not a bad seat in the house at Hudson’s On the Docks. “We have 270-degree water views, an outdoor bar and dining area over the water, fresh local seafood prepared simply, breathtaking sunsets, great live music, enlightened hospitality, cold beer and creative seasonal cocktails,” says general manager Andrew Carmines of the 46-year-old eatery.
He’s not kidding about the “fresh seafood” thing. Almost all of the continually evolving menu’s ingredients are fished locally, meaning that specialties change with the seasons. “We source 90 percent of our seafood directly from the boats, so the signature dish changes with the different fish and shellfish seasons,” says Carmines. “The day boat white shrimp during the season is pretty tough to beat. We have also started culturing our own oysters, which will be available in 2015.”
Location: Nantucket, MA
Website: The Nantucket Lobster Trap
In a quintessential summer village sits a quintessential eatery. The Nantucket Lobster Trap has been a part of the culinary history of Cape Cod’s storied island for more than 35 years now, serving up some of the freshest local oysters, littleneck clams and—you guessed it—lobster. Best of all, you don’t need to get all gussied up to enjoy it.
In addition to its charming shingled restaurant, The Trap offers an extensive menu of fresh-caught seafood (and even a few non-marine items) for pick-up, delivery and catered events and operates a seasonal food truck, where lobster rolls, Nantucket Bay scallop rolls and Quahog chowder are among the crave-worthy eats.
Location: Gig Harbor, WA
Website: Tides Tavern
It may be more than 3,000 miles away from New England, but that hasn’t stopped the folks at the perpetually-crowded Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, Washington from putting a Puget Sound spin on the classic creamy chowder—chock full of clams, bacon and potato—which has turned the 40-year-old restaurant into a local landmark.
“Served up with a stunning waterfront view, [Tides Tavern’s] famous clam chowder, award-winning fish and chips and specially crafted Tides Anniversary IPA is an experience not to be missed,” says general manager Kristin Bergeson. “Marking 40 years of business this summer, the Tides Tavern has become a dining destination and iconic watering hole for locals and tourists alike.”
Location: Scranton, PA
Website: Cooper’s Seafood House
It may be located in the landlocked city of Scranton, but what Cooper’s Seafood House lacks in oceanfront proximity it makes up for in old-school nautical charm. Opened in 1948, the family-run enterprise has become a cultural landmark, with its impossible-to-miss lighthouse bar, pirate ship pub, tiki bar deck, giant octopus and “Welcome Aboard” entrance sign. But for all the decorative kitsch and fun, the menu is serious business, particularly when it comes to what the proprietors call “the best darn mussels you’ll ever eat,” which are simmered in butter, garlic, shallots, capers, fresh parsley and Applewood smoked bacon, finished with a chardonnay and served with Asiago crostini bread.
The restaurant’s daily happy hour—which includes half-price drafts and $1 oysters—draws an understandably excited crowd, too. Bonus pop culture points go to Cooper’s for being mentioned on “The Office” (as the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company was located in the very real city of Scranton).
Location: Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Website: Faith’s Seafood Shack
“Surprising” is the best way to describe the dishes that are coming out of the tiny kitchen at Faith’s Seafood Shack, a totally unassuming little seafood spot perched in the cliffs of the Aquinnah section of Martha’s Vineyard, the Cape Cod island that’s been a magnet for vacationing presidents and their families.
Sure, Faith’s has got the requisite staples: New England clam chowder, stuffed Quahogs, oysters, littleneck clams, lobster, steamers and mussels. But they’ve got an equal number of unexpected treats, like fresh fish tacos, homemade meatball subs and an extensive menu of fresh sushi and sashimi. You won’t find that at Red Lobster! Plop down at a picnic table and take in one of the island’s most breathtaking views.
Location: San Diego, CA
Website: South Beach Bar & Grille
Despite its increasingly glossy reputation, there are still a few hidden beach towns to be found in California. Ocean Beach is one of them, and that’s where you’ll find South Beach Bar & Grille, a 21-year-old popular gathering place for locals and tourists looking for a comfy spot to take in a great meal and a glorious sunset.
But remember, this is California—not New England. So while there’s plenty of clam chowder, fried calamari and clam strips to go around, the star of the show at this Mexican-influenced hotspot are the tacos, which can be ordered grilled or fried in a dozen different varieties, including Mahi, Wahoo, shark, lobster, ceviche, oyster, calamari and shrimp. They’ve also got a wide selection of beverages with which to wash it all down, including more than 40 beers (many of them local) and almost two dozen tequilas. Cheers to that!
Location: Warwick & Narragansett, RI
Website: Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House
Fans of Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House have got a leg up on their seafood-loving brethren: they can dig into a bowl of Iggy’s award-winning clam chowder any time of year. Though the Narragansett outpost is only seasonal, Iggy’s original location in Warwick—which boasts some fabulous views of Narragansett Bay—is open year-round.
Iggy’s menu is vast, offering more than 50 items, from sandwiches and burgers to ice cream and specialty sodas, but the restaurant’s loyalists stick with where it all began: doughboys (little bites of fried dough which can be topped with granulated sugar, cinnamon and sugar or powdered sugar), clam cakes and chowder (red or white). The restaurant’s many accolades—including being named Best Clam Shack by Rhode Island Monthly and Best Clam Chowder as part of The Early Show’s “A Taste of America” series—are no surprise to anyone who’s ever had the good fortune to indulge.
Location: Kittery, ME
Website: Bob’s Clam Hut
Seafood and Maine go together like, well, seafood and Maine. Since 1956, Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery—right over the New Hampshire border and just an hour from Boston—has been one of New England’s most beloved seafood institutions, offering up classically prepared dishes in a comfortably no-frills setting. And while the menu consists of all sorts of seafaring fare—scallops, shrimp, calamari and oysters among them—the restaurant’s name is an ode to its specialty: clams!
“New Englanders, and those who visit us, know that no summer is complete without fried clams,” says owner Michael Landgarten. “We’ve been serving them up the same way Bob did in this same location since 1956, with generations of fans including us in their summer traditions.”
Location: Juneau, AK
Website: The Hangar on the Wharf
The Hangar on the Wharf is a bit of an anomaly in Alaska. Founded in 1996, the restaurant is located in a former seaplane hangar and offers one of Juneau’s only true waterfront dining destinations (on a clear day you get a perfect view of nearby Mounts Jumbo and Roberts). And while much of the food and drink is sourced locally—think king crab, halibut and wild salmon plus more than a dozen Alaskan brews on tap—the overall culinary vibe is more international. Case in point is the signature dish that started it all: Jambalaya, sautéed Cajun-style prawns with Louisiana hot link sausage in a spicy sauce. Southern food lovers rejoice!
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