6 Standout Seafood Shacks From Connecticut to Maine

Some of the region’s best food, views, and history await at unpretentious clam shacks and lobster shacks.

<p>Courtesy of The Lobster Shack at Two Lights</p>

Courtesy of The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

The seafood shack is one of New England’s greatest seasonal delights. As a Mainer who lives in Connecticut, I describe the classic shack or its modern equivalent, the food truck, as unpretentious and stripped-down as a dive bar, often just a BYOB takeout counter, where people of all types can dunk buckets of tender steamed clams in drawn butter, and sweet, simply adorned lobster rolls taste as fresh as you’d imagine from ingredients often sourced mere yards away.

From spring through fall, any shack worth its salt attracts lines that lead to sold-out specialties, creating a permanent sense of FOMO. And the number of tempting options is staggering. Need a clam shack overlooking Cape Cod Bay? You can’t go wrong at Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis, Massachusetts, where boats pull up to the marina for renowned lobster rolls. Taking a tour with Granite State Whale Watch in Rye, New Hampshire? Grab a bowl of the signature Fluffy Chowder with Buttersherry Sauce for the trip from Rye Harbor Lobster Pound. Love to stand in line to see what the fuss is about? The lengthy queue at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine, is practically a rite of passage for anyone headed toward Acadia National Park on Route 1.

Arguments about the best can strain friendships, so my advice is to taste your way through happily and acknowledge the strengths of each local favorite, as plentiful and unique as the waves. Whether your top priority is the stunning scenery, a taste of history, or an innovative play on classic dishes, here are standout seafood shacks among the many clam shacks and lobster shacks along the New England coast.

A Looker: The Lobster Shack at Two Lights (Cape Elizabeth, Maine)

<p>Courtesy of The Lobster Shack at Two Lights</p>

Courtesy of The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

The Lobster Shack, owned by Katie Porch, has been settled on a cliff above Casco Bay for decades, overlooking the timeless clash of whitecaps on rocks. I grew up scrambling around those stony outcrops with my grandmother when she visited from Western Massachusetts. Like Edward Hopper, who summered in the area and immortalized one of the park’s two eponymous lighthouses in 1929, she was smitten with this scene — and who could blame her? The shack’s interior, with exposed wooden beams and old-fashioned tools as decor, is rustic and cozy, but it’s worth fending off the attentions of gulls to enjoy your Maine-style lobster rolls (cold with mayonnaise), lobster dinners, and fried clam boats at one of the many picnic tables with unbeatable views. Take note: Because it’s in Two Lights State Park, the Lobster Shack sort of has a cover fee. It’s also BYOB — try one of Allagash Brewing Company’s seafood-friendly beers like Allagash White, a lemony Belgian-style wheat beer, or the fittingly named Two Lights, a bright hybrid of lager and Sauvignon Blanc must.

An (Almost) Original: Lobster Landing (Clinton, Connecticut)

<p>Courtesy of Lobster Landing</p>

Courtesy of Lobster Landing

Maine stars in most people’s lobster fantasies for good reason — it is home to by far the country’s largest lobster fishery, after all — but even a Mainer like me has to give credit to Connecticut as the likely originator of the lobster roll and the home of the Connecticut-style roll, a sumptuous affair with warm butter common throughout all of New England. The iconic sandwich’s purported inventor, Perry’s in Milford, no longer exists, but ​​Enea Bacci carries on the tradition admirably at Lobster Landing, housed in a shack that fully embodies the term with chipped paint and crooked signage.

The adorable little venue serves a similarly tight menu, having perfected a handful of seafoods: buttery lobster rolls and double lobster rolls, clam chowder, and lobster bisque. Sit right on the water near pristine Hammonasset Beach State Park, and don’t forget to BYOB so you have something to sip on while you watch the boats drift by — maybe a crisp palate-cleanser like Workhorse Pilsner from Connecticut’s Counter Weight Brewing.

A Forward-Thinker: Dune Brothers (Providence, Rhode Island)

<p>Courtesy of Dune Brothers</p>

Courtesy of Dune Brothers

Dune Brothers may not have the breathtaking waterfront real estate, but it nails the coastal vibes in the Ocean State’s capital city with picnic tables atop crushed shells. And the owners of this little red shack on wheels, Monica and Nick Gillespie, belong to a breed of conscientious seafood purveyors who work closely with local fishermen and regional producers to shake things up and ensure the health of New England’s oceans for decades to come. Not only are the steamed quahogs and lobster rolls well-sourced and ultra-fresh, but the fish and chips showcases abundant, underutilized catch like skate or cape shark and malt vinegar from Massachusetts-based American Vinegar Works.

Local beers complete the meal, from Moniker Brewery’s refreshing Earth to Beer gose with rose hips and oyster shells to the sweet and tangy Del’s Shandy, a collaboration between Rhode Island darlings Del’s Lemonade and Narragansett. As someone who appreciates the ingenuity and deliciousness of a diverse menu, I can’t get enough, and I’m not alone — this summer, Dune Brothers will open a year-round seafood market and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, where you can sit down for creative offerings like squid salad or buy what you need to re-create them at home.

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