Summer Shack

Good seafood with a dash of summers past

The Summer Shack, veteran Boston chef Jasper White's newest commercial concoction, imitates an oldtime seafood joint--except it's located steps away from the T stop at Alewife Parkway, it's all indoors, and the space is about a hundred times as big as any "shack" you've ever seen. And therein lies its appeal--or not--depending on your tastes. If you don't mind consuming your fish, fried chicken, crustaceans, and very fresh vegetables along with 299 other people--in a communal, somewhat loud way--then this is the place for you. And possibly the kids.

SUMMER SHACK

143 Alewife Parkway, Cambridge
617-520-9500
Monday-Saturday, dinner only.
Sunday, 12 noon to 9 P.M.

We arrived on a Saturday night with our three-year-old at 5:04 p.m. to find the place already abuzz with diners. (Waits for a table can range from five minutes to an hour; the restaurant does not take reservations.) The two 1,500-gallon lobster tanks in the middle of the room proved a winning distraction for hungry children and the lobster handler gladly scooped out the gangly critters for the kids to gape at. The restaurant is filled with booths (whose orange, aqua, and yellow seats match the floor's Fiesta ware design) and picnic tables and benches.

The menu is extensive, portions are generous, and the prices fairly reasonable (except perhaps the large order of fried clams at $25). There is a kids' menu, but we opted for the "guy's shells with cheese" ($4.50) from the list of 11 side orders. It was cheesy, but bland. The adults enjoyed the avocado, cucumber, and crab salad ($12)--crisp, flavorful vegetables and tender crabmeat. The fried clams (the $12 small order) were okay--a far cry from the rubber bands at HoJo's--but not as plump as expected. The tartar sauce, pungent yet creamy, was terrific, however. Another winner is the mussels appetizer: succulent mollusks in an outstanding, spicy broth worth drinking alone ($8). The two-pound lobster ($33) was delicious (with enough left over to make a salad the next day), as was one of the specials, herb-crusted halibut with saffron aioli ($18). Grilled to perfection, not drowned in sauce, the halibut's flavor held true. Also good are the wood-grilled cod cakes and baked beans ($11). Worthy of note were the side dishes: corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant, green beans with mint, and broccoli rabe.

Chef White (owner of the popular Jasper's that closed in 1995) and his partners, Edward Sparks and Patrick Lyons, have created a festive, but casual, atmosphere while offering good, fresh food. If the crowds that line up are any indication, the Summer Shack is a already a hit.

For dessert we got the "walk-away walnut sundae": soft-serve ice cream with hot fudge, walnuts, and a candied cherry in a plastic cup ($3). It dripped down my hands as we walked to the car. Childhood visions emerged of evenings after the beach when parents, lulled by sun and lack of work, are a bit more freewheeling with the smiles and treats. Now urban kids may have "the Shack" to thank for that.

 

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