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Summer Shack

We're thinking of heading to the Summer Shack. How is the lobster bisque there? And is one location better than another? We've only been to the Cambridge location. TIA

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  1. I like the one in Back Bay because it is easy to park in the attached garage and Summer Shack validates their parking. Never ordered their lobster bisque but everything there is good. I like their fish and chips, their lobsters, their chowder - even their pie. My three year old nephew eats their grilled clams, that's how good they are. I also ehar they have good fried chicken - never ordered that either as the seafood dishes are too tempting.

      1. re: Blumie

        Well I haven't been to the one in Cambridge, but my visit to the Back Bay location around Christmas didn't mirror Blumie's opinion. Everything we had (especially the Bluefish and Striped Bass specials and the bay scallops) was really pretty good and the oysters were great (and well shucked). I didn't have the lobster bisque so can't comment.

        1. re: Blumie

          How illuminating Blumie, very helpful.

          The key to enjoying the Summer Shack is to engage it for what it is – a very large restaurant from which Jasper White, an exceptional chef, generates a bit of income. It’s shtick is that it reproduces the experience of a seasonal seafood ‘shack’ at the beach.

          He manages to achieve sort of a Disney version of the real seafood shack experience. It is not a bad place to visit from the ‘burbs on no notice with a group. Parking at both Cambridge and Boston are straightforward, the Cambridge restaurant is larger.

          There are nuggets to be mined:

          1. The oysters are as good as anywhere. (I love how hard people try to attribute differences in oysters to venues – they are essentially sealed containers. If handled well, as they are at the Summer Shack, very difficult to screw up).

          2. Jasper’s signature Pan Roasted Lobster is one of the best lobster dishes available anywhere. And not something that one is likely to throw together at home.

          3. Steamed lobsters, steamed clams, and fried clams are entirely passable.

          4. The menu is very kid friendly.

          Other items on the menu depending on the day/night will be variable. I do not understand why the Summer Shack engenders such passion here.

          1. re: Carty

            I think the vitriol is due mostly to the perception that the Summer Shack tends to present itself as an "authentic" New England experience when in fact it's, as you say, totally Disneyfied. Or as I've put it, the culinary version of the old Broadway show Beatlemania: "Not the real thing, but an incredible simulation."

            If, say, my sister who lives in Iowa was coming into town, I would take her to the Summer Shack. If I was just dying for a plate of clams and I didn't have time to run up to Ipswich, I would go to the Summer Shack. But it would never be on my list of favorite restaurants in town.

            1. re: Carty

              Yes, signature dish Pan roasted lobster is delicious but you need to be hosed down after trying to eat it...I wish they took it out of the shell before roasting in all that yummy sauce but I guess that might overcook the lobster and ruin it. Summer Shack is what it is...a place with paper on the tables, kid friendly, fresh seafood...this isn't fancy and shouldn't be judged as such. Where else can you get sno cones for dessert? What kid doesn't love that?
              I thought chowhounds weren't snobs.

              1. re: Carty

                Totally agree, Carty. I think it's helpful to look at it as a revenue generator for a celebrity chef; kind of the culinary equivalent of a prestige Hollywood actor hamming it up in a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster.

                While it's by no means a high rotation restaurant for me, I find it a pretty tolerable compromise choice when dining out with larger groups, chow-challenged friends, and/or families with kids. Maybe not a top choice if you're spending all your time hanging out at Speed's, the Super 88 food court, and Angela's, but it definitely has its place. See also: Antico Forno in the North End.

                And to the OP: sorry, I haven't tried the bisque either.

                1. re: Carty

                  I've been to both Summer Shacks several times and I'm usually disappointed (I expect to be now): clam chowder without clams, dried out oysters, miniscule portions of fried clams, disappearing staff, warehouse atmospheres, empty restaurants, frigid temperatures. But I will say that their lobster roll is pretty good; I haven't tried the pan roasted lobster yet and am glad to hear that the steamers are also good.

              2. It's no Jasper's, but then again, Jasper's was a money-loser in the end, and Summer Shack looks like a cash cow.

                The pan-roasted lobster is indeed really fine. They do most everything quite competently: good steamers, fried and wood-grilled seafood, and raw bar. They do maybe the only really good corn dog around.

                It's true that if you can, you should skip it for the real clam shacks and lobster pounds up the coast; there is an ersatz, chain-y quality to the atmosphere. For some reason, I feel more comfortable in the Alewife location than the Back Bay one. Certainly that spot is an upgrade from Aku-Aku.

                Probably the most offensive thing to me is the motto: "Food is love (trademark)."

                1. I've only been to the Cambridge location 5-ish times now and everything I've ordered there has been very good, and very tasty. The oysters are as good as I've had any where from Florida to Nova Scotia. I agree with the thoughts about the pan fried lobster, and would like to mention the wok seared lobster....it's excellent. I really don't see the Summer Shack as a theme park, but rather a casual, non-fussy place to get a pertty good seafood meal. Plus, the Tanqueray & tonic is terrific!

                  1. I'm a little surprised at the loathing Summer Shack generates. My limited experiences have been very good. I've been craving good oysters and lobster bisque and S.S. offers both.
                    Every time we've visited Jasper White has been on the premises, which is a good sign.
                    It isn't a "real" clam shack like we all know and love, but it's very good for what it does and the atmosphere is preferable to some pseudo- hip places with so-so food.
                    Thanks for the input, everyone.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: mollydingle

                      I've never seen Jasper, I've been to the Summer Shacks probably a dozen times though only for lunch. Where and when do you see him?

                      1. re: steinpilz

                        Jasper has been roaming the restaurant in Cambridge every time I've been there... late lunch, early dinner. Be advised, he has lost a ton of weight...you may not even recognize him. But he's there.

                        1. re: steinpilz

                          He has lost a ton of weight in the last several years, barely recognizable if you were expecting rolly polly Jasper.

                          I go there much less frequently now that I don't work in Cambridge, but he used to be there all the time.

                          1. re: Carty

                            Just want to say that Jasper is usually at the Alewife location when I visit -- you can tell if you see his rain-slicker yellow Porsche in the lot.

                            Once or twice a year I have an out of town guest who I think would enjoy the effortlessness of driving into the parking lot, bellying up to the bar and having a few oysters, a couple nice glasses of wine, and one of my favorite specials -- grilled clams with garlic butter. There are better places to go, by far, but I've never been disappointed when sticking to raw bar and appetizers.

                            1. re: yumyum

                              I'm latching on to yumyum's post because it mirrors my feelings. I brought my parents and partner to SS Alewife for a mom's day lunch last year, think. Place was crazy with kids and parental units trying to get control of them. So in the chaos, our food order didn't make it in nor out. We're pretty patient people but even I started realizing that something had gone wrong - and once we mentioned something, our meals were brought to us promptly and the food was comped, particularly appreciated because this was mom's day brunch and I was rather embarrassed. They were really gracious. We drank heartily to pad that bill for that lovely waitstaff who was dealing with us.

                              As for our food - to some of us un-sophisticated, anti-foodie, just plain good eatin' types, the food was delicious and hit the spot (RI calamari, grilled fish, fish and chips if I remember correctly). Cold beer and crisp white wines rounded out the meal. I haven't been back yet, but if the occasion arises, I know where to to go.

                      2. I challenge any restaurant to out out a better oyster than the Summer shack. Can't be done. The specials are great, the sirloin tips are some of the best around, and the fried chicken is worth deviating off the seafood section. I have never had a bad meal ther and have quite often had very good meals there. The place is what it is - no more, no less. And I find it to be very tasty.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RandyL

                          Nephew loves the corn dog, and the grilled clams with garlic butter are finger-lickin good.

                        2. I've been horribly disappointed every time I've been to Summer Shack. Here's what I posted back in October, and I stand by it today:

                          "I've been to the Cambridge Summer Shack at least four times over the last two years because we have a relative who seems to enjoy going. I sure don't, sorry to say. Have gotten grilled or baked fish which was dry and overcooked each time. The corn dog had a leaden coating that was greasy and flavorless, and the coating on the fried seafood wasn't much better. The sides were dull and forgettable. The Indian pudding was disgracefully bad (both in texture and flavor) and topped with soft serve instead of real vanilla ice cream. The prices were outrageous and the place itself was unpleasantly noisy."

                          "Nowadays, I just try and get the family member in question to go elsewhere with us. I think the place is simply awful."

                          1. if the prices were lower i would say go it is kid friendly yes parent's wallet friendly no

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: foodperv

                              I don't get the level of dislike. I ate there yesterday. It was adequate. The oysters were great. We had steelhead trout and mahi-mahi neither of which was overcooked. We also had fried clams which were decent. I will admit that the sides were disappointing. The Indian pudding is more of a custard than a traditional recipe. I skipped the soft serve and had regular ice cream. The prices are a bit much but not completely out of line for seafood.

                              1. re: laulauman

                                my problem with summer shack is the fact that at those prices, the food should be more than "adequate". Add in the noise level...no thanks.

                                1. re: lisa13

                                  We did go to the Back Bay version when it first opened and was the only serious oyster game in town. My husband loves oysters enough for me to have put up with the many things I dislike about this place.

                                  We dumped the shack and moved on to a place with a real wine list at B & G . Finally, we found everything, a warm, relaxed setting, good music and great service when Neptune opened.

                                  I haven't been in a few years, but back then the shack wine list was an afterthought or prepared by a distributor's sales staff. And, there was the noise -- between the screeching 70 vocals and the sound bouncing off the surfaces it was impossible to relax and enjoy a meal. The last time we entered the place we turned around and left because they had the usual noise plus the sound up on the TVs at the bar.

                                  How I wish it were a place I could go and enjoy a quick seafood meal once in a while. But, they clearly have a different customer in mind.

                                2. re: laulauman

                                  laulauman, I'm glad your fish was not dried out and your clams weren't greasy and flavorless. I've given Summer Shack several chances to get such things right and have been consistently unhappy with what came out. And at the prices they charge and the airport runway level of noise the place puts forth, that's just not OK with me.

                                  Having had Indian pudding at several places locally, I can safely say that Summer Shack's version is the worst I've had. Ever. It's even worse than at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, which doesn't do very well by this dessert either. As much as I dislike the Union Oyster House generally, their version is at least sort-of adequate, if nothing to write home about. Durgin Park's Indian pudding is by far the best I've ever had. And soft serve ice cream is just lousy on this dessert, I think a real cop-out -- it has no body or substance to stand up to the pudding and provides a much less rich dairy melt. If I'm ordering "Indian pudding," I do not want weak kind-of Indian pudding flavored custard.

                                  1. re: bachslunch

                                    Who on earth would go to Summer Shack for their Indian Pudding?
                                    Summer Shack in any location is all about the seafood.

                                    1. re: Gio

                                      Gio - Nobody goes to Summer Shack for Indian pudding. It was dessert time and I noticed that it was on the menu. It is very hard to find at restaurants even though it is a local specialty. Years ago Legal Seafoods had it on the menu. Obviously, we went for seafood! If a restaurant is offering it, it should be done right.

                                3. re: foodperv

                                  I don't dislike summer shack but go infrequently. I love the description of it as a disney version of a seafood shack, but object to the fine dining prices. I have never had anything actively bad there, but never anything transcendant either, and the bill is always shockingly large. The appeal of the classic seafood shacks are high turnover (meaning impeccably fresh seafood) and down-market ambience with prices to match.

                                4. i am surprised that there are not more comments on the "specials menu", i have been eating at least twice a month at the summer shack and have the following comments: the specials are hit or miss, outstanding frog legs, lamb chops, sardiens , smelts, etc., the problem is the condiments and the choice of sides, not very well though out and often too many ingredients. I have learned to ask for condiments from other preparations or to take the main element of the plate without anything. i have often had several appetizers many using greens with the same tast. there are hiddeen good dishes on the regular menu, flounder with rock shrimp can be very good depending who is making the sauce. which brings us to the next problem, line cooks that don't know the foods they are cooking. i have had the lobster in all of the different preparations and the boiled lobster with potato, clams or mussles, sausage and boiled egg and a ear of real corn, is in my opion the best, i agree that i will wait till spring and summer and head to a real summer shack for clams and lobster in the ruff at a better price and even fresher than those that spend their most expensive years growing in a tank till someone is willing to pay these prices. the lobster bisque depends on the time of the day you are ordering and it is not enough of a good thing. the other chowders are not very good. parking at cambridge cannot be beat, what could be better than a large free parking lot? the pies and deserts are good but not great, they were orginally made by a good pastry chef, not your grandmother or the church ladies, so they can be classically. perfect but not sweet enough to bring the pleasure of a pie from some of the better clam shacks on the coast. I will never be good to myself and pay up to twenty (20) dollars for bluefish! the problems with the main dishes are mostly expectations on the part of the consumer you go in prepared for what you know and grow up with. the grilled items can be dry or very uneven more often it is the sides of very poorly prepared vegs( zuc and squash) are banished from my plate for ever, fried items have been very good with fried oysters being the most problematic , with most being too small or off tasting, they had a good ribeye but decided to change to a very mediocre ny strip. all of this said go often learn to work the menu, and enjoy the idea of eating good food without having to dress and pretend; share plates and i agree food is love.

                                  1. I agree that a lot of the entrees are so-so, given the price. I realize seafood is expensive, but the entrees I've tried still should have been better for the price.

                                    The Rhode Island "spicy and greasy" calamari is the best of its kind that I've had anywhere.

                                    The tuna tartar is good. So are the oysters.

                                    Lobster is lobster, and don't generally order it at restaurants. I did not think the pan sauteed special Jasper lobster was worth the premium. I've never thought to try the bisque! Do they even have bisque? I think I would have tried it by now if they had.

                                    1. I have only been to the BB location. I like it, especially to sit at the bar and have some oysters and a drink. It is a bit of a cheezy atmosphere, but i think that is intentional and if you realize that it can be a fun, jovial atmosphere. It isnt a romantic place for oysters for two but doesnt set out be that.l The pan roasted lobster with chevril is really tasty and reasonably priced imo. The oysters are great and I like the shrimp cocktail a lot. It is fun to sit with a friend and get the "peel your own" shrimp and have a drink. I have not had the lobster bisque. And the fried clams are great!