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Nov 24, 2008 03:25 AM

The Summer Shack - It's not Neptune Oyster

Which is good.

I have been spending a lot of time defending the Shack here, decided it was time to stop by and have an objective look at how things are going.

Me, my lovely wife, and son [the boy is a sophomore at Berklee, not exactly a gourmet but he knows what he likes], Boston, 5ish Sunday.

Rolls, cornbread served immediately. Both tasty. Nice departure from Neptune’s weird no bread affectation. Harpoon IPA. Waiter friendly and helpful.

Littleneck seviche. Delicious, just delicious. Worth stopping by just to have this app.
The boy: clam chowder, tasty.
LW: Bermuda fish and crab soup w/ dark rum. A smash. Very Jasper, not bashful with flavors.
The boy: dinner portion of Rhode Island calamari. Greasy, delicious, just like it should be.
LW: special – Canadian swordfish w. eggplant caponata (capers, olives, eggplant, parsley …). Another smash. Like being at Jasper’s on Atlantic Ave. in the 80s. Swordfish grilled perfectly, caponata a perfect complement – again, aggressive and perfect flavors.
Me: (out of the box selection, have not had it in 10 years) fried chicken. Perfectly executed.

The atmosphere: Two tables behind us, both with young kids. One table kids perfectly behaved. The other: a two-year old girl screamer. Just absolute screamer. When she moved from the table to the lobster tank and back (approx. 15 times) she screamed the whole way. When you walked by the table it looked like a small bomb had gone off in the middle of the table. They fit right in.

It’s not Neptune Oyster, and it’s one of my favorite experiences in Boston.

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  1. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm one of those who insists on bashing the place, as my good experiences have been far outweighed by my bad ones. But the place is popular, so some must like it! One of these days I'll give it another chance ...

    1. You left out some key price info. Curious how much they charge for things like a calamari dinner, reasonable or too much $$?

      6 Replies
      1. re: Joanie

        Hi Joanie.

        I'd actually love to do an apples to apples value comparison. My *perception* is that Neptune is not a particularly good value, but such an assessment depends entirely on what one values in their experience.

        E.g 5 oz. beers in beautifully fluted glasses (Neptune) vs. pints in glasses that could be used in any dive (Shack). I had a tuna 'ribbons' crudo at Neptune, it was one if the nicest flavors I have ever experienced, it was $18 and could not have had 3 oz. of tuna. Delicious. I was famished. Shack: generous portions, never hungry.

        The Shack and Neptune really are answers to two very different questions, which is why it bugs me when people here suggest that Neptune is, in some absolute way, a better experience.

        1. re: Carty

          But I'm just asking what you paid at Summer Shack, not comparing. If you paid $20 for calamari, I'd think it's a crappy deal.

          1. re: Joanie

            $18.00, according to their website, served with fries and slaw.

          2. re: Carty

            Carty, I'm not shy about directing people to Neptune Oyster over Summer Shack, as I'm guessing you're aware. :-)

            My wish is always to direct people to the best food experience they can get in a particular cuisine on this site. When people come to this board asking for recommendations for the best seafood spot, I invariably bring up Neptune Oyster because I've always had my best experiences with this cuisine type there. (I'm less concerned with alcohol in such suggestions.) Not every seafood spot is a cookie cutter clone -- Neptune Oyster and Yankee Lobster are quite different, but I've done well at both.

            I advise people not to go to Summer Shack based on my experiences there, which are several. Each time I've gone, I've experienced overly expensive, weakly to badly prepared food in an extremely noisy environment. But it's the kind of spot (like Barking Crab and some crummy North End places like Piccola Venezia and La Familia Giorgio) that inexplicably shows up in guidebooks and such as a greatly recommended spot to eat. One of the major values of a place like Chowhound, to my way of thinking, is that you don't get the usual Fodor's travel book guide, Zagat's guide, or Phantom Gourmet resto guide places parroted like an unexamined mantra.

            I've gotten some great suggestions from this website when I've traveled. For example, Masters Super Fish in London, a place in no guidebooks or usual listings but highly recommended by London Chowhounders, served me the best fish and chips and mushy peas I've ever had, notably better than Rock and Sole Plaice, a spot that all the usual suspects recommend. That's what I'm trying to do here, give back the best advice I can to those who come here.

            I'd love to recommend every place where I've eaten, but unfortunately I can't, and as they say, honesty is the best policy. That cuts the other way, too -- I'm one of very few here who apparently hasn't had a ragingly horrible experience at the No Name (though I stick strictly to seafood chowder and fried seafood there, as it's not a spot where I'm guessing one ought to try and stretch the boundaries).

            The day I have a great meal at Summer Shack, you all will be the first to know. That's guaranteed. Until then, sorry -- no can do.

            1. re: bachslunch

              bachslunch - I agree that chowhound is a valuable resource distinct from the conventional guidebooks. It's just that we've had different experiences, I suspect not because the restaurants behave differently on the days that we dine, but because we value different things.

              Is the Shack really nosier than Neptune? When in the right (wrong?) mood I find Neptune pretentious (e.g. the oyster flavor descriptions), the service detached, and the portions small. When in the right mood I have experienced some really nice flavors.

              I think the key to being the best resource for others is to share the details of one's experiences. Not provide terse rankings in which we assume the reader values the same things we do.

              When I do recommend a restaurant that I understand to be controversial here (e.g. I am a big Grill 23 fan) I indicate that. That way the reader can look back through the archives to read about the experiences that different people, valuing different things, have had.

              *That's* what's valuable about chowhound.

              1. re: Carty

                Carty, to answer some of your questions.

                -I've never experienced Neptune Oyster to be noisy, whereas Summer Shack has been horribly so each time I've been -- in fact, the only place I can think of offhand that rivals it would be some of the area's sports bars and (ironically) Grill 23.

                -I've always had decent or better service at Neptune Oyster. Service isn't bad at Summer Shack either, sometimes a little slow but that may be the kitchen and not the server.

                -pretentiousness in menus tends not to bother me (heck, aren't most of them to some extent?), and can't say I find either's menu to be a problem here.

                -portions can be less than robust at both places, depending on what you order. But if big portions were the most desirable thing about a restaurant, La Famiglia Giorgio would be the best place in town.

                -like you, I too regularly recommend Grill 23. In fact, along with The Oak Room, I think it's one of the two best places to get a steak in Boston, better than any of the chains.

                -I don't usually qualify my recommendations if they're controversial unless I'm seriously in the minority about a place (No Name, mostly). I figure it's the OP's job to do the weighing and evaluating. Besides, if I qualified every place that's potentially controversial, I'd be qualifying every place I suggested. I can't think of any restaurant where there hasn't been a difference of opinion on this board -- even places like the original Pizzeria Regina!

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Thanks for the tip on the ceviche and swordfish. I go to SS for very specific things which they do very well and I sometimes get cravings for: Rhode Island calamari, tuna tartare, Oysters Rockefeller when they have it, razor clam app. Also of course oysters on halfshell. Have found the salads and specials not so reliable and often overpriced, so I've learned to avoid those. But I appreciate your tips and if I see the swordfish I'll give it a try. Also agree that while I love Neptune, I've been hard pressed to justify the expense lately.

            1. I've been unhappy with the Summer Shacks, mostly always, but never with Neptune. I'm surprised that your Summer Shack clam chower actually had noticable clams in it.

              In all honesty, I do like Jaspers lobster rolls with tarragon..