Maine Fish Market Restaurant, East Windsor
Come for lobster, boiled, roasted, stuffed or “lazy.” Come for humongous king crab legs. Come for scallops wrapped in bacon, and fried whole-belly clams to die for.
If you’re looking for seafood plain and simple, as it used to be served along the New England shore when the Fryolator was king and raw meant freshly shucked oysters, not uni or tobiko, Maine Fish Market Restaurant will dish it up in such bountiful portions, along with so many sides, you won’t be able to see the table for the food.
If you haven’t heard of this East Windsor phenom, trust me, a ton of people have. Indeed, when we arrived they were packed in shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for a table since the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.
Their website touts the fact that the building Maine Fish Market occupies dates back to the 1780s. I’m a sucker for quaint, and the location—60 Bridge St., Warehouse Point—sounds sort of romantic. So it was a bit unsettling when our trusty GPS took us to a spot on Route 40 across from a strip mall. The huge parking lot behind the restaurant was full. Could all those people be inside? Yes.
We plunged into the fray and in due time (48 minutes) got a table. Getting a waitress—perky, personable and clueless—entailed another wait. Ordering was arduous and time-consuming and not altogether the server’s fault. The menu has more twists and turns, options and red herrings than The Da Vinci Code. The problem is that everything comes with everything and involves choice after choice. Dinners include salad, fries or rice, bread and butter and choice of coleslaw, vegetable or pasta salad. Even sides come with sides. An order of fried clams, for example, includes coleslaw, vegetable or pasta salad. Add combination platters to your deliberations and redundancy is almost inevitable.
We had plenty of time to crack the code and create a decisive plan of action. We had a few questions, however, which we put to our waitress when she finally arrived. Was the salmon wild or farmed? Was the langoustine salad made with Maine lobster or a Mediterranean import? “Look,” Miss Sunshine said, “if you don’t make up your minds right this minute, I’m going to wait on another table.” Threat or promise? More like panic. Guiding neophytes through this maze of a menu is no picnic. We ordered tout de suite.
Ignoring personal preferences, we focused on Maine Fish Market’s most popular dishes. One was the boiled lobster dinner: 1¼- or 1½-pound single or twin. All around us tables were piling up with bright red shells. That’s the problem with small lobsters, they’re a lot of work and a lot of shell. But the menu announced (in capital letters) Larger Lobsters Available. (And why not? The place began as a market and still sells raw fish and shellfish.) Our waitress assured us that lobsters from three to six pounds were indeed available. We ordered a three-pounder to share. Only when our entrées began to arrive were we told that the only cooked lobsters available were under two pounds or over six.
Luckily, I already had a Plan B in mind and put it into effect. Lazyman’s Lobster, eight ounces of hand-picked prime fresh lobster meat swimming in clarified butter. It feels like cheating but it tastes like heaven. For a taste of this-is-the-life luxury, Maine Fish Market’s Lazyman’s lobster is the way to go.
Normally I don’t get excited about deep-fried seafood but Maine Fish Market’s deep-fried whole-belly clams are famous. One bite and we knew why: Fresh-shucked, enrobed in a gossamer-light batter, swiftly fried, crunchy outside with a rich, creamy taste of the sea inside, these clams flew off the plate. They’re impossible to resist.
Swordfish was a disappointment. Not because it wasn’t good but because although we were assured that we could have it stuffed and Cajun-style, we were belatedly informed that “the kitchen ran out.”
We ordered crab cakes instead—same story, the kitchen ran out. We ordered sea scallops wrapped in bacon. Success at last. The scallops were succulent, the bacon crisp and, shades of suburban cocktail parties in the ’60s, skewered with a tidbit of pineapple before broiling. I had almost forgotten how good that cliché of yesteryear could taste.
Last but not least we sampled Maine Fish Market’s famous king crab legs, a monumental heap of them, each at least a foot long. A daunting task to crack them, but lo, we did not have to. Each crab leg was slit lengthwise, so all you had to do was spear a strip of moist, tender meat and pull it out. Virtually all Alaskan crab legs are frozen on the boat, but they do differ in quality and these were excellent and perfectly cooked.
Sides were mundane. The coleslaw was too sweet for my taste. Salads were uninspired. And the vegetable of the day was carrots.
Desserts, on display in glass cases and proudly attributed to The Cheesecake Factory, included cheesecake and cream pies galore. Carrot cake from an Italian pasticceria in Bloomfield was marvelous, moist, spice-scented and a mile high. But what I liked best was the rice pudding made in-house from a 2,000-year-old Greek recipe the Vamvilis family has handed down from generation to generation.
There’s some good food to be had at Maine Fish Market Restaurant but you have to pick and choose, leave a lot on your plate, and be able to tolerate a certain amount of chaos. On weekends, it might be easier to go to Maine.
Maine Fish Market Restaurant
60 Bridge St., East Windsor (860/623-2281)
Monday through Thursday 10:30 to 9. Friday and Saturday 10:30 to 10, Sunday 12 to 9. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $4.39 to $14.99, entrées $13.59 to $39.59, desserts $3.99 to $6.99.