Let's have one last hurrah for summer — and head to a seafood shack. And who better to offer directions than Elizabeth Bougerol, author of New England's Favorite Seafood Shacks (Countryman Press, $16.95; clamlove.com)? Starting in Connecticut and heading north, she offers some of her favorites to Ron Schoolmeester for USA TODAY. But check ahead; many of them close after Labor Day.
Bougerol calls this "the coolest clambake in Connecticut." Clams, lobsters, bluefish and corn on the cob pepper a long, ramshackle grill, smoke billowing overhead, as co-owners Gary and Vaughn Knowles work fast (and with fireproof gloves) to deliver your dinner. "Everything is caught locally and roasted, grilled or steamed to order over the hickory and oak fire," says Bougerol. Best of all: the Clam Special, littlenecks roasted until dabs of cocktail sauce and butter melt into the brine. 203-453-9276.
Costello's Clam Shack
Diners kept asking for fried fare just up the road at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough, but the place had no deep fryer. So owner Jerry Mears opened Costello's, a cheery double-decker shack right on the water in Noank Shipyard, "serving up all things golden and crunchy," Bougerol says. "Try the fried whole Canadian clams or the center-cut cod, with a side of Costello's excellent onion rings. For die-hards, there's even fried ice cream." 860-572-2779; www.costellosclamshack.com.
Point Judith, Narragansett, R.I.
Local legend has it that when Carrie Cooper spent summers at Point Judith with her family almost a century ago, the picnic lunches she packed smelled so good that other families asked for a taste. "Nowadays, Aunt Carrie's legacy lives on in every order of perfectly crunchy belly clams, steamers, Rhode Island-style (broth-based) clam chowder and clamcakes, which, as most Rhode Islanders will tell you, Carrie Cooper invented," Bougerol says. For dessert, try Indian pudding with molasses, and topped with vanilla ice cream. 401-783-7930.
Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar
Eastham (Cape Cod), Mass.
By day, it's a boisterous, kid-friendly spot that doles out lobster rolls and fried seafood to families straight from (or headed to) the beach; by night, it's a laid-back watering hole/raw bar where jovial owner Nick Nickerson mans the "shucking shack," Bougerol says. "Everything on the vast menu of seafood classics is done to Nick's uncompromising standards, and the thin onion rings are almost worth a trip by themselves." 508-255-2575; arnoldsrestaurant.com.
Clam fans refer to this stretch of Cape Ann as "Clam Alley" because it's home to so many restaurants known for fried clams (dug at the nearby Ipswich flats). Among them: Farnham's, housed in a nondescript marsh-side cottage. "Fried seafood rules, from haddock and scallops to oysters, and of course — just like the big yellow sign says — 'Farnham's Famous Clams,' " Bougerol says. 978-768-6643.
Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound
It's a big, drafty barn just across the Massachusetts border that's been serving seafood classics for more than 50 years, Bougerol says. "The atmosphere is strictly summer-camp mess hall: Line up here for steamers, there for lobster, and head outside for fried clams, shrimp, scallops and oysters. After all that, you still have to stake out one of the in-demand picnic tables, but it's all part of the experience." 603-474-3331; brownslobster.com.
Cundy's Harbor, Maine
The vibe is roadhouse-meets-bait shop at Middlebay, tucked in a grove of pines in Maine's bucolic Cundy's Harbor. Owned by lobsterman Jeff Hurd and wife Elizabeth, who runs the kitchen, Middlebay is all about "spanking-fresh seafood done simply — and addictively. Try the sweet, briny, steamers, a cool, fresh-picked crab roll (a Maine specialty hardly found outside the state), or a bowl of Elizabeth's stratospherically good lobster stew." 207-798-5868.
Five Islands Lobster Co.
The hallmark here is stellar Maine seafood prepared by talented cooks, Jenny and Chris Johnston. "Get your lobster steamed or boiled, or try the Jenny Special (a crabcake-and-haddock sandwich), and wash it down with the booze you BYO'd as fishing boats come and go," Bougerol says. 207-371-2990; fiveislandslobster.com.
Bet's Famous Fish Fry
Blink and you'd miss it — a glorified trailer on a quiet patch of Route 27. Owner Bet Finocchiaro catches all the haddock and cod herself, prepares it according to her grandmother's recipe and serves it with a side of her legendary Down East sassiness. "She crams more than a pound of fish into each sandwich, ensuring that you won't possibly leave hungry."
Waterman's Beach Lobster
South Thomaston, Maine
"The menu's just a few items long, and you're out of luck if it rains (seating is outdoor picnic tables), but none of this matters when you're perched at the water's edge and chowing down on one of the sweetest, most succulent lobsters of your life." Indeed. Waterman's Beach is a past winner of the James Beard Foundation's America's Regional Classics Award. 207-596-7819.