Scouting out great cheap restaurants takes me down some strange byways, but I almost never make it to Boston's waterfront. Most places with water views tend to be overpriced or mediocre. Perhaps it's the high cost of picturesque real estate, or that owners count on the scenery to mask their shortcomings. Against this backdrop of mediocrity, it's thrilling to encounter Scup's in the Harbor, which boasts a lovely view of Boston Harbor, excellent hand-crafted food, and the modest prices of an East Boston address in a busy shipyard. Getting there can be tricky — a water-taxi ride or convoluted car trip. But the reward is a charming 20-seat breakfast/lunch place with 18 picnic-table spots outside, where you order at a counter and the very tasty fare is brought to you.
The menu focuses on a rotating array of sandwiches, with some standbys like fine tuna or chicken salad on a grilled bun, known as the "Scuppah" ($3); breakfast sandwiches ($3) of scrambled or fried eggs with cheese, bacon, or ham on an English muffin or raisin bread; and a perfect hot dog ($3) on a toasted bun. Most dishes include a bag of chips. The sweet and spicy grilled-cheese sandwich ($6.75) is a greasy delight, oozing copious sharp cheddar, given wondrous contrast with really smoky bacon, brown sugar, and cayenne. In-house baked goods both sweet and savory are another highlight. Empanadas ($4) are fabulous: eight inches across, with a beautiful, flaky crust, generously stuffed with delicious fillings like shredded "BBQ" beef with potatoes. Potato pie ($4) fills another delicate crust with mashed potatoes, more of that terrific bacon, and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, like a rustic quiche.
Dessert seekers will be satisfied with generous slices of moist, tart lemon cake with lemon frosting ($3) or chocolate-espresso cake ($3) with an insistent coffee flavor. Big house-made drinks include raspberry-lime rickey ($2.50), fresh-squeezed lemonade ($2.50), and wonderful filter coffee ($1.50). I didn't sample the weekend brunch menu of French toast and egg dishes, but I'll wager it shows similar high-quality ingredients and care. There's craft in these seemingly simple dishes, and a lot of warmth in the service. What sets Scup's apart from other thoughtful, family-run joints is its quaint setting, the rare chance it affords to enjoy a casual meal amid the bustle of a real, working marina. It's well worth the adventure of getting there: there's no place like it in Boston.
Scup's in the Harbor, located in the Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina at 256 Marginal Street, Building 16, in East Boston, is open Monday–Friday, 8 am–2 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–2 pm. Call 617.569.7287.