“You’re not buttering that clam cake, are you?”
Ah, yes. Tourist season has arrived in South County.
Cap’n Jack’s, where the above question was overheard, is one of the many summertime institutions there and a convenient way station for people with nearby summer rentals. Most clam shacks and seafood restaurants have their proponents and loyalists, so Swamp Yankee natives and Memorial Day regulars have been known to argue like Jesuits over which place has the definitive chowder and clam cakes. I haven’t seen quahog rakes and rolled picnic umbrellas cross yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
As with all these places, there are things to avoid and things to not miss. For example, unless it’s late summer and local corn is in season, skip the corn. Jack’s clam chowder can be OK, although on my recent visit the clear broth version was overwhelmed with potatoes, and clams were scarce. But the Riviera fish chowder ($4.95) is wonderful, with a spicy tomato base and full of flakes of scrod. And the lobster stew ($13.95) is unforgettable, creamy rich and chock-full of meat.
As for the restaurant’s celebrated humongous deserts, well, more about them later.
The decor is minimal, with weathered barn board paneling and an occasional ship’s wheel on a wall for token motif. Seated in the window-lined porch room, we noticed three egrets wading in the nearby estuary, soon joined by a fourth, poking the mud for their own seafood dinners.
One thing that this place does differently from most of the competition is to offer more than a dozen Italian seafood items, at $15.95 and $16.95, as well as the usual clam shack suspects. Four fra diavolo dishes, from mussels and calamari to shrimp and scungilli, for example. You can have shrimp ala Parmigiana or in a white wine and garlic sauce, as shrimp Luciana.
But I didn’t come to a place called Cap’n Jack’s for Italian food, even though I recall enjoying a plate of scungilli fra diavolo over linguine here in the past. For a reminder of their marinara sauce, we ordered mussels ala Posillipo ($7.95) as an appetizer. An enormous bowl of shellfish, small but local, arrived in a huge bowl. The sauce was as tasty as I’d remembered, with a nice balance of sweet and tart. The amount was twice what I’d expect for the price, but the next time I think I’ll order the shucked version, which is served with the sauce over pepper biscuits for no additional charge.
Johnnie had a modest appetite and chose broiled scallops (market price, $15.95 that night). They were delicious in their lemon butter sauce, under a golden buttery crumb topping. You already know about the accompanying corn on the cob, though I heard no complaints about the baked potato.
I felt it my professional duty to take on the Fisher¬man’s Platter, $19.50 in both fried and baked versions. Being a professional, I was also obliged to choose the more dangerous fried kind; the hell with heart-smart, readers need to know whether the batter coatings are greasy. The short answer is “no.”
The huge slab of cod, which also overwhelms the French fries on the fish and chips plate, has a medium-thick coat of tasty batter that isn’t at all greasy to the touch. Accompanying are two butterfly shrimp, a few scallops, and clam strips — less chewy than the fried rubber bands they resembled. The clam cakes, served earlier as an appetizer with the above-mentioned chowder, were industry standard. Also included were two unusual items on such an array: moist and tasty crab salad, and snail salad — paper thin slices of whelk, tender but unfortunately not seasoned out of their blandness.
You can assemble your own fried dinner plate for $12.95 to $18.95, mixing such items as popcorn shrimp, strip or whole clams, squid, and even chicken tenders.
Oh, yes — those deserts. Fourteen of them, all made in-house, will greet you behind glass as you enter, as in some food-porn bordello. It’s like walking the gauntlet at Willie Wonka’s. Reese’s pea¬nut butter cups sticking out of chocolate cake like crashed UFOs, éclairs the size of a fat baby’s fore-arm, turnovers that Hagrid would pick up with two hands.
We had the chocolate volcano ($5.95), a soft flourless chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache, with vanilla soft ice cream on the side. Desserts are $3.95 to $5.95. Yum. If Cap’n Jack’s made candy-corn-on-the-cob, I’d come here more often.
Cap'n Jack's | 706 Succotash Road, Wakefield | Mon-Sun, 11 am-8:45 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.789.4556