There is something charming about the simplicity of dining at a down-and-dirty dockside shack. Plastic cutlery is substituted for silverware, picnic tables dot wooden decks, the smell of deep-fried goodness soaks in the air, and boats bob in the water that stretches out in front of you, bringing in the day’s catch.
A proper seafood shack is as close to an actual “shack” as possible. These no-frills establishments are the quintessential summer destinations, iconic institutions that many a traveler and local would agree serve as cracking examples of how to best enjoy seafood. From their surroundings and their atmosphere, be they beachside retreats with the salty ocean air lingering on your skin or huts jutting out into a bay, to their ability to prepare some of the best fried clams, steamy chowder, roasted oysters, or the most buttered-up lobster roll whose juices have streamed down along yours hands and fingers, these seafood shacks turn out some of the best meals you can find — and their focus stays on the food.
It’s true that New England and seafood go together like, well, like fish and water. But while seafood shacks may seem like they are a trademark of New England, they are also very much present throughout the rest of the country. New England may be home to clams and lobster, but head down to other parts of the States and you’ll find they have their own regional specialties.
Be it fresh perch and wall-eye in the Great Lakes area or shrimp and crab on the Gulf Coast, oysters out West, or regional twists on otherwise famous New England dishes, like putting bacon in your clam chowder, each area of the States offers its own specialty dishes that are worth the trip.
And though seafood shacks may be indicative of summertime in full swing, many of these eateries are dependent on the local catch, the time of year, and other factors that keep business owners and customers alike hoping for another long, juicy, and good season.
The Daily Meal rounded up 33 of the best seafood shacks across America; however because of various criteria and personal taste, we opted not to rank our list but instead select superstar seafood shacks. In conducting our research, we looked at various shacks across the country that have won awards, received rave reviews and positive press, have earned a spot on various “best of” and “top” lists, are highly rated amongst diners or are a favorite go-to spot for locals of the area.
The lines may be long, like those you’ll find outside of The Clam Bar at Napeague in the Hamptons or Malibu Seafood out in California. Your quest for finding the best fried shrimp in South Carolina may lead you feeling like you’re on a wild goose chase, like trying to find the The Wreck of Richard and Charlene. Nonetheless, being elbow-deep in the fresh and fried goodness of locally sourced seafood coupled with a BYOB policy or cheap-as-chips beer and wine that can be found at these waterfront shacks will keep seafood lovers smiling.
Alexandra E. Petri is the travel editor for The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @writewayaround
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough
There is actually a countdown on Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough’s website to the last lobster that will be served in 2014. Located in Noank, Connecticut, Abbott’s was founded in 1947 and has become a famous summertime haunt for its seafood and its lobsters. Abbott’s puts a spin on lobster rolls by low steaming them and serving them hot with melted-on butter, all smack between a toasted butter roll. The steamers, stuffed clams, clam chowder, mussels, shrimp - you name it, Abbott’s does it better than the rest.
Taking a tour of the Florida Keys? Alabama Jack’s in Key Largo, Florida, should be a stop on your travels. This brightly-colored floating shack is a no-fuss eatery equipped with plastic chairs, a laid-back vibe, and regular live music performances. Though it will be a slight detour, Alabama Jack’s is known to have some of the best conch fritters and fried fish sandwiches around, with customers also talking up the crab cakes as a must-have item.