There’s a time capsule in Scarborough, and the thousands of people who drive by it every day on Route 1 probably take it for granted. Scarborough Fish and Lobster feels like a throwback, when prices were reasonable, service was personal and the charm of a funky old building outweighed the convenience and efficiency of new construction.
This place is so old-fashioned it still has a phone booth out front with a rusty old pay phone.
It’s not fancy, and despite an impressive array of American flags along the roadway and a lumbering old lobster boat in the parking lot, it’s an easy establishment to overlook because it’s so out of character with its surroundings. It’s on a busy stretch of Route 1 near Dunstan Corner, and it is in the process of being dwarfed by new construction just to its south. In some ways, it’s amazing this place is still around.
There’s almost no inside seating, but an outside patio is covered by a large tent over tables and chairs, as well as a cooking area where the lobsters are boiled. The interior is taken up by counters, lobster tanks and refrigerated units – and lots of signs, photos and kitschy fishing stuff, like nets and lures.
When I sat down, a portable Sony boom box was playing music that ranged from swing and Sinatra to the Beach Boys.
I enjoyed my lunch of a lobster roll, which I ordered with a bag of chips and cole slaw for an additional $1.50, and haddock chowder. I also bought a box of salt water taffy, ostensibly for the 9-year-old at home, but he knows as well as I that his mother and I will do the most damage to that box of candy.
The food is served on a plastic platter, with Styrofoam containers for the chowder and slaw and plastic dinnerware. I didn’t love the Styrofoam – maybe that’s one material relic from the past we can move beyond. But I loved the casual charm of the overall experience, and there was no pretension whatsoever.
I gave highest marks to the chowder, which was moderately simple in its seasoning, with large chunks of fish and potatoes. It came with one bag of crackers, and I could have used two. I like my chowder thick, and the crackers go a long way toward achieving that every-bite chunkiness.
The lobster roll was just OK, but that’s only because of personal preferences. I like a bit of mayo and tiny bits of celery. I also prefer a bun grilled in butter, but that’s another story. This one was served on a toasted hot dog bun, and I detected no mayonnaise or lemon, and the only seasoning was paprika, which I don’t love. But it was jammed with lobster meat. I had two claws and thick, chopped tail meat. Ultimately, I ditched the bun and ate the meat with the fork.
The ambiance of Scarborough Fish and Lobster is tied directly to its character. There are old bones in this place, and there’s an authenticity to it that straddles a fine line between historic and kitschy. It reminded me of the Maine I knew when I began coming here with my family in the 1960s, and I very much liked that feeling.
There are many aspects of that era we don’t want to go back to, but I’ll take local roadside restaurants anytime.
WHERE: 697 U.S. Route 1, Scarborough. 207-883-5398 or scarboroughlobster.com
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
WAIT: About five minutes
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes into the patio/tent area, but not conveniently in the main building