Under the heading of guilty pleasures, I love sneaking away for a mid-week lunch date with my husband. Last week’s destination, Shanty on the Shore, made the date even better, by adding the air of a summer vacation lunch on the coast of Maine. Maybe it was the clever buoy based lights over each table that help set that mood – that, and the shrimp, scallops, haddock, lobster and shrimp dishes on the nautical-inspired menu.
Once settled in and glancing over that menu, it required every ounce of willpower I could muster to resist partaking in my favorite calorie-rich option of whole belly fried clams. Instead, I behaved and selected a maple-glazed salmon fillet with brilliant green snap peas as the accompaniment. It was a perfectly sized portion of fish and was prepared with that rich sweet maple glaze and a bit of ginger. Matt had his favorite crab cakes…as a sandwich this visit. It was a winning choice. Both dishes came with the house-made coleslaw that has a distinctive touch of thyme in its creamy base. I’m not the only one who loves the Shanty’s slaw…they go through 19,000 lbs. of it over the course of a year. That, dear readers, is A LOT of cabbage! (BTW, in researching this column, I learned the term “coleslaw” came from an 18th century Anglicization of the Dutch term “koolsla,” a shortening of “koolsalade,” which means “cabbage salad.”) Shanty’s koolsla is fresh, crisp, and not too watery or too sweet.
And on a larger scale, the coleslaw is indicative of what makes the Shanty such a success. While coleslaw is standard fare at any self respecting fish house restaurant, the Shanty’s staff goes to the extra effort to 1. make it fresh in-house, and 2. make it unique. The unique factor is one given careful consideration. The Shanty isn’t “trendy.” Its regulars would rather management not go too crazy improvising new dishes or changing longstanding favorites, so owners Al and Kim Gobeille stick with their very successful menu. Kim shared that the only substantive changes over the past few years have been to incorporate lighter preparations of fish, offering that their classic “Fish and Chips” used to be their most popular menu item. It still makes the top 10 most popular Shanty dishes… but there aren’t too many other fried platters to be found on the list. Instead, the Shanty features more grilled and baked seafood entrees.
Likewise, the owners give more than a nod to the “fresh” movement. They again plan to have many of the vegetables on the menu come from the garden on their property. A few years back the Gobeilles partnered with the New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) initiative to organize a means for their restaurants to have a source for locally grown produce -and at the same time, offer a benefit to new immigrants in the area. It is just too early to tell how the program will fare this year, but Shanty’s commitment to serving fresh local produce is exemplary. (Even those luscious dessert pies they are famous for are freshly made in house…the banana cream is worth every calorie!)
Yet another commitment, though not quite so obvious, is the one Shanty employees have to their employers. Witness: we were warmly greeted at the door by General Manager Christian Chardain. Kim Gobeille later shared with us that he has been at the Shanty for nine years. When prompted, Kim told of many staff members who have been with them for over 10 years. Likewise, as implied above, the Shanty has a fan base of longtime regular customers. “We have customers who first tasted clams here as children – and now come in with their children.” The Shanty is that kind of good, warm, family establishment….it also serves “wicked good” fish and beautiful Lake Champlain dining room views!
P.S. Next month is Crab Month at the Shanty, which means plenty of King Crab legs, Dungeness crabs galore, and yet more of Matt’s favorite crab cakes – will be featured on the menu (with plenty of that ‘koolsla’ on the side!)
The Shanty on the Shore is located at 181 Battery Street in downtown Burlington, and is open seven days a week. Sunday-Thursday 11 am -9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am -10 pm. Call 864-0238 for reservations or visit www.shantyontheshore.com.