Lobster in the Buff
Shore Dinner at Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Groton
Note: most of this intro stuff is repeated over on my page about their clam chowder, which makes the same Roadfood “Eat Before You Die” list separately. Abbott’s is also on the US Best/”See Before You Die” list as well.
I suppose “in the rough” means that the dining room here is a lawn out by the harbor. There are indoor tables here and another large grouping of them under a tent but really, who wants to chow down on a seafood feast in such a staid setting?
I’d been warned about seagull dive bombers, but we were undeterred. In fact, I don’t think we saw a single gull during the hour we were there. Abbott’s must have invented some sort of force field. There are tables out on a deck over the water as well, which would be great – but not so much for us what with a rather adventurous and curious 15 month old in tow. (Note: The majority of people here had little kids.)
We also arrived around 4:45 PM – before the summer Saturday dinner rush. Heck, we even found parking right near the queue, which I hear is impossibly rare. We were through the line quickly and my order was not messed up at all (another warning) – so I can review the food and not the service.
There are two items on the Roadfood “Eat Before You Die” list here – the clam chowder and the whole “shore dinner” feast thing. Now it is my job to remember what we got for our $35 bucks each.
Abbott’s has a good thing going here. They have several “things” that add to their cachet. They are only open in the summer. The restaurant is situated at the southern end of Noank (pronounced “No-wank” and it’s part of Groton, right next to the Mystic part of Groton, pronounced “Grah-tin.”) and requires a few twists and turns on exceedingly narrow streets to reach. They are a tad overpriced, but no one seems to care. They are staffed by a billion teenagers. The seagull menaces I’ve mentioned. They have their own branded potato chips. Their bathrooms are no better than public beach bathrooms. They have a thing where people now camp out to be the first customer when they open each year.
Some of this stuff is silly and Abbott’s clearly plays up the kitsch. But whatever, they are an institution, like it or not. And we happen to like it.
Annoyingly, despite being the most expensive “item” on the Roadfood list (now that Custy’s is closed), the book didn’t really say much about Abbott’s. But Roadfood.com does at least:
Abbott’s is a long-running lobster picnic. Hugely crowded on nice summer evenings, it specializes in warm-weather shore dinners. Start with bracing, steel-gray chowder, then littlenecks on the half shell and/or steamers or mussels by the bucket with broth and butter for dipping. If you arrive with a big appetite, you will need to eat many hors d’oeuvre because the lobsters, cooked to order, can take a while. They are beauties, available whatever size you need, up to ten pounds!; but if you don’t have the energy to crack, pick, suck, and pluck your way through a whole one, this is a grand place to have a hot lobster roll – nothing but hunks of pink sweet meat bathed in butter, sandwiched inside a warm bun. (Cold lobster salad rolls are also available, as are hot and cold crab rolls.)
Abbott’s is one of the prettiest places in Connecticut to dine al fresco. Seating is at bare wooden tables, either in the open or under tents. Some civilized sorts actually bring their own tablecloths as well as their own wine. The air is filled with the salty smack of shore breezes, and background music is provided by gulls screeching in the sky (but kept away from the tables by invisible netting).
I ordered two dinners ($34 each – with the smallest little lobsters possible, which were actually smallish chix lobsters) and was impressed with the rapidity of the first trays of stuff. Round one consists of the amazing aforementioned Rhode Island style clam chowder, a few cold large shrimp cocktails and a large bag of steamers and mussels. I think you can specify one or the other – and even though mussels cost half as much as steamers in the real world, I’d opt for 100% mussels if there is a next time.
The clams were sandy and while certainly super fresh and tasty, no one likes sandy teeth. The mussels were sweet and just perfect. The fact that there is melted butter and briny broth in which to dip your mollusks made my day. The only challenge in finishing them was trying to keep Calvin, my 15-month old, away from them.
The three large shrimps were good, and I love shrimp cocktail, but to me, the bigger the shrimp the mealier they are and these were just on the cusp.
While waiting for our lobsters, Calvin explored the lawn and did his best to disturb every other diner within 30 feet; playing the part of a Dickensian street urchin, begging for food with his eyes and actions. This kid is gonna be trouble. Fortunately, as I’ve said, every other table had a baby or toddler with them, so there were no issues.
Damian enjoyed watching the boats in the harbor and fortunately on a nice summer Saturday, there is a lot of boat action. Noank is situated across the harbor from the southern tip of Mystic and, well, you can’t really ask for a better location for such a shore dinner.
Our number was called and I picked up our little lobsters. Abbott’s specializes in giant lobsters. I forget their size options, but they went up to, let’s say, huge. Like 10 pounds huge. I worked in the seafood industry for years and years and I think I saw maybe two 10 pounders in my life. I had thought about getting slightly bigger ones, but was already spending 70 bucks on a meal I can make at home so I figured that was enough.
To Abbott’s immense credit, they crack the cooked bugs at all the strategic places – the claw, the knuckles, the tail – so we didn’t even have to bother with any work to get the sweet meat. The lobsters were excellent. Of course, lobster is perhaps the easiest “impressive” thing to cook in the world – but I’ve been amazed from time to time when I come across overcooked shellfish.
These were not and Hoang and I plowed through them while the boys played. Calvin pawed at my piles of clams, mussels and lobster shells despite my noble efforts. The kid is a monkey.
Our only mistake was FBYOB. That’s “forgetting to Bring Your Own Booze.” We stared longingly at the other tables with their wine and beer, but honestly, after a long day out in eastern Massachusetts at a party and still with over an hour’s drive home, it was probably best.
So… is it worth it? That depends on who you ask. You can get this same dinner (though I felt it was missing corn on the cob) at many other places for a significantly lower price. But there are only a handful in Connecticut that offer such perfect cove dining and a relaxed, kid friendly atmosphere. And I’m always willing to pay a few extra bucks for such amenities. The food was all perfect and ample and we left happy.
And we were only going to get happier – down the road in Mystic for some homemade ice cream!