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If great fried fish is your Maine thing

By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / April 11, 2010

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Maine is renowned for its lobster shacks, but its fried fish joints are equally delectable destinations. At these 10 coastal gems — a mix of sit-down restaurants and take-out shacks — expect big portions, low prices, and homemade desserts as alluring as the catch of the day.

Fisherman’s Catch, Wells The Cardinali family’s shingled fish joint edges a saltwater marsh on the road to Wells Harbor. Snag a table inside or out. The secret to their light, crispy yet moist fried fish, says Ned Cardinali, is their labor-intensive dipping-shaking-frying process. Order fish ’n’ chips ($8.99), served with homemade slaw and a roll; splurge on the seafood platter ($20.99); or split the Captain’s Feast, a mountain of scallops, Maine shrimp, whole-belly clams, and haddock, with fries, rolls, and slaw ($29.99). The Catch also gets raves for its fried smelts, calamari, and oysters. Don’t even think about skipping the sweet potato fries or homemade desserts. The blueberry pie, served warm with ice cream, and the vanilla bread pudding, with a warm whiskey caramel sauce and whipped cream, are alone worth a visit. This place is extremely popular; go early to avoid a wait. Seasonal. 134 Harbor Road, 207-646-8780, www.fishermanscatchwells.com

Ken’s Place, Pine Point, Scarborough When it comes to fried clams, Ken’s gets it right. No wonder: It’s been frying clams since 1927 and has generations of Mainers as devotees. Owner Dave Wilcox daily selects the best-grade fish, right off the boat. While the whole-belly clams are justly praised, it’s the made-to-order clam cakes that are the biggest sellers. Ken’s sells upwards of 1,000 daily at $1.45 each or as a dinner, three cakes with fries, slaw, and roll for $6.99. Ken’s fries all types of seafood; the seafood platter, at $24.99, feeds two. Its fried oysters, available the first Tuesday of each month, have a cult-like following. Seasonal. 207 Pine Point Road, 207-883-6611

Susan’s Fish-N-Chips, Portland This garage-turned-fish shack evokes the sea, from the mermaids and fish painted on the exterior to the netting hanging over the counter inside. But don’t expect a fishy odor. Susan’s is clean, efficient, and dishes out some of Portland’s best and cheapest fried seafood. Owner Susan Eklund makes sure Susan’s delivers on its motto: “Our fish is so fresh, you’ll want to slap it.’’ Big portions, low prices, crispy flavorful fish, and daily specials reel in the locals. On Mondays and Tuesdays, two fish burgers are $2.50, and Wednesday is haddock day, with fried specialties ranging from $3.99 for a pint of nuggets to $10.99 for a haddock and scallop dinner. Prove it’s your birthday and get $10 off your order. Year round. 1135 Forest Ave., 207-878-3240, www.susansfishandchips.com

Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster, South Freeport On the harbor here, a world away from downtown Freeport’s shopping madness, Harraseeket Lunch serves fried seafood in abundance. Order at the window, then grab a picnic table outside or a seat in the dining room. This is the place to settle that age-old question about fried clams: Which is better, battered or breaded? Order a half-pint of each, then decide. Finish with a homemade whoopie pie. This place is no secret, so expect crowds. Seasonal. 36 Main St., 207-865-4888, www.harraseeketlunchandlobster.com

Sea Basket, Wiscasset Healthful fried food? The Sea Basket uses a convection frying system that quickly sears the outer coating, so less oil is absorbed than in standard frying. The parking lot is nearly always full at this roadside restaurant just south of the state’s self-proclaimed “prettiest village,’’ especially on Sundays, when locals congregate after church. Fried haddock, scallops, clams, Maine shrimp, even clam cakes and crab cakes all are available, served alone, in rolls, and in baskets, with prices beginning around $6. Don’t miss the lobster stew. Seasonal. 303 Old Bath Road, 207-882-6581, www.seabasket.com

Bet’s Famous Fish Fry, Boothbay “Free Beer Tomorrow’’ proclaims the sign outside this take-out shack on the town common. Owner Bet Finocchiaro says she goes through 1,500 pounds of haddock and 800 pounds of potatoes each 4 1/2-day week. Although she no longer catches the fish herself, she still uses her grandmother’s breading recipe, whips up her special tartar sauce, and makes the french fries. The haddock sandwich and the fish ’n’ chips are legendary, but unless you’re a big eater, plan on splitting an order; portions are huge. No indoor seating, but picnic tables sprinkle the common. Seasonal. Route 27, Town Common, 207-208-7477

Angler’s, Searsport This is the original of the Hall family’s three Angler’s restaurants, and it reels in both the locals and tourists heading up Route 1. They come not only for the fried haddock, Maine shrimp, oysters, scallops, and clams, but also for the homemade desserts (coconut cream and blueberry pies are the top sellers). The biggest lure is the fried haddock dinner: two large, hand-battered filets served with a choice of potato and vegetable. It’s enough to feed two, especially if you crown it with one of the dozen-plus dessert choices, most of which are made on site. Year round. Route 1, 207-548-2405, www.anglersseafoodrestaurant.com

Just Barb’s, Stockton Springs The coffee’s always on at this unassuming hole-in-the-wall, a dandy place for an unfussy meal at a low price. The all-you-can-eat fish fry, available daily after 11 a.m., is $7.99 and comes with top-quality Alaskan white fish, fries, slaw, and a roll. Owner Doug Fraser mixes his own batter from three types of flour and fries the fish in canola oil that’s changed every other day, creating an especially light and flavorful fish. Year round. Route 1, 24 Main St., 207-567-3886

Bagaduce Lunch, North Brooksville Judy and Mike Astbury operate this roadside takeout that was founded by Judy’s grandfather Sidney Snow. In 2008 the James Beard Foundation named it an American Classic. Regulars know to order the clams, lightly breaded and fried in vegetable oil, or the fried haddock, a golden treat. Don’t skip the onion rings. Aim for a riverside picnic table, where you can watch for gulls, eagles, osprey, and seals. Time a visit to coincide with a changing tide when the reversing falls on tidal Bagaduce River really rip. The place is being renovated for this season, so it might look a bit fancier. Seasonal. 145 Franks Flat Road, Routes 175/176, 207-326-4729

Chester Pike’s Galley, Sullivan The parking lot is always packed with Maine plates. Those local folks know a good thing. Jane Fogg and Amy McGarr are royalty in the kitchen of this cheery restaurant. Fogg’s fish ’n’ chips, a large portion of haddock and fries served with homemade slaw and homemade tartar sauce, are a lunch bargain at $6.95, but the Friday night fish fry, which includes two pieces of fish, fries, slaw, tartar, and a homemade roll, is $10.95, and includes free seconds. Be sure to pair it with an order of chowder. McGarr’s desserts, which highlight seasonally fresh ingredients, greet diners at the door. Locals know to order one first and keep it aside. Seasonal. Route 1, 207-422-8200

Hilary Nangle can be reached at hilary@hilarynangle.com.