White’s Summer Shack chain adds a strong link in Hingham
96 Derby St., Hingham
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped
It was only the third Saturday night since Jasper White’s Summer Shack opened at the Derby Street Shoppes retail complex in Hingham, and at 5:30 p.m. there already was a wait.
We were given a little beeper that was supposed to vibrate when our table was ready, so we went off to browse at a nearby bookstore. But slightly suspicious of its reach, we returned at the prescribed 15-minute mark - just as the buzzer went off. So I can’t report that it works for sure, but I like the idea.
Struggling to get a grip on the menu, I watched nearby diners who know how to down oyster shooters, shuck boiled shrimp, slurp steamers, and crack lobsters. Bib on, shells in the red bucket: Go!
However, those who don’t eat fish can find something good here, too.
The menu at White’s fourth Summer Shack is large and reflects his lifelong love for the foods of his Jersey Shore childhood. It has plenty of classic favorites - fish and chips, fried clams, crab cakes, lobsters, calamari, chowder - along with some of what White refers to as boardwalk foods - corn dogs, chicken wings, hamburgers, French fries.
It also offers more elegant dishes - grilled fish with fine fresh salsas, sirloin steak, salads, and such originals as pan roasted lobster in the shell. The restaurant also serves long-grain brown rice - very unusual! - as well as such sides as fresh broccoli rabe with garlic, and roasted winter squash.
Enormous wall chalkboards list the specials, which on this night included eight types of oysters.
White opened the first Summer Shack in Cambridge in 2000, after closing Jasper’s, an award-winning Boston restaurant, in 1995. The other Summer Shack outlets are in Boston and at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino. White splits his time among them all, while executive chefs at each run the daily operation.
Although the Hingham space is big and much more upscale than the Cambridge Shack, the focus is still on functionality. The chairs are padded and comfortable, and the tin walls feature giant photos of long-ago South Shore beach scenes (Scituate’s Second Cliff; Nantasket’s old Atlantic Hotel). There is also an adjacent fish market, open every day during typical retail hours.
The space is divided into sections by half-walls, with booths big enough for six and a variety of round, square, banquet, and bar tables - 193 seats in all. The most stylish area is the raw bar: a small circular counter enclosing an ice table covered with oysters and clams. Its surrounding black-and-white tiles and red neon sign create a look evocative of old seaside food places from the 1950s.
The acoustics are fabulous, somehow, because although it’s loud you can easily hear your tablemates’ voices.
The service is terrific; our waiter was totally cool with our ordering piecemeal as we decided what to try next.
I loved the peel-and-eat Florida hopper shrimp ($11), which arrive on a plate in a mesh cooking bag amid hunks of celery, onions, and lemon. Really good fun, and tasty.
Fried clams next, with the appetizer portion $11. They’re hot and delicious, and large. I eat the smaller ones among them and like that size best.
Oh, by the way, the breadbasket has an odd mix of hamburger-type white rolls and cornbread squares. Nothing I’d waste stomach space on.
Next we share two of the evening’s grilled fish: the spiced mahi mahi ($22) and a fish new to White and executive chef Nick Wilson: Faroe Island trout ($24).
The trout is like a mild salmon, and Wilson (he later told me) grills it over a very high flame after seasoning it with only salt and pepper. It’s great. I ask to have mashed potatoes rather than the couscous that typically accompanies it, and they’re irresistible. So is the carrot puree encircling the fillet and the grilled scallions lying across it.
The mahi mahi’s tropical fruit salsa dazzles with piercing flavors of pineapple, mango, and cilantro. The white rice is perfectly fluffy and so is a side of long-grain brown. The side portion of broccoli raab is enough for two, and excellent with slices of sautéed garlic.
The banana crème pie ($5) is very good.
When we return for lunch on a Monday, the place is just one-third full, and we have more time to consider the lunch items that supplement the dinner menu.
The clam chowder is delicious ($4.50 for a cup, $9 bowl), with big chunks of very hot potato, and flecks of parsley.
We shoot the moon with what the chalkboard calls the big bucks lobster, a pan-roasted 1 1/2-pounder (market price: $30). The whole lobster has been whacked into six pieces and cooked in beurre blanc, right in the shell. You need the bib for protection as you crack the crustacean. It’s very tasty and the belly sections are a revelation because there are bits of meat in there I don’t normally pry out when eating a whole boiled lobster.
Our other lunch entrée is a terrific tuna burger ($12). The tuna has been mashed and mixed, meatloaf-style, with other ingredients including Parmesan cheese and scallions. I’d order it again in a minute. Better than a burger.
We have warm Indian pudding topped with vanilla soft-serve ice cream ($5) for dessert; it’s very good, tasting of molasses and corn.
This is a cheerful place with a variety of foods - both heart healthy and, as White says, heart happy. I like it very much.