[Sidebar] February 10 - 17, 2000
[Food Reviews]
| by cuisine | by location | by restaurant | hot links | previous reviews | reviews |


Consistency is the name of the game

by Johnette Rodriguez

663 Fall River Avenue, Seekonk, Massachusetts, (508) 336-6295
Open Tues-Thurs, 12-9 p.m., Fri-Sat, 12-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Ramp access

I've been going to Phoebe's for almost 20 years, and some things never change. Phoebe Dunn's fruit pies are always outstanding; the seafood dishes of her husband, Bro, couldn't be better. But the service is often slow, inconsistent and inattentive. And that seems to make the time between my visits longer and longer.

Not that this tiny place doesn't have lines out the door in the summer and full dining rooms in the winter. Students and East Siders alike know a good thing when they taste it: veggies, herbs and even berries that come straight from the garden behind the white Cape in which Phoebe's is located. And the scallops, scrod, oysters and shrimp are so fresh, you'd think there was an ocean dock out back as well.

The informal, family feel of Phoebe's -- you walk through the galley kitchen to get to the two small, six-table dining rooms -- is carried through in the BYOB policy, the unmatched dinnerware, some of it free-form pottery plates, and the low-key decor -- cafe curtains at the windows and a collection of sailboat prints in one room and decorative fish plates in the other.

Phoebe's hand-lettered menu lists 10 dinner selections, and the blackboard features a half-dozen or more specials. All the dinners are seafood variations, except for a hummus plate and a vegetarian special (this time veggie lasagna, for those who don't eat our finny friends). The fish-and-chips is highly recommended, for its crispy fish and hand-cut fries.

But on this deep-freeze night, we gravitated first toward some warming soup: a cup of carrot for me ($3), and a bowl of bouillabaisse for Bill ($4.50). The former was a hearty orange puree, with the natural sweetness of the carrots enhanced by onions and butter. The bouillabaisse was a mini-cornucopia of scallops, shrimp, a substantial piece of scrod and one large Moonstone oyster, all in a very light broth flavored with onions, celery and chopped tomatoes.

A yearning for French fries lured Bill to the fried squid plate ($8.95), though he maintained he would have chosen the broiled seafood platter ($15.95), if I hadn't grabbed it first (aha, there are disadvantages to eating with a reviewer). He was in fried-food heaven nonetheless, with a mound of squid rings (no tentacles), capped by slices of banana peppers and a mound of long, thick, nicely browned fries. His only complaint was the missing cole slaw that was promised in the menu, and it too awhile to catch the waitress's attention to remedy the situation.

Broiled seafood dinner entrees, such as mine, are billed as accompanied by a vegetable, salad and bread. But again, I had to remind our waitress to bring me some bread, which we definitely needed for the long wait between courses. I was reminded of how good Phoebe's dense, chewy homemade bread has always been, though it's usually whole-wheat, which is even tastier, and this time it was white.

When my broiled seafood did arrive, it was worth the wait. Almost a dozen scallops, a half-dozen shrimp and a generous fillet of scrod, all in a delicate broth of white wine and garlic, were accompanied by a bit of shell pasta and home-fried potatoes. As expected, each item was perfectly cooked, the fish flaky; the shrimp firm, but not tough; the scallops tender, but not raw in the center.

Phoebe's kitchen used to not even bother with vegetable side dishes, since summer salads are made hefty by home-grown zucchini, tomatoes, scallions and homemade croutons. This time, the lettuce was very fresh, with a few garbanzos, grated carrots and sliced onions on top, but I missed the croutons.

The kitchen also ran out of vegetables or pasta to offer the diners at a neighboring table who had ordered broiled bluefish and broiled stuffed sole. The waitress did, however, relay this information and brought them a substitute side of fries. If all of this sounds as if it can be bit confusing, it is. These matters of consistency are a lifeline for a restaurant as it seeks to encourage repeat customers.

Now for the real test: would the pie be as good as I remembered? I ordered a slice of apple-raspberry ($3.50), and it was served warm. Bill pronounced the apples and raspberries very good friends, complimenting each other's sour and sweet edges. I enjoyed the short and flaky crust as well. Blueberry bread pudding was also offered for dessert that evening.

So there you have it. Despite its foibles, Phoebe's has developed as loyal a following as any small-town diner, because people know the seafood and pies will always be good. But even at a diner, the staff bring you the right side dishes, and they check back from time to time. Please, please, Phoebe and Bro Dunn, keep doing what you're doing, but train the help.

| home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
Copyright © 2000 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.