Good vibes and good food
by Bill Rodriguez
Water Street, East Greenwich, 884-6363
Open Mon-Thurs, 5-10 p.m., Fri-Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Sun, 3-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Some waterfront restaurants sell their view more than their entrées.
Some of these can get by on their upscale reputation even after losing the chef
that got them there and the kitchen can no longer distinguish squid rings from
slices of batter-fried inner tube. And then there are restaurants that re-earn
their rep year after year, preparing the trickiest fare there is to cook --
seafood -- which requires the timing of a culinary Michael Jordan. Places like
the Harbourside, in East Greenwich.
Actually, and unfortunately, its full name for 29 years has been Harbourside
Lobstermania. Half-Anglophile, half-wacky. But don't worry about some culinary
version of Crazy Harry's Used Car-rama. (This week only: an extra bucket of
tentacles with every order of calamari!) It's just that the popular
crustacean has provided this place's claim to fame. As we overheard a
businessman at an adjoining table say to an out-of-town guest, "If you like
lobster, this is the place."
Harbourside is located in an unassuming gray building on Water Street. It's
attached to Greenwich Bay Clam Co., which has its own fishing boat docked
nearby; It looked like the seafood was going to be fresh. The bar area is
downstairs, where only a light-fare menu is available -- except for handicapped
patrons, who can order from the upstairs menu. Up in the main dining room, we
were struck on our early evening visit by how light and airy the space is.
Picture windows on three sides look out on a marina and East Greenwich Cove,
complete with wheeling gulls and sailboats heeling in the distance. There are
plenty of window tables, but most of them are for more than two, so get there
early if you're a couple. Philodendrons dangle from the ceiling, seascapes and
such decorate the walls, and hurricane oil lamps are on the tables.
Appetizers are the usual clam bar favorites, with steamed littlenecks, clams
casino and stuffed quahogs flagged as house specialties. Less than obvious
options are marinated herring ($3.95) and scallops wrapped in bacon ($6.95). I
chose the calamari ($5.95) only after our waiter mentioned what the menu
doesn't -- that it's served with a side of marinara sauce (I usually want
something a bit more interesting than the traditional Rhode Island preparation
with hot pepper rings). But this version (sans tentacles, for the squeamish)
had such a tasty herbed lemon sauce on the batter-fried rings that the red
sauce went mostly unused. By the way, the quahog chowder ($1.95/$2.95), made
with broth instead of cream, briny and rich with chopped clams, gets a thumbs
Harbourside has nearly 20 beers and hard ciders, nine wines by the glass and a
short but choice list of bottles. Entrées come with a salad bar ($5 by
itself) that is simple but adequate. Iceberg lettuce or spinach, and marinated
mushrooms as the only surprise offering -- except for a tangy house dressing
with a sour cream or buttermilk base.
When it came to our main courses, how could Johnnie pick anything but the
signature "Lobstermania"? Given her choice of being alone on a desert island
with me or a lobster, she would immediately ask whether a large pot and matches
were part of the offer. For $13.95 she was served a one-pounder, split and
broiled, stuffed with what tasted like Ritz cracker crumbs, plus scallops and
shrimp, moistened with Chablis rather than water. The stuffing tasted as good
as it sounds and, more importantly, the meat was cooked to perfection,
remaining sweet and juicy.
I didn't do badly with my special, a swordfish and stuffed shrimp combination
($14.95). The fish was an inch-thick slice, and it, too, remained moist after
grilling. The butterflied shrimp weren't overdone, and the cracker filling,
though seafood-free, was delicious. In addition to the salad bar, we had a
choice of red bliss, baked or French fries, plus vegetable. Both of the
stir-fried veggies, with their sweet teriyaki sauce, and my partner's mashed
carrot/ turnip combo, were welcome. Turnips have too strong a flavor to be
found on most menus, so I was impressed to discover them here. Can sea urchin
roe be far behind?
Desserts are inexpensive. In addition to cordials, and coffee and parfaits
with liqueurs, there are such favorites as mud pie and cheesecake with
strawberries (each $3.50). We shared the kitchen-made grapenut pudding ($2.75),
which was custardy and not overly sweet.
The Harbourside, as everybody calls it, seems to deserve its popularity. Now,
if we can only officially re-christen it.