Newport to Southport: Notes on a Coastal New England Seafood Road Trip
A drive covering 235 miles from Newport, Rhode Island to Southport, Maine makes a great getaway and seafood sojourn. Pack the lobster bib and buckle the seatbelt as we shout out seafood shacks, raw bars and classic dining rooms where travelers will find Narragansett Bay oysters, Boston scrod and some of the best creamy New England clam chowder on the planet. It’s all about surf and turf — minus the turf, actually.
Newport, Rhode Island
When it comes to fresh shellfish, visitors to Newport are spoiled for choice. On Bannister’s Wharf, Aquidneck Lobster Company has huge tanks of live lobsters. Soak up afternoon sun with a bloody mary and a cold lobster roll or catch sunset with a glass of wine and steamers. It rarely gets any fresher than this.
Providence, Rhode Island
Hemenway’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar is a leader in sustainability circles. The Providence seafood classic of 30-plus years features locally-themed Narragansett beer-battered fish and chips and fried whole belly clams on its New England Traditions menu. Kudos for the gluten-free options, and chowder lovers take note — both New England and Manhattan versions are served.
Tasty seafood and opulent interiors don’t always go hand-in-hand in the restaurant world, but The Dorrance makes up for that. Sweeping up delicious accolades by the fistful since its 2010 début, the 1901 former bank lobby wows with 30-foot ceilings, candelabra and crystal chandeliers to add sparkle to stained-glass reflections. Rhode Island scallops and New England-harvested oysters catch the eye, too.
Providence Chef Ben Sukle is a James Beard rising star with a résumé that includes The Dorrance and Copenhagen’s Noma. Sukle recently told The New York Times, “I can get a clam that’s been out of the water for less than 30 minutes.” Nobody doubts him, as he goes on frequent seafood dives. Ben and Heidi Sukle run the 18-seat Birch, the place to be after the Point Judith catch comes in.
Patriot Daniel Webster loved it. What more can be said about the Union Oyster House? In a nutshell — or, more appropriately, on a half shell — this is America’s oldest restaurant in continuous service since 1826. The crooked floor is swept daily with sawdust, the high-backed stalls are cozy, the chowder’s substantial and the front door is on the Freedom Trail.
The newest seafood-centric place in town is Townsman from Chef Matt Jennings, a three-time James Beard finalist for best chef in the Northeast. Slurp oysters at the bar and sample quahog chowder laced with squid. Rumor has it that the charred baby octopus with crispy smoked potatoes, blood orange and aioli is as good as it looks.
Native Bostonian Barbara Lynch clocks in as the second of only two women crowned Outstanding Restaurateur by the James Beard Foundation and the sole female Relais & Châteaux grand chef in North America. See what her group of restaurants is cooking up at No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters and Menton.
In the North End, Neptune Oysters serves raw bar selections in the shadow of the Old North Church, while its neighbor, The Daily Catch, does locally-caught haddock, cod, monkfish and calamari using Sicilian recipes in the kitchen on Hanover Street.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
North of Boston, a Cape Ann detour via Marblehead into Gloucester and Rockport produces an abundance of compelling scenery featuring striped lighthouses on rocky cliffs and the weather-worn red fish shack known as Motif No. 1, a longtime magnet for artists. Make a beeline for Rob Moore’s Lobster Company in Rockport, where Yankee Magazine recommends the creamy chowder served on tables made from recycled wooden lobster crates.
Just over the state border, Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook, New Hampshire has been serving up summer sunsets with fried clams, steamers, lobster rolls and a spicy lobster bisque for 50 years.
The Clam Shack is downtown, it’s tiny and it may have New England’s meatiest lobster roll in chunks, not salad. And it’s no-nonsense at Nunan’s Lobster Hut, where they’ll ask, “How large do you want your lobster?”
For deep-fried anything fresh from the water, for the pure lobster roll with a side of calamari and for one of those earth-moving clam chowder experiences, Susan’s Fish-n-Chips garners raves from evangelists such as, “you can taste the sea.” It’s in a funky nautically-themed garage just 10 minutes’ drive out of town.
Downtown on the wharf in Old Port, gas lanterns light the way along a cobblestone alley to the flat-fronted brick landmark, Street and Co. After 25 years, loyal fans don’t even look at the menu anymore; they simply ask for classics such as mussels Provençal, sole Française and scallops with Pernod and cream.
Where to Stay
Slow down for seafood. To appreciate New England’s wonderful waterfronts and passionate chefs serving fabulous freshness from local fishermen, stay awhile. We suggest several members of Historic Hotels of America, and their dining rooms, along the route.
A distinct sense of place is delivered at the Newport Beach Hotel and Suites in a unique position on a sandy beach in Newport, Rhode Island; the Providence Biltmore on the downtown riverfront in Providence, Rhode Island; Hilton Boston Downtown/Faneuil Hall, where guests step out right onto the Freedom Trail or The Lenox Hotel, in the center of Back Bay; the well-preserved Wentworth by the Sea on a bluff with ocean views in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; The Colony Hotel for quintessential Maine on the Atlantic in Kennebunkport; and The Portland Regency Hotel & Spa in the quaint Old Port district of Portland, Maine.