From chowder to lobster rolls, an expert pays homage to the clam shack.
Seventeen years ago, Jasper White was lauded as a prophet of New England cuisine when he opened his Boston restaurant, Jasper's. Known for his brilliant touch with fresh seafood, White became famous for such dishes as tuna carpaccio and pan-roasted lobster with chervil and chives--remarkable because at that time, no one was cooking fish and shellfish with such ambition. He received rave reviews, won nearly every culinary award and mentored an entire generation of Boston chefs, including Lydia Shire of Biba and Stan Frankenthaler of Salamander. So when White closed Jasper's in 1995, to spend more time with his family, food lovers felt the loss.
But now, after a brief hiatus and three years as a consultant to Legal Sea Foods, the restaurant chain and catering company, White is back behind the stove again--this time with a brand-new approach. Part clam shack, part diner, his new restaurant, Summer Shack, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a menu that's made for sharing: steamers with drawn butter, Welsh rarebit, alphabet soup, corn dogs, wood-grilled fish, fried chicken and pan-seared lobster.
"I wanted a big, fun, low-pressure restaurant that's not about my brilliance but is about serving great food," White says. "I wanted humble food in a big place." And Summer Shack is huge: It seats 300, some at picnic tables covered with butcher paper. The industrial-looking space features reconstructed barn walls with corrugated tin that looks so rusted you'd think the roof had blown off in a rainstorm. The kitchen is open, so you can watch food being prepared. Order grilled fish and you can see your fillet being cut in a glass-enclosed, refrigerated room.
The recipes that follow range from simple to sophisticated: White's deep-fried corn dog is a classic rendering of what you'd find at state fairs and beaches. His bluefish chowder, made with a richly flavored broth, is a full meal in a bowl, and his cherrystone-clam seviche is an upscale version of the freshly shucked half shells served at the Jersey shore, where White worked briefly at his father's restaurant. At Summer Shack, as at Jasper's, nothing but the finest-quality ingredients will do, no matter how humble the preparation. "Ninety percent of big-name chefs are cooking for 10 percent of the population," White remarks. "I want to cook for the other 90 percent."