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Once upon a time - and, we devoutly hope, sometime again - "Niantic Bay" and "scallops" would go together like "fish" and "chips" or "clam" and "chowder."
Pollution and silting and other nemeses of those neat little squirting bivalves have done what starfish never quite managed on their own: to reduce the scallop population so badly that it has to be carefully husbanded.
No one at the clean and friendly Skippers is claiming that the fried scallops on the menu came from local waters, but it surely seemed right to be munching a scallop roll while enjoying a wide and gorgeous view of Niantic Bay.
Skippers is a modest place with a million-dollar vista, making it way better than the average clam bar experience.
Three of us went tourist on a recent Saturday and lunched on the Fresh Sea Scallops Roll ($8.99), Fresh Strip Clam Roll ($6.69), Skipper's House Special Fish & Chips ($11.99), and New England Clam Chowder ($3.49).
The succulent scallops were just right, and the clams and fish got good reviews. The creamy chowder was pronounced delicious, although short on actual pieces of clam.
Fried is what they do there, and they do it well. Each of the entrees was properly deep fried, meaning the oil is so hot that the fish or chips touch it for the shortest possible time and emerge crispy outside, tender inside and not overtly dripping grease.
Skippers says it uses cholesterol-free oil in its cooking, but fat is still fat. Usually, the appearance of a heart symbol next to a restaurant menu item serves as an asterisk to a statement that the item is "heart-healthy," sometimes even citing dietary guidelines that the item meets.
At Skippers, the heart means something more like "I (heart) NY," appearing next to the steak and cheese grinder, the Fisher Man's Platter (all fried) and the clam chowder. The menu notes that all those dishes are "top sellers" - favorites of the clientele. Buyer beware.
Judging by the often-full parking lot, Skippers has a lot of customers with favorite dishes there, so for a second visit we got a variety of take-out for the office.
The most commented-on item was Potato Clam Cakes ($5.29 for three), which everyone liked and a few people loved. Some thought the potato-y cakes bland, or, like the chowder, in need of more clams. One (who previously worked at a well-known local seafood restaurant) found them to be the "perfect consistency: they didn't underuse or overuse anything." A scoop of Skippers' tartare sauce comes with them and makes all the difference.
We ordered the highest priced item on the menu, Fresh 100% Lobster over Tossed Salad ($18.49) and shared it.
Everyone agreed the lobster was 100% fresh, as was the crispy house salad. The portion probably added up to about a half lobster with no dressing or mayonnaise till you tell Skippers that you want Italian, Ranch, bleu cheese, Greek or balsamic. It's not lobster salad or hot, buttery lobster, which seemed to throw off a few of the tasters.
Although I ordered the $6.79 Steak Bomb (heart), when we opened the container back at work, it turned out to be the Chicken Bomb ($6.29). Only the meat differs; both are hot grinders and include sauteed mushrooms, onions and peppers.
Reactions to the chicken grinder were favorable but not enthusiastic, and it was the one item that had leftovers.
Chicken Souvlaki in a pita ($6.29) - you might know it as a gyro - went over better. One taster favorably compared the chicken to that in the grinder, and liked the chopped lettuce, tomatoes and onion and accompanying yogurt sauce.
Skippers does not serve beer or wine but gladly accommodates bringing your own. If you want dessert, plan ahead with a visit to the website, www.SkippersSeafood.com, where there are sometimes coupons toward a scoop of Hershey's ice cream (normally $2.99).
167 Main St., Niantic
Cuisine: Clam bar-type fare, but also burgers, grinders, salads, Greek specialties
Prices: Everything under $20 per item; most in the $6-$12 range. Website has coupons for free ice cream.
Atmosphere: Clean and simple; booths and tables inside, picnic benches outside
Service: Order at the counter and wait for your number to be called by friendly, helpful staff
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: Major cards; no personal checks
Handicapped access: Nice, easy ramp to the building and patio