Liv's Shack in Old Saybrook features small but winning menu
Remember those "Sorry, Charlie" television commercials? Where a cartoon tuna fish named Charlie was always sad because the elite StarKist fishing fleet ignored him? Apparently, he wasn't of sufficient quality to end up chopped and shoehorned into a tin StarKist can so feebs like me could mix him with glops of salad dressing and tuck him between two slices of stale white bread for a blue-collar feast.
Well, even as a child, I thought, "Listen Charlie, have you considered that you're a BEATNIK fish with a beret and hipster glasses? Maybe THAT'S why StarKist doesn't want you, and neither do I. Take your bongos and your soggy copy of 'A Coney Island State of Mind' and stink off! Me? I'd rather eat lobster!'"
I kept these thoughts to myself recently when a group of us drove to Old Saybrook to try out Liv's Shack, an offshoot of the larger Liv's Oyster Bar and one of the latest in our region's array of superlative and seasonal lobster joints. Two of our party — 16- and 13-year-olds, respectively — probably didn't need some old guy ranting about a cartoon tuna and the poems of Ferlinghetti while they were trying to survive another evening with their parents' weird friends from Texas.
Dinner turned out to be mostly enjoyable, which had everything to do with Liv and her staff and food and very little to do with me because, instead of Charlie, I ended up trying to explain why the film "Hostel" was probably acceptable viewing for teenagers. (Later, at home, my exasperated wife said, "Did you NOT see Christine and Gordon shooting you the stink-eye with guided-missile intensity? No, of course not. You were too busy talking about using a nail gun to murder backpackers.")
Anyway, more about Liv's. It's located in the picturesque Harbor One Marina on Bridge Street, somewhat removed from the commerce of Main Street and Boston Post Road. You place your orders before settling on the raised, U-shaped deck or at any of several picnic tables behind the structure. You can tote your own alcohol, and dogs are welcome and so are rabbits; we saw two different bunnies eyeing us warily from the mown perimeter.
Liv's menu is small, even by lobster shack standards — to the extent that there are no boiled lobster dinners. If you want lobster, it's a hot and buttered roll, period — "No Mayo," Liv's proudly proclaims, so don't expect the petite chilled salad version. There are two sizes to the hot lobster rolls, a quarter-pound and a half-pound, and also a lobster grilled cheese.
You can also have New England clam chowder, grilled Cajun fish tacos, and fried shrimp. That's it for seafood. There are also moderately priced salads, grilled burgers and dogs, grilled cheese, a BLT, chicken fingers, and fries, cheese curds, and coleslaw. We came close to trying one of everything; the burgers/dogs will have to wait till next time.
Here are our thoughts:
• Cheese Curds ($6): We're happy Wisconsin finally allowed export of their curds, and Liv's does a nice, chewy version with lumps of mellow cheddar and a thin but crisply fried veneer. It was a bountiful serving accompanied by a tame but flavorful chipotle aioli dipping sauce.
• Caesar Salad ($8, add Buffalo or grilled shrimp $6 or mahi mahi ($9): My wife, The Vegetarian Who Can't Believe I Talked About "Saw" At A Dinner With Children (TVWCBITASAADWC), was nuts over this salad — particularly at a seafood shack where salads are often an afterthought. She reports it was wonderfully crafted with fresh chopped romaine, a copious crouton prescence, and genuine and garlicky Caesar dressing.
• Grilled Cajun Fish Tacos ($13): The sole disappointment. There were some piquant chunks of (probably) mahi mahi tucked between two flour tortillas, which were festooned with coleslaw rendered goopy with a bland chipotle sauce and crema.
• Fried Shrimp ($12): Fantastic! A tasty, wafer-thin coating providing counterpoint to several large, absolutely fresh shrimp. The tartar sauce had a bit of nice tang, too. Idea for Liv: Nix the fish tacos and offer a shrimp roll!
• Clam Chowder ($6): A thick, peppery New England recipe, possibly even made on site and heavily populated by chunks of briny clams. Very nice.
• Lobster Roll ($18 for a quarter-pound, $35 half-pound): We tried the small, and it was superb. Packed with loads of sweet meat and a generous supply of warm, drawn butter. The hotdog-style roll stayed firm without melting. Simple but perfect.
• The Young Persons tried the Chicken Tenders ($7) and a Grilled Cheese ($4) and each was tasty and prepared with care. We all split a batch of Hand Cut Old Bay Fries ($6), and they were perfectly seasoned, hot and crisp and the ideal side.
Lobster shack fans tend to be loyal to certain spots — that's part of the fun — and there seemed to be plenty of locals enjoying the warm sunshine and delicous food. But as a collective, we all concluded that, despite our hometown appreciation for Captain Scott's and our shared New London zip code, Liv's is a destination worthy of the occasional meander.
If you go
26 Bridge St., Old Saybrook
(860) 391-8353, livsshack.com
Cuisine: Classic New England lobster shack with an even more mininal menu
Atmosphere: Pleasant and comfortable, with deck seating as well as ground level picnic tables on the lawn
Service: Very polite. A lot of "summer job/student" types were quick and helpful.
Prices: Reasonable if reflective of what seems to be slowly rising market prices for lobster
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wed., Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; open through Labor Day
Handicap access: Steps to order or sit on deck; ground level picnic tables
Credit cards: All majors