Lobster, fresh lemon juice, and the taste of clarified butter: foods for me that conjure up summertime memories of when I was 7 or 8, and our family used to make yearly car-ride pilgrimages to Arcadia, Maine, for a taste of the outdoors that suburban New Jersey couldn’t provide. Rather then playing the “Am I There Yet” game with my brother, I spent the 8-10 hour drive to Maine sleeping. But I always knew when we were getting close to our destination when my dad pulled into the nearest, decent open-air, roadside seafood joint advertising LOBSTERS in capital letters.
Our whole family would sit down to a fresh lunch (or dinner) of a few, simply steamed lobsters with sides of lemon and melted butter, as we dug into their nooks and crannies, seeking out the fresh, sweet meat. My dad was always the best and fastest at digging, always offering us the choicest, largest morsels, something he still does today whenever we eat shellfish. I was always amazed when he could crack a lobster claw, and remove the entire thing intact, like extracting a puzzle piece.
Coming to Mary’s Fish Camp, made me feel like I wasn’t on Charles Street anymore, but exiting onto the highway off a family trip from Maine into one of those roadside seafood joints. Perched on the corner, Mary’s Fish Camp is a small open-window corner restaurant with walls lined with faded old-time nautical ads and ’70s rock playing overhead (when I was there, it seemed like the entire Virgin Suicides Soundtrack was on rotation). One of their famed Lobster Rolls can be seen on practically every one of their ten tables and along the smooth metal counter.
The must-get is the Lobster Roll, which is served year round at market price, and frequently is on NY foodie lists ranked at #1 or #2 for being the best. One bite of the lobster roll and you get a mixture of contrasts: the buttery crispiness of the hot dog bun and tangy mayonnaise mixed with tarragon, lobster meat, and the salty brine of its juices. On the side, a heaping side of thin, crispy shoestring fries that you can drench in ketchup or malt vinegar.
If you’re not a fan of lobster, as the server told us “everything on the menu is good.” A friend of mine tried the Grilled Greek Daurade Filet, which came over an abundance of ruby red grapefruit, fava, and mint, which was a perfect, cool mixture of of acid and citrus on a hot day, with the flaky, moist filet on the side. For dessert, for another memory of nostalgia, try the Hot Fudge Sundae, with their home-made hot fudge, which melts and emulsifies between layers of Il Laboratorio de Gelato vanilla ice cream.
Mary’s Fish Camp is located at 64 Charles Street. They do not take reservations and your entire party must be there to be seated, so a wait of 30-40 minutes on a weekday is not uncommon.