Summer Shack a Dispiriting, Expensive, Mid-Week Visit (Fresh Pond, Cambridge, MA)

My friend and I have a longstanding tradition of meeting for lunch over oysters and a light lunch. Thinking we might have a new and fun experience, and perhaps even eat a bit less expensively, this year we opted for Summer Shack in Cambridge rather than Legal in Burlington.

First, the vibe: At 12:30 pm on a weekday hardly any tables filled. Felt barny and somehow depressing. No sense of energy other than from the hostess, who told us they were understaffed due to a special event being held.

Our dozen oysters were fine, but at $3 per, no bargain and at least one pair of them were on the cusp of tasting good. The cocktail sauce was oddly flavored and not fresh, with a small dollop of horseradish on one side of the cup, presumably for us to mix in. Mignonette had barely discernible whiskers of shallots. We asked for oyster crackers, and after we found the waiter, asked him, and they came, they were stale. We also had to ask for Tabasco. I ordered oysters Rockefeller which, in other places is 5 good-sized oysters. Here it’s 4. No sign of any ‘absinthe’ or fennel flavor whatsoever. Sad little wilted greens in the middle.

My friend’s cup of Bahamian chowder was so-so, by his report. There is no other chowder than the heavy, white-sauced one. No Rhode Island style with just good briney chowder, salt pork, quahogs, a few 'taters and a touch of milk.

A guy with a white chef’s jacket stormed through the room holding a live lobster. Clearly in a mood, he hefted up the steam pot lid and smashed the lobster into the pot, and stormed away. Lovely.

We could hardly find anyone to give us a bill, and my dining partner went around the room to locate someone. All-in-all this dining experience was sad, expensive, and dispiriting. I was told that Jasper spends most of his time in Florida. Perhaps he’s just eager to rake in the dough. Clearly, he couldn’t give a fig for this place and it shows. We shall not return.

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Thank you for sharing this report and I’m sorry to hear that the experience was so dispiriting.

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I went during restaurant week and wasn’t impressed either.

Yes, thank you very much for the report and I am sad you had such a bad experience. Maybe next time Island Creek in Burlington?

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So, it sounds like you didn’t care much for it. Sorry.
CocoDan

It’s not a new development. We were saddened by the Summer Shack experience a decade ago. What’s especially sad to me is I got to experience Jasper White in his prime. Jasper’s was a singular dining experience, ahead of its time. His stint at Seasons (in the Bostonian Hotel, with Lydia Shire no less) wasn’t shabby either. Perhaps the $$$ meant more to him than respect.

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Your whole experience sounds awful - so sorry. The guy with the lobster incident would have freaked me out!

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats…
–Henry David Thoreau

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EDIT: It was Stan Frankenthaler, not Jasper White, who worked as Dunkin’s Executive Chef.

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Not quite as bad. Though Stan became a bit of a prima donna once he opened Salamander. When he was working for Chris Schlesinger at the Blue Room he was quite pleasant. Maybe it’s the space - Todd English opened Michela’s - in the space that Salamander’s occupied later. Todd was humble in addition to being talented when he started out. We know what happened to the humble part.

Really, though, I can’t say I blame them. It’s a tough life, and the opportunities for easy $$$ aren’t limitless.

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I unfortunately never got to try Jasper’s or Seasons…before my time. Or Biba…I was here then but couldn’t afford it. I did go to Michaela’s once and then Salamander once and I love Stan’s cookbook the Occidental Tourist. I also had several memorable experiences at the original Olives in Charlestown before the move to City Square (now a Legal Seafoods) (obviously, long long ago). Yes, times change, things change, people change…and people need to make money. I couldn’t myself push live lobsters in boiling water even once, let alone every day for years. But I do eat lobster a couple of times a year so I sure can’t take the high road.

Summer shack at Alewife did have potential that I wish had been fulfilled. I saw Jasper there once very early on and then again a few years later…he looked very, very thin.

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You might have loved Biba - I particularly enjoyed the entire offal section on the menu. The room, too, had a snappier feel than its current incarnation as Bistro du Midi. The railing for the stairs had a red lacquer, highly polished finish. The floors were “picked oak” - not sure what that meant, but they also had a high gloss. On one particulalry memorable evening there I was seated at a table next to a visiting food editor. I ended up writing for her mag.

I miss the original, small Olive’s, too. But let’s not forget that overall the dining scene now is a lot more vibrant than it was then!

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yep. I moved back here from SF Bay area in 1989. The food scene was so disappointing after Northern California…both in terms of foods to buy to prepare at home and restaurants. I looked hard for great cheeses and other produce…this was before we had much in the way of farmers markets at all…and the restaurant scene was dismal. The few glimmers of light were very enticing. We have come a very long way and I especially enjoy the local farmers markets, especially now that we have winter ones, the wider variety of restaurants from certain parts of the globe, enjoy the New England seafood, cheeses, produce in season, wider availability of everything, the treasure of the Watertown small produce markets and Russo’s, Formaggio Kitchen, Ana Sortun’s restaurants, meat from M.F. Dulock, the spices at Curiospice, it’s way different in a very good way.

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I remember walking in to Andronico’s in Berkeley and counting 18 different varieties of tomatoes- 6 different varieties of cherry tomatoes. My thought was this is not fair. :wink:

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Yeah. I moved to Palo Alto in 1978. By 1979, I could walk a block down the street and get freshly milled blue corn flour, blue corn polenta, triticale wheat berries, amazing cheeses, all kinds of grains, and produce I’ve never seen or heard of. By 1981 or so, the Berkeley Monterey Market opened at Stanford shopping center. The varieties of squash, chiles, tomatoes, pumpkins, grains, mushrooms, greens, could not be counted. I always walked out in a complete daze.Organic strawberries and asparagus in Feb. How many kinds of citrus can there be? How many kinds of kiwi? I only went to Southern Calif. once… LA area “farm market” was so dazzling I could only say, they don’t ship the best even to Northern Calif.

Then I come back to Boston in 1989 and it was not good. I tried to make the best of it. I’ve reconciled and I’m so happy we know have such good farmers market…we’ve come a long, long way.

But I agree with you…what Northern Calif. has…is not fair. At All. I still have dreams about produce markets all these decades later of beautiful forms of fruits and vegetables I’ve never seen before.

However, I’m glad not to live there now, California has so many environmental and weather challenges and some of that fruit and vegetable harvest is produced at great harm to immigrants and toxic working conditions for people and the land.

Verrill farm in our short harvest season here has at least 18 varieties of tomatoes. As do some other Greater Boston area farms. I am grateful for what we have here, and try to make the best of it.

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I haven’t been to Summer Shack in several years. At one time it did check several boxes though: a place we could bring babies without worrying too much about them disturbing others due to the lively environment, great oysters competently shucked, good fresh grilled seafood specials. It is somewhere you definitely had to pick around a menu with plenty of misses but there were some hidden gems (pan roasted lobster). I’ve certainly had the experience of having to chase a waiter to get my check there. The last time we were in there, John Malkovich was sitting at the next table with his family enjoying oysters.

I remember a lot if the places mentioned in this thread; and particularly enjoying the bar scene at Biba. I do wonder what I would think about the food at some of these places now if I could take a time machine back. Olives was one of the hottest tables in town, but that food might seem somewhat pedestrian now. I remember Jasper’s as being excellent, but also closing because it was bleeding money.

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It’s too bad that Summer Shack seems to fail on execution, not concept. The original Legal in Inman Square was informal but the food was always great. The pan roasted lobster is a signature dish, perhaps the only one, that made the transition from Jasper’s to Summer Shack.

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this is fun to consider. I had a couple great meals at the early Rialto that I think might not be so exciting anymore. But the amazing potato gnocchi that I had at Icarus I think would stand up no trouble!

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Has anyone eaten at Summer Shack lately (July 2023)?

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The last time I visited a SS was probably over 10 years ago. I didn’t like it then and I doubt that I would like it now.

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