Sunday, December 8, 2013
What makes a restaurant “manly”?
Is it the portions they serve? Guy-friendly food? The sight of burly lobstermen unloading their catch mere steps away from the kitchen?
Who thinks up these things, anyway?
Men’s Health, that’s who.
Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant in Kennebunkport has been nominated for the magazine’s “Manliest Restaurants in America” contest, and you have until July 31 to go online and vote for it here.
Mabel’s is nominated in the Seafood Shack category, but there are also categories for BBQ Joint, Pizza Parlor. Steak House, Seafood Shack, Brew Pub, Sandwich Shop, Taco Stand, Burger Spot and something called Adventurous Eating that includes a place in New York that cures egg yolks and a restaurant in Charleston that “has taken traditional Southern fare, kicked it in the balls, and served it up with a side of pig ear.”
Mabel’s is cited for its view of the Kennebunk River, neighboring captain’s houses (for Peter Pan types who like to daydream about sailing the open seas, I suppose) and the knotty-pine interior that maybe taps into a guy’s subconcious need to hunker down in a man cave. As for the food, the restaurant serves fresh lobster 10 ways, in sizes up to 4 pounds.
The restaurant also gets props, in my opinion, for being around since 1953, arguably the most masculine modern decade.
But it wasn’t any of these manly qualities that initially got Mabel’s noticed by Men’s Health. It was, according to owner Robert Fischer, this over-the-top dish, called Lobster Savannah:
“They originally asked all their subscribers to send in the manliest meal they’ve ever had, and where they had it,” Fischer told me in a phone interview. “And the majority of the people mentioned the Lobster Savannah at Mabel’s.”
The $35 dish (it comes with a salad and potato) is a 1 1/4-pound lobster split down the middle and filled with Seafood Newburgh – sauteed shrimp, scallops and mushrooms in a Newburgh sauce. Then the Seafood Newburgh is topped with provolone, Parmesan and some roasted peppers. The whole thing is then popped into the oven for roasting.
“It’s a beautiful eating dish,” Fischer said. “It’s been a crowd pleaser forever, as long as I can remember.”
Sure, this dish looks like Don Draper’s dream three-martini business lunch, but Fischer says the Lobster Savannah itself doesn’t actually bring more men through the door.
“I think it’s the portion, to be totally honest with you,” he said. “Myself, as an avid eater, to me there’s never enough. If it’s a broiled haddock, I want a little more. If it’s some fried clams, I’d like a couple more.
“Because we’re little – we’ve only got about 60 seats - if someone comes in and says ‘Gee, I’d love some broiled scallops but I’m dying for some baked, stuffed shrimp, too,’ we’ll make you two little ones, just as an example of trying to take care of people. And that guy will leave as happy as a lark.”
Mabel’s is up against some stiff competition in the Men’s Health contest. The other nominees include Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami and Waterman’s Crab House in Rock Hall, Md. Fischer has put flyers on all his tables and buttons on his servers to encourage customers to vote.
“I think it would be great if we did win because they feature you in the magazine in December and then the Travel Channel does a whole hour show of Men’s Health’s best of the best,” Fischer said. “That would be kind of cool.”
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod