June 24, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Car-hop service adds flavor to Cameron's Lobster House

By NANCY HEISER

At Cameron's Lobster House in Brunswick, you can eat inside at wooden booths, outside on the covered deck at wrought iron tables or -- wait for it -- in your car, 1950s car-hop style.

click image to enlarge

Diners can eat inside, on the deck or in their cars at Cameron’s Lobster House, surely one of a very few – if not the only – drive-in lobster shacks in the country.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

CAMERON'S LOBSTER HOUSE

18 Bath Road, Brunswick. 725-2886; facebook.com/CameronsLobsterHouse

***

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: $1.95 (grilled cheese) to $21.95 for fried fisherman's platter; market price for lobster dinner

VEGETARIAN: Veggie burger, basic salad, cheese items and baked beans

GLUTEN-FREE: A few choices

KIDS: Yes

RESERVATIONS: No

BAR: Miller and Shipyard are the beers offered. About six basic wines by the glass.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No, but car-hop service is a feature of the restaurant.

BOTTOM LINE: Solid fried seafood and lobster options at a quirky lobster shack on a commercial strip not far from downtown Brunswick. It's bordered on one side by lovely giant pines. Eat inside, on the deck or in your car.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Poor  ** Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

Turn your lights on for service, and a waitress will emerge to take your order. This may be the only drive-in lobster shack in Maine, perhaps the country.

It's certainly a throwback. The place has a bit of the original infrastructure, namely bright yellow, '50s-era signage under a carport roof. Inside the small attached building, the furnishings are fresher, with sturdy wood tables (except for one cherry-red circular booth, another mid-century item) and whimsical coastal artifacts.

Fat Boy, southern Maine's iconic drive-in, is just down the road, making this commercial stretch of Brunswick notable for its car-hop density.

Dana Cameron has owned this restaurant, called Morse's until recently, for seven years. In May, a second Cameron's opened in Wiscasset, at the Heritage Village complex on Route 1.

Nostalgia notwithstanding, I did not bite at Cameron's drive-in option because I'm simply not a fan of dining in my vehicle. Why would I chance spilling melted butter on the upholstery or want to nosh on a BLT with the steering wheel at my elbows?

Cameron's menu is extensive and clam-shack traditional: Fried or grilled seafood dinners with cole slaw, baked beans or pasta salad. Prices range from $12.95 for haddock dinner to $21.95 for a giant basket that includes a half-pint each of scallops, clams, shrimp and haddock.

Lobster dinners -- with fries, cole slaw, a dinner roll and corn in season -- are market price ($22.95 in mid-June). These join such menu items as fried mushrooms, cheese sticks and onion rings. Yes, the Fryolater cranks at Cameron's.

The fried clams impressed us with their size, meatiness and plump, crispy coating ($14.95 per pint). Onion rings and mushrooms were standard fare. French fries from the freezer were not worth the calories.

A cup of lobster stew ($6.95) was full of bite-sized meat, the soup rich in cream and butter but lacking a heavenly lobster-stock underpinning.

Served on a grilled bun with nothing else but big chunks of fresh seafood, the hot lobster roll was a simple pleasure (the 6-inch small costs $10.95). The cold version is made with mayo. It was nice to have both options.

Also delicious was a Cajun-seasoned, grilled (fried is an option, of course) haddock sandwich, a daily special. A fillet of spice-rubbed fish overflowed the soft roll, with lettuce and tartar sauce completing the juicy sandwich ($10.95 for a basket with sides).

We'll go back for those two. And you can't go wrong with steamed local lobster.

Seafood shunners can grab a grilled pastrami sandwich, hot dog or the ubiquitous chicken Caesar wrap.

My friend, craving a healthy option, supped on a decent crabmeat salad platter ($13.95) that had a generous mound of shredded seafood lightly dressed with mayonnaise over a plateful of Romaine, red onion, cucumbers and croutons.

She asked for ranch dressing, and a plastic packet arrived on the side. The house side salad ($3.50) was a smaller version of same, with Italian dressing from a bottle. Call me fussy, but from-scratch dressing is so easy to create and so much better than store-bought, that I tend to apply a deduction for anything other than, at any restaurant.

The cole slaw was fresh but bland. But thumbs up for the homemade (hurrah!) baked beans, a mix of navy and kidney. They were slightly firm, sweet and delicious. Sides matter.

The question at Cameron's remains: Unless you crave the novelty of car-hop service, will you be disappointed if you're not at a waterfront restaurant for your full-belly, batter-fried clams, one of the quality food items here? That depends on your dining objective.

Despite its car-friendly aspect, Cameron's is an easy walk from Bowdoin College. Just travel a brief stretch of Bath Road along the towering pines. This should appeal to students at the Bowdoin International Music Festival for the summer, and students in general in other seasons.

There's no need to drive to a picturesque spot if you have an immediate hankering for a scallop basket or a steamed lobster.

It's an easy seafood stop-in for all comers, in fact, and even serves breakfast, which we did not try.

Table service was easy-going and friendly on the night we visited. One order got mixed up, but it was possibly a customer error (mine, in other words).

We wrapped up our meal with a brownie sundae. The dessert was just what you'd expect, and cloyingly sweet -- a gooey, warmed-up brownie drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream and swirling squirts of aerosol whipped cream. A kid's idea of heaven, whatever your age, and with a 1960s price of $1.25.

Nancy Heiser is freelance writer. She can be reached at:

nancyheiser.com

 

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