April 25, 2010

Taste & Tell: Fresh seafood, fried nicely, makes Ken's a favorite

By N.L. ENGLISH

SCARBOROUGH - You are in luck -- the first Tuesday of the month is right around the corner, the day when fried oysters, the queen of fried seafood, is on the menu at Ken's Place.

click image to enlarge

Bill Reny and his father Donald Reny eat lunch at Ken’s Place on Pine Point Road in Scarborough, which reopened for the season in March. When warmer weather comes, diners often sit at outdoor picnic tables.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

KEN’S PLACE, 207 Pine Point Road, Scarborough; 883-6611

RATING: ****

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday until mid-October

CREDIT CARDS: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover

PRICE RANGE: $3.25 to $25

VEGETARIAN DISHES: Not much beyond fried sides, coleslaw and salad

GLUTEN-FREE: Not available in main dishes

KIDS: Yes, especially early in life when they still love fish

RESERVATIONS: Not accepted

BAR: Full

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No

BOTTOM LINE: Excellent fried clams, fried Maine shrimp and baked haddock beckon seafood lovers to this destination with high standards for fresh seafood and clean oil.

Rating based on a five-star scale. It is the policy of the Maine Sunday Telegram to visit an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory.

Of course, any day of the week fried clams coated in crumbs or batter, baked or fried haddock, fried Maine shrimp and fried scallops are always on the menu. Ken's Place has provided these Maine summer essentials to locals and visitors for decades.

We all have our favorite spots for fried seafood, and Ken's Place has been mine ever since I learned I could count on owner David Wilcox, who bought Ken's Place in 2000, to police the oil in the fryolator.

He opened his doors in late March this year, having recuperated from a winter of skiing with his sons, working on his house and catching up with his wife and three children.

Clam cake production is already in high gear -- Wilcox said 1,000 clam cakes are sold on Mother's Day, and hundreds the rest of the year. Up to 100 lobsters are picked each day for lobster rolls made to order and lobster stew.

On my own visit (not the first Tuesday of the month), I slid a simple raw oyster ($1.75 each) into my mouth and was grateful for that elemental pleasure -- even though the usual Winter Points, one of Maine's best oysters, were unavailable because of red tide. Shucked to order at the raw bar, oysters are set on a bed of shaved ice and served with standard cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon.

The raw bar also serves littleneck clams and cocktail shrimp, and it's located at the regular bar. The beer list includes a monthly special, just now Blue Moon Belgian White ($3.95), which is light and easy to drink.

Fried Maine shrimp ($11.99) is excellent, the crumb coating light and crunchy and the sweet little shrimp from the coastal waters of Maine pure in flavor. An a la carte paper boat of these would be the perfect appetizer for a table of Maine seafood lovers.

Baked haddock ($12.99) was especially delectable, with a crumb topping that turned out to be light and pleasant as well. Moist and nicely seasoned, the fish was perfectly cooked. "I don't serve anything old -- it's always perfectly fresh," Wilcox said.

The oval paper plate that held the fish was browned, just like the fish; it's an oven-ready plate meant to be used for baking.

Fried batter clams ($16.99) are billowy golden mouthfuls that are tender and crisp with chewy clam and tender juicy bellies snug inside. Some people swear by this version, and Ken's Place is one of the rare places that offer it. The crumb coating is also good, and perhaps distracts less from those juicy clam bellies.

Asked about why the onion rings or haddock isn't also done in batter, Wilcox said, "With the space we have for the fryers, we have room only to use one fryer with batter."

Simple coleslaw is the right side with all of the fried food. Ketchup is self-service, pumped into little paper cups at a station by the order window. Don't accept the over-seasoned, over-sweet commercial tartar sauce in little sealed plastic tubs -- ask for the house tartar sauce instead.

It's a pleasure for two to share the fisherman's platter, a mountain of fried clams, scallops, Maine shrimp and haddock with French fries, coleslaw and a roll with butter ($24.99).

This assortment shows off the incredibly moist and tender scallops and another version of the delectable haddock, which is equally wonderful.

The french fries are from frozen Maine potatoes that are fried to a golden crisp. The onion rings are turned out by the busy kitchen from start to finish, and are crumb-coated, crunchy on the outside and tender within.

Two young companions disinclined to eating seafood provided tastes of another part of the menu. Grilled cheese ($2.25) could have been cooked another minute to melt the soft American cheese inside the nicely browned wheat bread. Potato salad ($1.99) is mustardy and brilliant yellow, with chopped sweet pickles.

The garden salad ($2.99) is straightforward iceberg lettuce that's crunchy and immaculate, with chopped cucumber and wan tomatoes.

Hamburgers ($3.25) are made with fresh ground beef and have a following too, according to Wilcox.

Formica tables and bench seating around the edge of the big, brightly lit dining room with gray-painted rafters hold enough diners in the early season, but with consistent good weather, picnic tables under umbrellas in front and around back under tall pines will be the in-demand spots.

"Generations of families have a tradition of eating under those pines," Wilcox said.

Martel ice cream -- $1.75 for a regular-sized cone or dish -- comes in Oreo, black raspberry, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and mint chocolate chip, the last bright green and creamy. A brownie sundae can be enjoyed for $3.95, a root beer float is $3, and carrot cake is $2.95.

 

N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of "Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast." Visit English's website, www.chowmaineguide.com.

 

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