July 28, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Hard to find better fried seafood than Susan's


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The atmosphere is casual, but Susan’s Fish-n-Chips in Portland is serious about fresh seafood fried well.

Staff file photos by John Patriquin

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Susan's makes a point of using fresh haddock for fish and chips.


SUSAN'S FISH-N-CHIPS, 1135 Forest Ave., Portland, 878-3240; susansfishnchips.com


HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

PRICES: $1.99 to $18.99, with dinners in the $10 range. A particularly good deal is the fried fish sandwich special at two for $2.50 on Mondays and Tuesdays.


CREDIT CARDS: Yes, but bring cash for the tip jar.



KIDS: Yes; children's menu



BOTTOM LINE: Susan's Fish-n-Chips is a local treasure on outer Forest Avenue. The lack of ambience becomes a sort of meta/alt-ambience. Go to Susan's for the fried fresh seafood. The staff is friendly and welcoming, portions are great, and the price is right.

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.

Likewise, the fried oysters are the softer, smoother version, with focus on the bivalve's salinity. They are equally hot, fresh and crispy on the outside and silky on the inside.

Lobster rolls (at Susan's, "lobstah rolls") are one of those foods where preparation is wholly subjective, from the bun (top or side loader?) to the lettuce (crisp addition or needless distraction?). Mayo's presence as a dollop, binder, on the side or not at all? Knuckle, tail or claw meat? Whole pieces or chopped for convenient biting?

All I can note is how Susan's does it: A straight-up, white top-loader hot dog bun, grilled and stuffed to overflowing with an array of lobster pieces atop a thin layer of mayo and iceberg lettuce leaf. The price is right at $11.99 with fries.

My table divided on the tartar sauce presentation. Susan's serves the sauce in a cold Mason jar with a spoon for the table, but my friend requested individual packets. The server was happy to oblige, and the encounter sparked a debate about bacteria, aesthetics and socially appropriate portions of tartar sauce. I had no idea this was a potential hot button. I like the Mason jar.

I also ordered the fried veggie boat ($7.99). While it's a great effort and I appreciate its presence, I suspect vegetarians might be disappointed with the result. My platter included a variety of veggies, but the process just did not seem to translate, and the result was a sort of overcooked, mealy combination of good intentions. Not bad, but the fried seafood is so much better.

The exception, however, are the onion rings, which are as big and perfect as a hand-breaded onion ring could ever hope to be.

Ever try a fried banana split? Imagine a traditional boat-style lineup of ice cream and toppings circled by a ring of battered, deep-fried banana slices. It offers that caramel Bananas Foster-y sugar flavor against the cool ice cream, but with a buttery-tasting coating. There's enough to share, and I recommend saving room.

Note that while Susan's accepts credit cards, there is no space to add a tip on the receipt, so remember to bring cash for the jar at the counter.

When jostling the in-town summer seaside crowd is too much, drive up Forest Avenue for deep-fried fun. Susan's will fix you right up for a good price, and my guess is that you'll leave the space feeling local in all the best ways.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."


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