December 9, 2012

Dine Out Maine: Seafood the specialty of this house

The Freeport Seafood Co. offers lots of lobster dishes, along with plenty of other choices from land and sea.

By NANCY HEISER

Those who aren't sure of the depth of their interest in seafood will find safety at Freeport Seafood Co. There are lots of disguises.

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Seafood comes in a range of options and price points at Freeport Seafood Co., and there are choices for non-fish lovers, as well.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Freeport Seafood Co., located in the former Pedro O’Hara’s on Route 1, is designed to accommodate crowds with four distinct sections indoors and a deck and porch out.

DINING REVIEW

FREEPORT SEAFOOD CO., 175 Lower Main St., Freeport. 865-9105; freeportseafoodco.com

★★1/2

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

CREDIT CARDS: All major

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers $6 to $14; sandwiches and salads $9 to $16; entrees $18 to $24

VEGETARIAN: Yes

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes

KIDS: Very child friendly. High chairs, separate menu, outdoor playground

RESERVATIONS: Yes

BAR: Full. Twelve beers on draft, a mix of local and national; about 20 wines to choose from starting at $24. One can also procure a $125 Dom Perignon here, but I'm not sure why you'd want to.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: A few nice food surprises and friendly service, but overall the dining experience is lackluster.

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.

Yes, you can opt for a full lobster dinner, priced according to market. Put on the bib and dig in. Or you can dabble with a chick, a 1-pounder, for a mere $9.95, a bargain. It comes with french fries and cole slaw. Some people order two, said Chris Shaw, the restaurant's general manager. That's a lot of lobster for $20.

But you can also get lobster in ravioli, lasagna and pot pie here. It appears as a stew, as an option for topping a Cobb salad, in a stuffing for haddock. Weary traveler, you've arrived at the edge of Maine's retail mecca, and do we ever have lobster for you.

The pot pie ($19), steamy hot with a well-textured, faintly flavored sauce under a crisp and flaky filo crust, held thick asparagus sections and chunks of tail and claw meat. Vegetable disappointment aside, you may revel in the size and quantity of the seafood, but not much else. This was lobster in an off-the-rack costume.

Two other entrees were successful, if not particularly inventive. Blackened Cajun shrimp over jasmine rice ($19) was a good approximation, if tame in spiciness. A special of haddock with lobster stuffing was delicious, a creamy tarragon sauce adding a sweet herbal touch to the entree ($19). Its vegetable side, a broccoli and carrot mix, was unfortunately steamed to mushiness.

The fish-shy will find the haddock burrito we sampled here innocuous and filling but that's about it ($12). A whole-wheat tortilla surrounded fried fish, white rice, guacamole, cheese and a smidge of pico di gallo that could have used more oomph. House-made salsa was served in a plastic dish alongside.

Land food options are many – strip steak, bacon-wrapped chicken tenders with blueberry barbecue sauce, hamburgers – but given the restaurant's name, we chose an all-seafood night. Crab-stuffed mushrooms were delicious starters with ample seafood and flavorful stuffing. Shrimp-stuffed jalapenos, also $5, struck us as no more than mashed potatoes in peppers wrapped in bacon. The shrimp was so finely minced and scant it was essentially MIA.

Side Caesar salad bore a very good and clean tasting dressing, boxed croutons, no trace of anchovy. Side garden salad was standard greens with quartered tomatoes, slices of red onion. Yawn.

Do stop in for a cup of the creamy seafood chowder, chock full of diced seafood and potatoes, its texture not too thin or too thick, and not so rich it weighed itself down ($6).

This large restaurant occupying the former Pedro O'Hara's (it was Crickets before that) has four distinct sections – a general dining area where we sat, a bar area with high-top tables, another dining room with sports showing on two elevated TVs, and a fourth space where private parties or overflow diners are accommodated. There are also a large outside deck and porch.

Walls are painted a restful slate blue, natural wood tables fill the rooms, a carpet and suspended ceiling are designed to keep crowd noise at bay – which was not an issue on the offseason weeknight we visited. A few visuals, such as a mural-sized photo of Portland Head Light, break up the monotony and serve to place this eatery, surrounded by shops on Route 1, in Maine.

When we dined Nov. 9, holiday decorations were up – too early for our taste, but Christmas creep is becoming all too common at many places. Al Kooper and Paul McCartney piped in from above. We had a very friendly and eager server and felt in good hands. At dessert time, we took him up on his offer to make a fresh pot of coffee for us.

The finishes were very good versions of popular standbys served in large portions: warmed blueberry cobbler with ice cream ($7) and a flourless dark chocolate torte that was as dense as fudge ($6).

Does a high-volume, high-traffic eatery catering to visitors as much as locals have to strive to be inoffensive as it aims to cater to the least common denominator? A recent experience compels me to say no. Robert's Maine Grill, a similarly large seafood restaurant set in the middle of retail outlets in Kittery, demonstrates that such a mission doesn't have to result in restaurant that's bland and predictable, like this one. On the contrary, Robert's expertly showcases fresh Maine seafood in a vibrant atmosphere as it efficiently serves the throngs.

Although Freeport Seafood Co. offers some tasty dishes, and visitors may marvel at the lobster-heavy options, it doesn't manage to pull off the quality that's possible even at a large-scale operation.

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

nancyheiser.com

 

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