The Barking Crab started out in Boston in the mid-'90s, and a second location opened last year in Newport.
It's the ideal spot for strolling summer tourists, right in the downtown harborfront — bobbing boats, wheeling gulls, the full picture-post card. Not wanting to buck the crowds after Memorial Day, we checked it out recently, sans din or waitstaff marching doubletime. We'd enjoyed a meal at the Boston version some time ago, and the opening here last July had been frenetic but tasty. As I recalled, their pan-seared Barking Crab Cakes with spicy aioli were pretty good.
| THE BARKING CRAB | 401.846.2722 | 151 Swinburne Row, Newport | barkingcrab.com | daily, 12-10 pm | major credit cards | full bar | sidewalk-level accessible |
Walking in, you see how pains have been taken to make the interior as attention-grabbing as the view outside. Behind the host station is a lobster tank complete with portholes. Above the large central bar, a skiff, maybe an 18-footer, is surrounded by colorful nautical flags. There's plenty of seating, including a row of booths behind the bar, but we were attracted to a well-lit section to the left on this chilly and overcast evening.
The menu is a big, laminated sheet. On one side, 11 beers are offered by the glass or pitcher, plus five by the bottle. There are 10 wines, mostly Californias, all available by glass or bottle. The paper placemat under your elbows instructs you how to deconstruct a lobster, a lesson not likely provided at the serving window of your Maine seacoast clam shack. George and Tillie from Dubuque would be happy already.
Under starters are steamers, peel-'n'-eat shrimp, and a bucket of Jonah crab claws. There are also raw bar offerings, of course, plus fried calamari ($9) in the traditional, exotic-in-Iowa Rhode Island style, with pepperoncini and garlic butter. There's also New England clam chowder ($8) and lobster bisque ($10), the latter which we recalled enjoying here for its robust taste.
I started out with the stuffies ($9) and was pleased with the decision. The two quahog shells were filled with tall mounds of bread stuffing and more pieces of chorizo, that spicy Portuguese sausage, than I usually see in them. Tasty and protein-packed. Johnnie had something that I hadn't seen before me in years: two massive iceberg lettuce wedges serving as a salad, with blue cheese dressing, more chunks of blue cheese, and bits of applewood bacon on the side. I don't know if I've had that flavorless lettuce since I was a kid, but it's so cold and crisp that it provides a great neutral base for whatever dressing you use. (A balsamic vinaigrette was served first by mistake, and it worked surprisingly well with blue cheese.)
She wasn't very hungry and just wanted a lobster roll, priced to market and $19 that day. But I talked her into going for the oyster po' boy ($13) so I'd have something more interesting to describe. (It's touching, dear reader, what she'll go through for you.) It was served on a baguette with lettuce, tomato, and spicy aioli, coleslaw and double-fried fries also on the plate. She pronounced the main component to be "not my favorite oysters in the world," preferring them sweeter and less fishy. (It's endearing, dear reader, how snide she can be for you.)
There are only a half-dozen main courses, including a 12-ounce flatiron steak and fries, for guys who find seafood too girly. I had the catch of the day, seared red snapper ($24), which annoyingly arrived before I was done with the first of my stuffies. It didn't suffer much under a heat lamp, though the orange cheese sauce overwhelmed the taste of the baby shrimp and small pieces of the lobster that were mixed in. There was sautéed asparagus on the side with nicely browned rectangles of potato, sort of hash browns on parade.
As for desserts, there were none offered on the menu, and our waiter brought the check without asking us if we wanted any, though cheesecake and Key lime pie were available. Presumably people don't have room for sweets after stuffing themselves with heaping piles of their favorite clam shack indulgence. We agreed.
Cholesterol 1, sucrose zip.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.