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Staycation Destination: Westfair Fish and Chips

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Here’s the thing about summer: it ends – and abruptly, too. Just when you finally re-built the inter-toe callous with your flip flops, Staples sends out its Back to School flyers. At first you’re stunned. Sitting in the sun wearing shorts, you’re annoyed by the aggressive marketing — there’s Halloween candy in the stores, for God’s sake, too. But, soon, despite your resistance, the end of summer becomes real. August’s humidity lifts, there’s a stretch of 73-degree days, and then you catch yourself reaching for a sweater.

Here’s what we do when that happens. We panic. And then we run around doing all of our favorite summer things before it’s too late. (And being EATER, most of those things involve food.) We scarf tomatoes at every meal, we eat peaches until we’re bursting, and we steadfastly dine outdoors whenever the option is offered. Finally, we make the short trip out to Westfair Fish and Chips for the classic summer meal.

Westfair Fish and Chips is a true clam shack – the type that inspired all those pricy, reverent Manhattan trend-spots like Pearl Oyster Bar, Mary’s Fish Camp and Tides Seafood. Yet unlike those urban evocations, Westfair hews to its origins—this is no set-decorated, tarragon-scented, Riesling-swilling rollateria. Westfair is a true shack (albeit in a strip mall), with a screen door that screeches open, then bangs shut, and whose flapping mesh is only partially tacked down. On hot days, Westfair’s fans blow the hot air around, but there’s no AC. There’s no Riesling –or any wine or beer, for that matter, either– and Westfair doesn’t accept credit cards. Oh, and interior seating is scarce, and outdoor seating is limited to a single picnic table in the parking lot, smack between the competing pongs of Westfair’s exhaust fan and a Dumpster.

As if that‘s not bad enough, Westfair is tough to find, too. Though its address is 1781 Post Road East, Westport, which sounds plain enough, the store is actually round the back of a nondescript strip mall (one of a thousand) on Rte. 1, and it’s nearly impossible to find without doubling back at least once. Here’s a hint: it’s in the strip mall directly across the street from the massive Stop and Shop, in the row of stores behind and to the left of the stores on the street.

A pain, but—it’s worth it. Westfair’s shtick is simple: it offers the best version—of Maine steamers, of onion rings, and of lobster rolls—available.

Take the steamers, for instance. They’re sea-smelling, juicy and plump, and served so hot that you can’t actually handle them — though you do anyway, happily incurring burns. The accompanying broth is richly clammy, an opaque dove gray and super salty. It tastes like hot, fresh seawater plus clams, and the broth-dunk leaves your steamer bracingly hot and perfectly seasoned. With a steamer this perfect, the butter bath is almost unnecessary.

I’m going to state it here: Westfair’s onion rings are stellar, and I mean, World Class, defend-it-do-my-dying-day perfect. Unlike those mass-produced, uniformly circular, breaded-to-death, inner-tube versions (that when you bite, a thin, slimy onion section flaps out like a dislodged tapeworm), these onions are fresh and lightly battered—like an onion tempura. They arrive in a happy heap of tangles and twists, very oniony beneath their thin, shatteringly crisp shells. They’re salty, and a little greasy, and absolutely worth a trip all on their own.

Finally, the lobster roll. Now, a lot has been said about the mayo-based lobster roll, and I can honestly appreciate its beauty, anointed as it is with tarragon and herbs and whatever. But really, if someone asked for my desert island lobster roll, the version I’d pick is the plain type offered at Westfair. (They’re hard to find, because there’s no meat-stretching filler in this version.) Westfair’s plain roll is simply this: big chunks of hot lobster, tossed in butter and stuffed into a butter-toasted, top-split hot dog roll. Unlike the mayo version (which, no matter how good, is always served cold), the Westfair plain lobster roll is hot, buttery and totally lobstery. It’s the lazy man’s lobster dinner. (NB–Don’t tell your doctor, but save the leftover butter from your steamers, or ask for a side of butter. The Solo cup of butter works nicely in a French dip sort of arrangement with your lobster roll. Don’t judge….eat.)

Though we’re huge fans, and actually kind of addicted, Westfair Fish and Chips is not perfect. Aside from the charming conditions described above, its dinners (which range from steamed lobster to a mind-boggling array of fried fish) arrive with choice of why-bother sides like cups of macaroni and potato salad or cole slaw. French fries are also included, though—and they’re chips in the beefy British sense, inch-wide and short, with a very creamy, potato-ey interior. Good, but we’ll always pay the .75 extra for those onion rings.

While waits can get long during weekend dinners and lunch, Westfair does a brisk trade in take out. They’ll happily take an order over the phone, and your stack of Styrofoam clamshells will be ready by the time you find the place (which might take some time). Best of all, Westfair is open all year round –unlike a lot of those Down East seaside shacks—and it’s open seven days a week.

Basically, Westfair will be there for you when you finally realize that summer is going to end.
 

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