In a parking lot off Route 201, between the Napa Auto Parts and the entrance to Tri-Sports, a tarplike plastic tent is erected every April and dismantled in the Fall. It’s one of the ways to tell it’s springtime in Topsham, the opening of Sumthin’ Fishy. When we moved here, at the tail end of last summer, we talked about stopping every day on our way home. But it was either too hot or too cold, too wet or too sunny. I don’t always feel like eating fish in a parking lot. But, then, sometimes I do. We went on a recent weekday afternoon, to prove our theory that at places like this, the makeshift, the temporary, the seasonal, the so-unscenic-it’s-actually-atmoshperic, food just somehow tastes better.
Malcolm: We’ve long maintained that one of the greatest things about eating in Maine in the Summertime is that the roadside stand next to a gas station is usually serving food that is just as amazing as the restaurant a few doors further down; that when astonishingly fresh, just-caught Maine seafood is the basis of the menu, the guy selling it out of his truck is usually doing as good (or better!) a job than the trained chef at the place that is wasting money on tablecloths. And chairs. And a roof.
A good deal of credit goes to the owners, who have a more permanent restaurant location in Lisbon Falls, for sourcing fresh fish off the docks in Portland every morning. The man we met was manning the deep fryer and chatting up the regulars, but not too busy to make conversation with us. So, the seafood is incredibly fresh and local, and everything I had was a near-perfect example of its kind.
Malcolm: Seating may be sparse, and the scenery nonexistent (unless you have a soft spot for dusty parking lots and abandoned car washes). You’ll be surprised, though, at the incredible selection of seafood combinations, hand-cut french fries, sandwiches, and deep-fried hot dogs that can be served out of one tiny trailer, run by just two people. Prices are higher than you would expect from a makeshift roadside restaurant, and seem to be more in line with what you would expect to pay in a full service restaurant. The daily specials are amazing, though, including gigantic $4.50 shrimp rolls and discounts on whatever seafood the owner got a break on, on that particular day.
We ordered the lunch special combo platter for $12.95. The scallops were some of the best I’ve had in forever, plump and springy, not chewy, mildly sweet, and almost creamy. There were at least a dozen little sweet Maine shrimp, adorable and perky as always. The haddock was firm and flaky and the whole belly clams were very tender and gooey. All of it was done in a medium batter, perfectly brown. It could have done with a juicy squeeze of lemon, but there was an ample supply of bottled at the condiment station, alongside the cocktail, ketchup, and tarter sauce.
Malcolm: I loved the batter that Sumthin’ Fishy is using on all of their fried seafood: Crisp and lightly seasoned, but thin and just crunchy enough to let the natural flavor of the fresh, succulent seafood shine through. The fries are good and plentiful; we ate for half an hour and still brought some home.
The menu looks extensive, but basically presents about seven different ways of ordering the same seafood options, plus chicken fingers, hot dogs, and hamburgers. Everything comes with french fries, which were far superior to the average crinkle-cut pre-packaged anemic-looking ones you might expect, and coleslaw, which appeared to be a small cup of shredded cabbage tossed in mayonnaise. Coleslaw is not my friend. Period.
Malcolm: After a long Winter spent waiting for the Sumthin’ Fishy truck to reappear in Topsham, we were rewarded with a huge lunch prepared with care by people who understand that the fresh taste of Maine’s bounty of seafood should be the star of every combination platter. They’re folks that are doing fried fish, clams, scallops, and shrimp exceptionally well, and with the restraint due when working with such naturally amazing ingredients. Though priced higher than one would expect while eating under a giant tarp, it’s hard to imagine a restaurant where the owners are more committed to providing the freshest seafood available, served in enormous portions by a friendly, welcoming staff. If you have business in Topsham this Spring, it’s a quick, easy, and delicious option for lunch.