After living in the area off-and-on for nearly 30 years, it’s astonishing to me that I never had occasion to venture down Waterman’s Beach Road in South Thomaston. The road itself is fairly hidden, forking off a stretch of Route 73 about ten minutes South of Rockland. Find it, and you’ll be treated to a black spruce tree-studded road that winds along the water past the Weskeag River and Muscle Ridge Channel, just North of Spruce Head. There, a small seafood shack sits right on the rocky beach, with dozens of picnic tables scattered along the water and on the restaurant’s deck. As we watched, local lobstermen brought a fresh haul to the restaurant, to be steamed over saltwater in the seafood shack’s tiny kitchen. It’s an idyllic New England scene; the kind of place that somehow manages to imbue the scenic photos you take with the smell of seaweed. There’s one thing that sets Waterman’s Beach Lobster apart from every other lobster shack in Maine, however: The James Beard Award hanging on the wall.
That’s right. The James Beard Foundation designated this family-run restaurant an “America’s Classic” in 2001, calling the restaurant “the quintessential Maine experience.” It’s a well-deserved designation, in terms of scenery alone, though the barebones preparation of lobster and clams (as well as, yes, hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches for the shellfish-averse) firmly confirms the restaurant as one of the finest of its kind in the area.
We tried a lobster roll, served with a bag of Lay’s potato chips for $14.95. The freshly-picked chunks of lobster meat are tossed with mayonnaise and served slightly warm, on a giant round, cornmeal-dusted chewy white roll. (Could this unusual form factor be a micro-regional speciality? The only other round lobster roll we’ve been served was at the ‘Keag Store, about three miles away.) The lobster meat was fresh and sweet, tossed with just the right amount of mayonnaise, and the slight crunch from the cornmeal lent an excellent textural contrast to the lobster salad.
Though they are served in one-and-two pound appetizer sizes, we also dove in for a steamed clam dinner ($17.95). The combo features two pounds of steamers dug locally on the St. George peninsula, served with piping hot clam broth, drawn butter, a bag of chips, and a slice of nutty bread. The clams were among the best I’ve had this summer, with firm, sweet bellies, and not an ounce of sand or grit to be found. Though I worked to live up to my usual policy of “eating as many steamers as are placed in front of me,” I had to tap out before the clams were gone; Jillian was happy to help me clean my plate.
Potential visitors should note that the restaurant doesn’t accept credit cards. While I understand that 2% transaction fees may run counter to the atmosphere of a BYOB seafood shack on the beach, this requires some planning ahead for customers when the nearest ATM machine is miles away and you are ordering entrees for a family of four priced in the $15-$20 range.
Though there can be a dozen people queued up at the order window, after you place your order, your meal is brought to your table by a waitress; it’s a nice touch for the typically more do-it-yourself lobster shack experience. Though Waterman’s Beach Lobster doesn’t serve alcohol, the restaurant does invite you to bring your own, and to leave an empty wine bottle along with the dozens of others left by guests lined up along the railings of the deck.
With just a few items, limited mostly to what can be cooked in a steamer basket, Waterman’s Beach Lobster may not serve dozens of combinations of Maine seafood, heavy grease-stained baskets of fried batter chunks, or trendy twists on classic New England fare. That’s because Waterman’s Beach Lobster is nearly perfect just the way it is, as it has been for more than 26 years. The menu celebrates Maine seafood the way it is meant to be enjoyed: simply steamed, with a dab of butter, 180 degrees of panoramic Maine beauty, the sound of seabirds, and a little sand between your toes.
Waterman’ Beach Lobster; 343 Waterman’s Beach Road, South Thomaston, ME; (207) 596-7819; watermanbeachlobster.com