One can find seafood at pretty much any Portland restaurant even if it’s only a haddock sandwich, but most of the specialty seafood restaurants reside very close to the water. Not the case with 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty and Grille which makes its home on the corner of Cumberland and Washington in a little shack you might otherwise expect to see nearly falling into the ocean. Even from the outside, the small building drums up thoughts of eating fried clams with great water views. Those views are merely a pipe dream though as the building resides in an ocean of pavement. Still, I had to see what the little place in an odd location was all about.
The restaurant looked pretty much as I expected from the inside; seafarer related items appointed the room. We were able to pick a seat and the waitress brought us menus and let us know the local brews they had on tap that day. I didn’t see any indication that they served wine or liquor, but their bottled beer options sat on a window sill available for viewing. I started to look at the menu and think about whether or not I wanted a drink. I eventually decided against it, but my wife ordered an Angry Orchard cider and we both ordered waters.
As I looked at the meal possibilities, I skipped past the burgers and sandwiches and headed toward the seafood. Chowders, rolls, salads, and plates were all available with some version of sea swimmer on them. I quickly decided that plates, which were served with fries and slaw, were what I really wanted. My wife was also looking at the same area of the menu. We were starting to narrow it down somewhat when we received our drinks. My wife’s cider came in a pint glass and – very much to my surprise – our waters were bottled. I was somewhat taken aback as I can’t remember the last time I ordered a water at a table service and got a bottle. It’s one of the very few items I expect free from a restaurant and certainly would want to know if it wasn’t before ordering.
After the drink delivery, I started my final scroll through the plates and realized that I required either clams or scallops since they’re two of my favorites. The waitress returned and my wife decided on the haddock for $19. Just in the nick of time, I chose the scallops for $28 and went with onion rings instead of fries for an extra buck. We relaxed while our food was made and I went to grab a couple hot sauces that sat along the walls. I figured some spice might be good with the rings.
While we were waiting for our food, I observed the goings-on around me. There were a few tables full and a few still available, but there also seemed to be a pretty steady takeout business occurring. It was difficult to tell exactly what was popular even though the kitchen was open, but I did see one of the cooks flouring a lot of items to fry. I also saw some chowder and burgers walking past us to other tables. After a very reasonable wait, our food appeared to be on its way and it was our turn to try the goods.
When the waitress popped the baskets in front of us, I was a bit shocked. The portion sizes were enormous. A large pile of scallops and a foot of haddock fillet sat there challenging us to consume them. Both tartar sauce and lemon were included too. I hoped it would all be as tasty as it was plentiful, so I hurriedly grabbed a scallop and shot it like a basketball into the hoop that was my mouth. The outer flour breading offered a nice crunch and the scallop was as fresh as the morning dew. It had one issue though – I couldn’t detect any salt. I’m certainly not a saltaholic, and find that most restaurants overdo the salt if anything, but these didn’t seem to have any at all. I noted it and moved on to the onion rings. Those were also fresh, crispy on the outside, and salt-free. In keeping with the pattern, the cole slaw was also without noticeable sodium.
I tried my wife’s haddock and fries which were exactly like my food and simultaneously heard the waitress responding to a question from another table. I didn’t hear the query, but the response was “those aren’t salted”. I’m not sure what she was referring to specifically, but I grabbed a salt shaker in an act of rebellion, gave a light sprinkle to my scallops and rings, passed on adding it to the slaw in favor of pepper, and retried all the goods. My easy salting fixed the issue completely and the food became quite a delight as I ate some of the meal as-is and dipped some bites in tartar sauce and ketchup.
With more and more trips of my fork to my mouth, I developed an increasing love for the fried fellows. Aside from the previously mentioned issue, they were great. My super-sized seafood supper felt like it was endless as we stuffed our faces until we could stuff no more. I finished all of mine, but was unable to assist my wife who had quite a bit of the delicious devils remaining. We asked for the bill and regretted not being able to bring the rest of the food home since we weren’t going to be around to eat it the next day.
In the aftermath of my meal, the one issue that bothered me were the bottled waters. The two dollars each they added to the tab weren’t life or death, especially with the portion sizes, but it did start the meal with a bad taste in my mouth – figuratively speaking. A request for water should result in a free glass of water or – at the very least – an explanation that only bottled water is available. Now that I’m aware, I’m prepared, but for someone who’s never been there and just prefers water, they should know. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Aside from my H2O concern, everything at 3 Buoys was really solid. The lack of salt wasn’t a big deal. I’d much rather have food that was undersalted and have to add it than get oversalted food that I can’t correct. Everything was good enough that I never even thought to use my hot sauce. It was also provided in such large quantities that it made the price very fair and satisfied a hungry glutton like myself. I was pleased that the onion rings, which I usually prefer to fries, were only an extra dollar. I tend to find that to be about the right upcharge if one is necessary. Frankly, since their portions are so generous, I think they could add a dollar to all the meals and give the customer a choice without the upcharge. Would I go back? Oh hell yes! If you want seafood, it will be fresh, delicious, and come out by the boatload. Just make sure you’ve got your salt shaker nearby and don’t expect any water views unless it’s raining.
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