At the height of summer, the line at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock begins before the 11 a.m. opening hour, and quickly stretches well past a pavilion along the waterfront property. The New London destination, owned by former lobsterman Tom Eshenfelder and his sister Susan Tierney, is a local landmark for its lobster rolls, fried seafood, clam fritters and chowder.
Captain Scott's — named for Captain Thomas A. Scott, a master diver whose marine construction company built the Race Rock Lighthouse — opened for its 20th season in March. Situated in Shaw's Cove in a secluded spot between a busy marina and railroad tracks, the restaurant offers outdoor seating for about 300 diners, with picnic tables positioned along the waterfront and underneath the covered pavilion.
Though lines are often lengthy, Eshenfelder says the staff works to serve orders quickly, and guests tend to soak in the sun and the surroundings while they wait for food — particularly if they're observing the restaurant's BYOB policy.
"People don't seem to mind the lines that much if they've got a bottle of wine, they're sitting out and enjoying the day," he says. "There's usually a lot of activity on the docks, with boats coming in and out."
Diners often make an event out of their visits, Tierney says. "People come with tablecloths, candles and flowers. They just do it up."
Captain Scott's lobster rolls are a perennial favorite, available in two sizes ($12.95 and $16.95). The hot version is most popular, with chunks of lobster meat drizzled in warm butter. The cold lobster salad roll is mixed with mayonnaise, celery, a bit of pepper and olive oil, served with a slice of lemon on top.
Fried seafood (fish and chips, whole belly clams, shrimp, scallops, oysters and calamari) is breaded to order and served in sandwiches ($5.95 to $10.95) or as platters ($12.95 to 19.95) with choice of fries or red potatoes and slaw. For $22.95, guests can "create a combo" of seafood, choosing two or three options. Guests also enjoy steamers, mussels and shrimp cocktail, and "landlubber" meals include hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken ($2.95 to $8.95).
Soups and chowders are made fresh daily, including a clear broth-based Rhode Island clam chowder, the classic creamy New England version and a lobster bisque. And for those who don't mind the cracking labor, Captain Scott's also offers full steamed lobster dinners at market price, including a 1 1/4-pound crustacean or "twin cull" — two lobsters with one claw apiece. Larger sizes are also available.
The restaurant runs occasional specials, like fish tacos, po'boys with fried shrimp and oysters and Friday night raw bar selections, but concentrates on its core best-sellers.
"We add things here and there, but we don't want to spread ourselves out where we can't do [the main items]," Eshenfelder says. For dessert, Captain Scott's also serves about 20 flavors of Gifford's ice cream, available in cups and cones, milkshakes, floats and sundaes.
In recent years, Captain Scott's has seen its clientele diversify beyond Connecticut.
"This has kind of evolved … [with] internet, social media, we get a lot more people coming off the highway than we ever did," Eshenfelder says. On summer weekends, they'll see guests arriving from New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. "The locals are here for lunch all the time."
Last year, Captain Scott's also purchased a food truck, which serves a streamlined menu of lobster rolls, fritters and chowder at local vineyards, festivals and other special events. The truck also works in tandem with the restaurant on the property, helping serve overflow crowds on the busy weekends.
"It's kind of a quirky spot," Eshenfelder says. "You come down that road and you don't know where the heck you're going, and you pull in here and it's kind of unique. You've got the water on one side, you've got the train going by. You've got the boats, and the food is good."
Captain Scott's, 80 Hamilton Ave., New London, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 860-439-1741, captscotts.com.
This summer we’re telling the stories behind Connecticut’s beloved seasonal restaurants — the destinations that open for an all-too-brief time period in fair weather. These are the small lobster shacks with the buttery rolls you crave in January when you’re shoveling snow, the ice cream stands that throw open their windows with the first warm breeze, the beach-town eateries where the salt of fried whole belly clams and onion rings is enhanced by ocean air. Read more in our series of seasonal destinations here.