My mother sent me an email after she got back from a Fourth of July party. "Everyone was talking about the lobster rolls at Southport Beach," she wrote. "They say they're the best around."
Lobster rolls at the beach? What happened to hamburgers and hot dogs? Clearly I've been out of the loop. Usually I pack peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches that inevitably end up in the maws of aggressive seagulls. It was time to check out the report.
A newcomer to town, King's Kitchen at Southport Beach is owned by brothers Hunter, Carter and Parker King of Westport. Painted in tropical colors, with bar stools and Adirondack chairs for lounging, the little shack -- formerly, the beach's concession stand -- evokes a Caribbean-like vibe. (A far cry from the rundown shoreline snack shacks when I was growing up that offered Fudgesicles and frozen Snickers.)
The menu matches the cool exterior. Yes, King's Kitchen has hamburgers and hot dogs (grass-fed, to be exact; $7 and $4.50), but the daily specials also include several fresh, ocean-inspired choices, like ahi tuna tacos ($12), lobster quesadillas ($16) and shrimp ceviche ($7). When I went, the lobster roll ($16) was sold out, so it still remains a mystery. They did, however, have "drilled to order" coconuts for sale ($4), and cooling salads like organic potato salad ($3) and watermelon with local chevre cheese ($8).
Things aren't quite as exotic over at Jennings Beach in Fairfield, but the menu is huge. Here, traditional summer fare is where it's at, with cheeseburgers ($2.75) and specialty hot dogs ($3.25) with toppings like bacon, sauerkraut, cheese, pickles and onions. "We're offering a lot more healthier items," said owner Laura Romero.
Big sellers at Fairfield's big beach include turkey sandwiches, tuna platters and chef's salads ($6.50). For seafood lovers, there's a clam strip-and-fries platter for $7.50. One thing that's different this year is they've taken onion rings off the menu. "They took too long to make, and curly fries are more popular," said Romero. "Still, we get people that ask for them."
In addition to food, the stand is also a kids' paradise, with all sorts of candy for sale. There are Blow Pops, Atomic Fireballs, Sour Patch Kids, War Heads and more. "The most popular are Ring Pops and Airheads Xtremes," said Romero.
To the west on Fairfield's shoreline, the recently remodeled Penfield Pavilion offers a good mix of traditional fare along with healthier, ethnic options. For a taste of Greece, there's a gyro wrap, filled with grilled beef and lamb, as well as a souflaki wrap, featuring grilled chicken, both dressed with lettuce, tomato, red onion, feta and tzatziki ($9). For south of the border inspiration, there are three different burritos ($10): chicken, beef or vegan. There are daily specials, like a lobster roll with garlic butter and Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry with French fries ($14.95) and mini corndogs ($5.95). For dessert, there's the usual Good Humor ice cream, or go upscale and try the Forte Gelato ($4).
At Compo Beach in Westport, Joey's by the Shore is an institution. Opened in 1989 by Joey Romeo, he has transformed the place from a simple concession stand into a restaurant.
"Over the years, customers tastes have kind of changed," said Romeo. "They're looking for more healthier fare." So while the menu offers Philly cheese steaks and fries, there are also salads, whole wheat-and-spinach wraps, freshly cut watermelon, and carrot-and-celery plates. "One of our most popular items is a portobello and mozzarella sandwich," said Romeo.
But Joey's is probably best known for its lobster roll. "We make a made-to-order lobster roll that's been sauteed in butter," said Romeo. "It's our signature dish."
Of course, in the end, ice cream is always a big seller at the beach and Joey's is no exception. "We sell a lot of soft serve," he said. "But Good Humor ice cream is always popular. The biggest seller is the chocolate eclair. I remember that back from when I was a kid."
A sea change in shoreline menus:
- Best place to feel like you're in the Caribbean: King's Kitchen, 1505 Pequot Ave., Southport Beach in Fairfield
- Kids' candy paradise: Jennings Beach concession stand, 880 South Benson Road, Fairfield
- Food with an international flair: Penfield Beach concession stand, 323 Fairfield Beach Road, Fairfield
- Beach fare with a healthy twist: Joey's by the Shore, 64 Compo Beach Road, Westport