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Causing Mass. Hysteria

While waiting for our lunch at Boston's Fish House, we watched a line of customers snake into the folksy dining room. When we'd arrived, a few minutes earlier, there had been no such wait. Beginners' luck, our server informed us.

On most Sundays, the line stretches out to the front door, she said. But this was Super Bowl Sunday, and apparently many of the restaurant's regulars were quaffing a cold one elsewhere while watching pregame hype. Nevertheless, there were still more patrons than tables throughout our dining adventure here.

There's a system at Boston's. A sign directs you to the cashier's station (ordering counter), which is out of view when you first walk inside. Once orders were placed, drinks procured and payment settled, customers return to the dining room and are directed to a vacant table – if there is one. Unless otherwise requested, all the seafood at Boston's is fried. Ipswich calms are a house specialty.

Fortunately for us, our timing was impeccable and we landed a nice corner booth. Though nothing fancy, the themed surroundings were much nicer than those in cookie-cutter seafood outlets. The single, paneled dining room – decorated in nautical blue – features captain's chairs, Cape Cod curtains, an oar and harpoon, and framed prints of such New England institutions as Boston Harbor and Larry Bird. I especially noted the absence of fishy odor and grease so often found in small fish-fry operations.

Our meals – served on paper plates with plastic utensils – were soon presented by a cheerful service attendant who also bussed vacated tables. My New England clam chowder ($1.95) was delicious. Piping hot, with a wonderful hearty smoked flavor and more clams than potato, it was even better with a dash of salt. And my husband's sherried lobster bisque ($2.10) was even more outstanding. With an abundance of delicate lobster bits, the thick, velvety-rich soup was expertly laced with the distinctive wine.

Our main courses were inconsistent, although all of the seafood we were served was extraordinarily fresh. My Boston haddock dinner ($7.50) – another of the house specialties – was baked rather than fried. Crowned with a layer of bread crumbs, the fillet was bland but a dollop or two of the tasty homemade tartar sauce made it palatable. My side of rice pilaf was better than most.

My husband's seafood dinner ($10.50) was basically a fried combo platter. The batter was relatively light on the cod, shrimp, scallops, oysters (substituted for clams, which were unavailable that day) and onion rings. The scallops and oysters were especially good. We missed out by not ordering the side-orders of onion rings that we saw at other tables – they were piled a foot high.

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