Lincoln Plaza, 539 Lincoln Street, Worcester
When a restaurant is sited in the middle of a shopping plaza parking lot, well, anything is theoretically possible, but who expects very much?
That was my feeling as a friend and I raced through their entrance, narrowly escaping a summer storm whose cloud vortex looked like the hounds of hell unleashed.
Once inside, we left all that rage behind and were greeted, shown to a booth, and started to familiarize ourselves with the Hook & Reel concept. I took advantage of one of their many daily specials with a bargain-priced sixteen-ounce glass of Harpoon IPA while my friend ordered a frothy cherry-topped rum punch.
Their name leads me to expect finfish, and there’s some of that, but for the most part Hook & Reel’s specialty is shellfish. And while the menu includes Po Boys and a Pasta special, their heart is in Seafood Boils; various shellfish steamed together with add-ins and spices.
First, we started with the Crab Bite appetizer. What could go wrong with that? In my mind, a lot; there’s a world of culinary evils that attach to anything named ‘bites’. I was prepared for disappointment.
But this was destined to be an evening of surprises – several happy ones. First, the remoulade sauce: it tasted fresh and zesty and would be a respectable effort anywhere. Defying my expectation of breading balls tasting vaguely of seafood, Hook & Reel’s Crab Bites contained maximal crab meat, minimal binder and delicate crab flavor.
Setting the stage for our entrée’s, Ray, our server, removed a metal bucket from the table and lined it with a plastic bag; it was our personal trash bin for the seafood shells and other debris we’d soon generate.
He also restocked our supply of plastic bibs, seafood picks and wet naps. After leaving us for a few moments he returned in a flourish with our seafood boils: towering plastic bags knotted closed at the top, puffed up like jiffy-pop by the steaming contents within. Each bag was nestled over a wide metal pie plate. We opened our bags and dumped their contents onto our plates.
That’s when the delicious fun started. Forget forks, this is finger food of the messiest degree, so don a plastic bib – juices are gonna fly!
I had chosen the Cajun Boil with Old Bay seasoning, in part, because it seemed to be their specialty; I’d dialed mine in as ‘spicy’. In a regular boil one chooses from a dozen different shellfish; the Cajun comes with crawfish, mussels and shrimp plus creamy-soft red bliss potatoes and a half-ear of corn.
Seafood lovers, dig in! Lovers of big flavor, rejoice! Each mussel came packed with spicy old bay seasoning; the shrimp, I didn’t bother to count them, were sheared of heads, and only required a quick peeling to get to their thick juicy meat. Of course, there was much less tail meat in each of the deep-red crawfish, but there were so many of them I got my fill.
Halfway through all this my lips were tingling with spicy heat that I relived with my glass of Harpoon and glasses of ice water. I filled the trash bucket with all the paper napkins I used to continuously wipe my sticky fingers. Which is all to say: this place is Tasty Fun!
My friend had chosen the ‘Awesome Weekday Special’ which featured a cluster of crab legs he combined with cherrystone clams and shrimp. Into the boil they added potatoes, hard boiled eggs, corn and served it with steamed rice.
I find those long spindly crab legs to be a lot of work with little reward but, armed with one of Hook & Reel’s plastic picks, he seemed to tear through them and eagerly enjoyed each morsel of crabmeat.
As with my mussels, his cherrystone clams were in-shell fresh. What really set his seafood boil apart, though, was its drenching in a sumptuous garlic butter sauce. I crave garlic and this was exceptionally delicious! Creamy with butter and studded with big bits of softened garlic, I mashed my steamed potato into it and loved every bite.
By the time I’d finished my meal I’d attained that rare state of shellfish satisfaction. But how do I go back into the world with my hands coated in spicy salty seafood juices? Wetnaps alone wouldn’t suffice. For this purpose, Hook & Reel has wisely installed washdown stations in the reception area.
With at least 50 locations nationwide, Hook & Reel has a great formula going and knows how to execute it: affordable fresh seafood, attentive service, and an explosion of flavor you’ll talk about for days.