‘S‘ Marks the Spot

‘S‘ Marks the Spot

The beachy corner where Stowe’s Seafood sits seems like it’s slipped out of time. The surrounding streets are residential, with shuttered motels and restaurants hinting at the former glory days of West Haven’s Savin Rock. The waters of the Long Island Sound lie directly ahead, with a narrow strip of sand and beach roses between.

When I visited at 9 a.m., it was still sleepy. But not for long. Soon, the line would be reaching out the door of Stowe’s, made up of locals and those in the know. It’s long been a New England seafood destination, with roots dating back to 1927.

Wayne Capone grew up helping at his grandfather’s seafood business, the original Stowe’s Seafood, a fish market and restaurant that was situated nearby on Bayview Place. When Wayne and his wife Karen revived Stowe’s in 1980, it was as a fresh fish market. “I still deal with wholesalers that dealt with my grandfather,” Wayne says, adding that it’s important to have a personal relationship with fishmongers since the supply of fresh fish is so limited. “But they liked my grandfather, so after close to 40 years I have a rapport with them.”

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According to Wayne, supermarkets compelled the change to a restaurant, when they started running seafood counters, drawing away business. Facing bankruptcy, the couple decided to put in fryers to produce ready-to-eat seafood.

The rest has been history. And Stowe’s has a lot of that.

The sea and the Stowe family, of which the Capones are a branch, go way back, I’m told. “There was a crewmember on the Mayflower who was a Stowe. There was a pirate Stowe—Gentleman Stowe, they called him, and he was out of Nova Scotia.”

The decor riffs on the family history. The inside of the building is like a ship’s cabin inhabited by a kitsch-loving buccaneer. The walls are plastered with Pirates of the Caribbean posters, and there are more skulls and crossbones than you could shake a tibia at. Alongside the gleeful pirate theme are vintage advertisements and the sign from the old Stowe’s on Bayview.

People bring sailing and pirate stuff and donate it to the walls, everything from stickers to harpoons. “People say that you can stay here for two days and never see everything,” Karen says. “Over the years I’ve had two young guys come in with big boxes of all nautical stuff, and they’ve said, ‘I’m getting married, I’ve got to get rid of it,’” Wayne adds. One man requested his gear back should his relationship fail.

For such a small space, the kitchen at Stowe’s produces a surprisingly large range of dishes, from gumbo to stuffed clams to seven kinds of seafood rolls. But Wayne says the most popular orders are the “boats”—fried seafood atop french fries or coleslaw—and the lobster roll.

I tried his personal favorite, the Cod Boat ($12) with fries, which offered several generous slices of cod covered in a crisp coating on a bed of thick-cut potato sticks. It was superior fish, firm and fresh, with a squeeze of lemon the only seasoning desired. The Shrimp Boat ($12) was similarly delicious, with tender shrimp battered in a breadcrumb-flour mixture fried to a crisp.

The standout for me was the Clam Boat ($12), which delivered craggy twists of clam that were satisfyingly crunchy and briny. This is where Stowe’s housemade dipping sauces really shined. The cocktail sauce had a sharp horseradish bite, while the creamy tartar sauce was speckled with capers.

The all-around favorite, according to Wayne, is perhaps the purest emblem of a New England summer: the Lobster Roll (market price), featuring a mound of lobster heaped on a crisped split roll soaked in butter. The meat is prepared to order, he says, in a skillet with clarified butter.

Many of Stowe’s employees are family and friends, and even their hours seem like a callback to an earlier era. “I close at seven o’clock

, even in the summertime, even when it’s gorgeous out,” Wayne says. “I’m not going to ask these guys, ‘I want one more hour.’” Otherwise, Stowe’s is open year-round, even during the unbeachy winter months.

Now that summer’s here, Stowe’s sails are catching wind, and treasure-seekers are still finding gold.

Stowe’s Seafood
347 Beach St, West Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-6pm
(203) 934-1991

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

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