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Jasper White's Summer Shack Brings the Traditional New England Clam Shack Concept to the Next Level Year-Round

New England Clambake from Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Fresh local seafood from Summer Shack. Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 11/27/2018.

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The traditional New England clam shack and summer go together hand-in-hand, but many locals and travelers also want to be as happy as a clam dining year-round at these local treasures. Why limit
classic New England coastal fare like Maine lobster, lobster rolls, fried clams, oysters and New England clam bakes under one clam shack roof for just one part of the year?

Fortunately, Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge and Boston, Mass., and at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., not only fulfills a seafood lover's dream 12 months a year, but also takes the dining concept to a level that surpasses many of the most heralded, beloved clam shacks in New England. The lobster comes from Maine, the clams from Ipswich, the oysters and scallops from Cape Cod, the calamari from Point Judith, R.I., and the produce from local farms. Most importantly, Summer Shack also brings a love of cooking from its owner, celebrity chef Jasper White and a staff of straight A students in the restaurant industry who expertly follow his vision. Sourcing locally means nothing if the food is not prepared with love, passion and skill and without a staff to serve to the customers in a friendly and welcoming manner. Summer Shack clearly goes way beyond the sea of many similar restaurants with a culinary summer wind that also warmly breezes into the fall, winter and spring with equally enjoyable dining experiences.

What It Feels Like To Be At The Summer Shack

Lobster from the Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass. Lobster from Maine at the Summer Shack. Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

At first, the flagship Cambridge location looks out of place being juxtaposed with a wave of apartments, an ocean of industry, and a boatload of non-stop traffic near a body of water named Fresh Pond. The only sign of a fish theme appears to be Alewife Station, but it turns out to have no relation to the herring species: This is a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway stop that features the Red Line going into Boston.

The hectic urban scene begins to change, however, when approaching the restaurant. A huge, cartoonish fisherman captain statue hints at a fun, family-friendly place.

Outside of Summer Shack restaurant in Cambridge, Mass.
Entering the Summer Shack in Cambridge.

Upon closer inspection before entering the restaurant, a partial list of "Awards & Achievements" sign suggests, though, something far beyond just another family seafood restaurant.

Summer Shack in Cambridge,  Mass., has earned many awards for its outstanding seafood.
The Summer Shack has received many accolades through the years.

Inside, the welcoming and cozy yet expansive dining and bar areas immediately take guests far away from the fast-paced city world right outside the restaurant and into a place that can only be considered quintessential New England. Raw oysters on ice -- and with signs specifying where locally sourced -- line the front bar to further introduce the regional seafood theme.

Oyster bar with locally sourced oysters at Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Locally sourced shellfish at the Summer Shack.

A lobster tank with Maine lobsters and huge orange-tinged lobster sign serve as centerpieces at the front of the main dining room, thus completely validating being in the presence of an authentic seafood restaurant. It's nice to be reminded, too, about being open year-round as evidenced by the sign to the side of the lobster tank.

Lobster tank at Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Lobster tank at the Summer Shack.

Summer Shack has been masterfully created for those who love the old-time seafood shacks but also want comfort, space and good ventilation (at some shacks, the smell of grease and old wood, as well as the seasonal drafty interiors can be unappealing). In addition to the lobster tank and oyster display, the main dining room features stone-like floors, ceiling fans, large dark-colored tables with blue and white checkered tablecloths and fake fish hanging on the walls. It's a fun sight with music like "Rock Lobster" by The B52s further creating a fun atmosphere for this culinary version of a love shack for all ages to enjoy.

Spacious yet cozy and fun dining room at Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Large but cozy dining room at the Summer Shack.

Summer Shack also pays respect to the Aku Aku, a legendary old school Chinese restaurant located here from 1968 to 2001. The dining tables from the Aku Aku remain, as well as a plastic Tiki God statue out front and a wall mural next to a commemorative plaque just off the dining room.

A wall mural remains from the old Aku Aku Chinese restaurant at Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Wall mural preserved from the Aku Aku days at the current Summer Shack location,

Today, however, Summer Shack has become a legend of its own:  This landlocked location unlocks one of the finest seafood dining experiences in the region and reduces the need to just focus on Cape Cod and Maine as places to find the best seafood restaurants.  Summer Shack holds a place amongst legendary seafood shacks -- quite noteworthy, given the restaurant was born at the beginning of the 21st century.

Summer Shack's Focus on the Food

The culinary magic begins right behind the lobster tank at the open kitchen. Chefs and cooks work hard and skillfully as a sign of passion for their profession and to please the customer. They also pay gratitude to the local fishermen who often put their lives on the line in the winter, as well as farmers and transportation specialists helping with the overall process of bringing food to the Summer Shack.

"The food here is love," said Vinny Lombardi, director of operations at Summer Shack in Cambridge and Boston. "So much goes into one dish. We have so much respect for the fishermen, farmers, the people who transport the food here and our staff that prepares and creates. We want to do service to the people who come here to eat."

Dell Leandro, head chef and culinary director at Summer Shack in Cambridge, loves his job and the results show in the final product. Here, Leandro starts to create Jasper's Famous Pan Roasted Lobster enhanced with bourbon, chervil, chives and warm butter.

Dell Leandro, Head Chef and Culinary Director at Summer Shack in Cambridge, creates a lobster dish flavored with bourbon, herbs, and butter sauce.
Dell Leandro cooks a pan roasted lobster dish at Summer Shack.

White first created the dish in 1984 at his former Jasper's restaurant at Boston's waterfront. The meal has gained an eternal second life at Summer Shack. It was Julia Child's favorite dish, according to Lombardi.

For a brief moment, the pan becomes so saturated with fire that the question lingers on whether the lobster will be burnt to a crisp or result in something of a masterpiece.

Pan roasted lobster goes through a fiery process at Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Blazing pan with lobster at Summer Shack.

No doubt the latter. Served with homemade cornbread and corn on the cob, the pan roasted lobster is, by far, this writer's favorite lobster dish in New England. The flavors combined with cooked-just-right tender lobster create a culinary heaven on earth for lobster lovers.

Pan roasted lobster from Jasper White's Sumemr Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Pan Roasted Lobster with corn on the cob from the Summer Shack.

All the hallmarks of a New England coastal summer meal for lunch and dinner on the menu continue at Summer Shack with traditional favorites like oysters, mussels, steamers, littleneck and whole belly clams, crab cakes, calamari, New England clam chowder, lobsters and crab legs, lobster rolls, fish and chips, sea scallops, shrimp, pan roasted haddock and east coast swordfish.

Fried clams from the Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Fried clams from the Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

"It's quality, not crap," said Lombardi, of Summer Shack's offerings. "The Boston Globe once did (for a story) a DNA test on seafood at many restaurants around here and found that a lot of the fish wasn't authentic and what it was advertised as. Everything here is authentic and accurate. Jasper spent all his money in the kitchen and fish room. I put our food up against any restaurant in the area."

State-of-the-art fish room at Summer Shack in Cambridge, mass.
State-of-the-art fish storage room at Summer Shack in Cambridge.

In true alignment with White's ambitious culinary visions, Summer Shack also offers meals that go beyond the simpler choices like  lobster corn fritters with lemon herb aioli, native bluefish with heirloom tomato salad, garlic roasted kale and brown rice and grilled local monkfish with a grilled summer vegetable salad, grilled asparagus and herb roasted potatoes.

"We print menus every day based on food availability," said
Vanessa Bitton, general manager at Summer Shack in Cambridge. "That's how fresh things are here."

Summer Shack doesn't relegate itself to seafood only, either. Summer Shack offers popular comfort foods taken to the next level like mouthwatering fried chicken with a scoop of potato salad, juicy half-pound burgers, tender aged sirloin and rib eye steaks and substantially served grilled cheese sandwiches.

Fried chicken with a scoop of potato salad from Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Fried chicken with potato salad from Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

"We don't push the seafood on customers," said Lombardi. "We know some customers want something other than seafood and we have some really good dishes for them."

Summer Shack also knows that a sector of the adults coming here look for drinks to complement their summer-style meals. Summer Shack comes through, big-time, with plenty of brews on taps, a Tiki Bar with colorful, flavorful drinks, and generally a full selection to please any adult beverage afficiando.

Beers on tap at the Summer Shack in Camridge, Mass.
Plenty of beer on tap at the Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

Couple enjoying scorpion owl at Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Scorpion bowl at Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

The meals arrive so substantially that many will not have room for dessert. If, however, the appetite can still accommodate more, Summer Shack offers some wonderful homemade desserts including this homemade sundae...

Ice Cream sundae from Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Ice cream sundae from the Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

"Doralicia," who comes from El Salvador, contributes significantly to Summer Shack with her gift for creating desserts and various baked goods including rolls, cornbread and pies.

"We saw her talent when she first came here," said Lombardi. "We put her in English and baking classes. She has become an important part of Summer Shack."

Why Jasper White Opened Summer Shack

Jasper White, owner of Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Jasper White, owner of Summer Shack. Photo credit: Dana Sills Photography.

Jasper White became a celebrity chef before celebrity chefs were cool.

A Culinary Institute of America graduate in 1976, White soon worked with famous Boston restaurateur Lydia Shire at renowned Boston restaurants like The Parker House and at dining rooms at The Copley Plaza and Bostonian Hotel.
In 1983, he opened Jasper's, an upscale fine dining spot (specializing in local fare) located at Boston's waterfront. White also wrote some popular books -- most notably Jasper White's Cooking from New England.

"At that point, Jasper was a huge celebrity chef," said Lombardi. "He had a huge following. TV shows. Books. There were not as many celebrity chefs then. He stood out and became highly respected."

White, however, closed Jasper's in 1995 to spend more time with his family. At the same, time, he had a vision to eventually start a restaurant that could bridge the gap between a fine dining restaurant with a spot that the kids would like. He thought of his own young children, at that time, and what they would like in a restaurant, according to Lombardi.

"Jasper has always maintained the highest standards and was not going to ruin his reputation by opening just another restaurant," said Lombardi. "He wanted to bring kids there, but also to never let go of Jasper's fine dining concept. He made Summer Shack kid-friendly and casual without compromising the food. He was definitely one step ahead."

Bitton also saw White's brilliant vision unfold and evolve.

"It's kind of like Woodman's (a famous seafood shack in Ipswich, Mass.) meets Jasper's with the environment closer to Jasper's," said Bitton. "There's a time and place for a clam shack -- when you are vacationing or on a day trip and after going to the beach. We provide that type of experience in the Boston area." That vision paid off as Summer Shack virtually became a go-to Boston area dining spot overnight with the Cambridge opening in May 2001. White's celebrity chef status certainly helped that cause, but ultimately sticking to high standards has brought customers from near and far to this 21st century restaurant landmark. Summer Shack's success in Cambridge led to openings at Mohegan Sun in 2001 and in Boston's Back Bay in May 2003.

As one example of Summer Shack's success, approximately 1,000 lobster rolls are served in a week during peak season at the Cambridge location.

Lobster roll from Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Lobster roll from Summer Shack.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

Staying open year-round also helps the cause and creates unique clam shack experiences. Let's face it, what other clam shack would have its celebrity chef owner building gingerbread houses with families during the holiday season?

Jasper White enjoys the holiday time with customers at his Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
Jasper White and families build a gingerbread house.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

A Positive Environment For Customers and Summer Shack Staff

A strong business mission at Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
A good sign, literally and figuratively, at Summer Shack.

Summer Shack brings a nice mix of locals and travelers who have nothing but praise for the restaurant.

"The Summer Shack was awesome," said Alexandra Rusconi who lives in San Diego, Calif. "I was on a business trip and decided to pop in after a long work day. My co-workers and I were very pleased and I remember Chris the bartender for his personality. Great place to eat and feel at home!"

Funny seafood sign at Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass.
A fun seafood drawing at Summer Shack.

"Great seafood, always fresh," said Carol Sandahl, a Walpole, Mass., resident.

On the employee side: In a field where a high turnover rate seems as plentiful as fish in the sea, Summer Shack refreshingly holds a high retention rate with many employees either being there from the beginning or for several years.

Bitton, a Lexington, Mass., native had ambitions of becoming a secondary education teacher and graduated from Lesley College, a teacher's college in Cambridge, to start her career. An interesting thing happened along the way, however: Vanessa worked at Summer Shack through her schooling and liked it so much that she decided to make a career of it.

"You have to do what you love and I enjoyed working here so much that I thought. 'Why leave now?'" said Bitton. "Everyone is so nice here. Jasper is a pleasure to work for. You get to know many of the customers.  I love it here."

Vanessa Bitton, general manager at Summer Shack, loves her job at the famous Cambridge, Mass. restaurant.
Vanessa Bitton, general manager at Summer Shack in Cambridge.
Photo credit: Summer Shack Facebook fan page.

Lombardi, a Revere and Saugus, Mass., native, worked his way up from a bartender to director of operations at Summer Shack in Cambridge and Boston. He expresses tremendous gratitude for the opportunity.

"Jasper is such a humble guy and great to work for," said Lombardi, who has worked at Summer Shack for 16 years. "It's gratifying working here. Everyone likes working here. People put their hearts and souls into working here. I am glad to be part of that."

Ultimately restaurants, in general, have to please the customer the very first time as there's no second chance to make a good first impression. Summer Shack does just that with a tremendous owner, chef and staff (Sal Chillemi, one of the all-time great, genuine waiters anywhere, has been at Summer Shack since the beginning), an ideal menu to please people of all ages, comfortable surroundings and furniture, and a memorable name and logo.

"It's like a Broadway production," said Bitton, of Summer Shack. "You have one chance to put on a great show."

Summer Shack is located at
149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA. Tel. 617-520-9500. Web site: Facebook fan page:

50 Dalton St., Boston MA. Tel. 617-867-9955. Web site: http://www. Facebook fan page:

Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville CT. Tel. 860-862-9500. Web site: Facebook fan page:

Summer Shack Twitter page:

Summer Shack Instagram page:

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Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge, Mass., is a seafood lover's dream come true with amazing traditional New England clam shack cuisine in a fun, family-friendly setting that is open year-round.

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