You want atmosphere? You want the real thing? Go to Boston's Fish Pier. Inhale. That's fish you smell, on their way from fishing boats to packing houses. Listen up above. Those are gulls you hear, swooping low, fighting it out with fishermen unloading their catch. (Yes, those are jet planes you hear, too, zeroing in on Boston's Logan Field: Fish Pier is directly below their flyway.)
Now look for this address: number 15 1/2. Anywhere near lunch or dinnertime, you will have no trouble locating it. Just find the long line of people, waiting to eat. They are a jumbled complement of hungry tourists, frugal locals, uncompromising seafood fanatics and roadfood adventurers marking time outside Boston's worst-kept culinary secret: the No Name Restaurant.No Name is its real name. There is no sign outside; none is needed. Every Bostonian who knows anything about good eating knows exactly where No Name is. It started many years ago as a luncheonette with a counter and a few tables, strictly for wharf workers. But word got out about its inexpensive, simple and irreproachably fresh seafood, and No Name expanded. There is still a dingy luncheonette counter for the locals and single diners. But most of us sightseers get seated in the new-and-improved paneled dining room with its nautical decor and picture-window view of the harbor.
The scene is energetic and invigorating. Tables are communal and crowded. Customers holler out their orders; waiters holler back, then practically toss the food at you from the kitchen. Help yourself to a paper cup from the stack on the table and pour your own water from the pitcher. Service is fast, prices are low and the menu is minimal.
You will want to start with fish chowder. It is elegant New England-style chowder: milky white but not too creamy rich, weighted with chunky spoonfuls of sweet-fleshed fish. There are not even any potatoes to impugn its purity. It's just fish, the snap of a salt-pork base and the sweet complementary dairy flavors of butter and milk, tingling with paprika.
Scrod, sole, bluefish, scallops, clams or salmon are your choices for a main course. Get the scrod broiled. It comes dusted with paprika on a faintly charred crust, in a pool of butter on a silver plate. The fish falls into great luscious hunks at the slightest prodding of a fork. Fried clams positively burst with marine sweetness. Portions are immense. An order of scallops yields three dozen. The clam roll sandwich spills over like a cornucopia. A salmon steak stretches the full diameter of its plate.
On the side comes pickly homemade tartar sauce and a fresh-cut slaw with a light, milky dressing. For dessert, No Name offers pie: inelegant, unmistakably homemade wedges of strawberry-rhubarb or blueberry. Get them a la mode. That's the fitting finale to a seafood feast, Yankee-style!
Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, Mo. 64141.
Potato-free New England Fish Chowder
2 ounces salt pork, diced
1 large onion, minced
4 cups fish stock or clam juice
2 pounds filet of haddock or cod
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
Soda crackers if desired
In a small skillet, cook salt pork until it is crisp and fat is rendered. Set aside pieces of pork and place 2 tablespoons of rendered fat in a soup kettle. Saute onion in fat over low heat until onions are limp. Stir in fish stock or clam juice.
Cut fish into large bite-size hunks and toss in soup kettle. Partially cover and simmer 3 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes. Add thyme, cream and milk. Stir well and heat through, but DO NOT BOIL. Float butter atop each individual serving, and dust each serving with paprika to taste. For starchier chowder, crumble crackers on top, too.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.