Fish baked with buttery crumbs is such a plain and homely dish it will never reach the iconic status of lobster roll, or even fish chowder. The baked fish is white, the crumbs are white, perhaps a little golden here and there after baking, and there’s nothing remarkable about the dish. But you get the fish in all its glory with very little to detract from the briny ocean taste.
That’s what makes it wonderful. It doesn’t have the appealing dark crispness of fried seafood, no sauce to speak of, just the boned fish, its crunchy topping, and a mild lemony flavor if you squeeze a wedge over it.
The restaurant beside Captain Marden’s Seafoods, called Captain’s Table & Take Away, does the simple fish better than I’ve had it anywhere. Marden’s is the fish purveyor to many restaurants and sends trucks around the suburbs with its seafood.
Haddock with a buttery crumb topping is one of the many things done well at this pared-down spot, where time has stood still. The decor in the 62-seat restaurant has a ’50s look, and the efficient service includes giving you ketchup and tartar sauce in small, covered plastic containers. But the fish is juicy and flakes with the touch of a fork, cooked just to the point of doneness and not a second longer.
The old-fashioned presentation includes two sides — fries, slaw, rice, the vegetable of the day, or lettuce and tomato – and after 4 p.m. you can get a baked potato. You’ve got till 9 to dine; there’s a BYO policy.
The Captain’s platter, which is my favorite, comes with haddock, scallops, and shrimp, all with toasty crumbs ($19.95).
If lobster roll is on your mind, it’s bulging with pink knuckle and claw meat in a light mayo dressing, heaped into a buttered and grilled top-loading bun.
Most fish here emerges from the kitchen fried or broiled. Fish that goes into the broiler, explains manager Mark Tosches, is first set on top of the flame until it’s almost done, then slid under the element to brown the crumbs, which are made in house and buttered slightly. “The broiler oven is really hot,” he says. “Fish cooks without losing moisture.”
Captain Marden’s Seafoods was founded in 1945 by Captain Roy Wilfred Marden, a master mariner, who handed it to his son, Keith. It’s now owned by the Captain’s grandchildren, Kim Marden, and his sister, Nancy Goodall. The restaurant opened as a takeout shop in 1985 and expanded later.
After years of serving fried fish to most customers, says Tosches, the restaurant now sees the majority ordering broiled or grilled seafood. Make mine broiled haddock, scallops, and shrimp.
“Haddock is the cream of New England seafood,” he says. He thinks many customers have a childhood taste for it.
279 Linden St., Wellesley, 781-235-0860, www.captainmardens.comSheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.