Jane Stern: The food and drinks at Sono Seaport are laugh-out-loud delicious

Photo of Jane Stern

I am dining here by myself and getting looks from those around me because I am loudly laughing. When I came to Sono Seaport for lunch I did not count on having a public laughing fit, but it happened.

I have a friend who lives down south who always insists on eating here when she visits. Her reason is that at Sono she can order her favorite thing on earth: soft shell crabs. Every time I have dined with her at Sono Seaport they are out of soft shell crabs. My friend looks like a kid whose balloon has been popped.

The reason I am laughing is because soft shell crabs are featured on the menu today. I want to order one and put it in a stamped envelope and send it to her. I know this is a pretty lame thing to crack up over but it works today. I am in a silly mood.

As I am entertaining myself and imagining the postal rate for crabs I notice that almost every diner has a bowl of lobster bisque on the table. I crane my head to see why it is so popular. I am impressed. It looks great, thick and oceanic. Of course, I get a bowl of it and understand why this is a must have when you eat here. I will always get a bowl of it when I am here. After my soup course, I peruse the rest of the menu.

Sono Seaport

10 Water St., Norwalk

The menu is divided into interesting categories. The seafood is listed as “On Ice,” “Steaming,” “Char Broiled” and “Dipped, Dusted & Fried.” I like all of these ways to cook a piece of seafood but most of all I like fried. Scallops, oysters, shrimp, clams, every one a winner once dusted and hitting the hot oil, and of course there is the majesty of fish and chips. Today I order fried shrimp, although it is tempting to whisper in the server’s ear, “I want it all.”

The fried shrimp comes sided with tartar sauce, coleslaw and French fries. I don’t like most French fries. I have picked my way through too many that came straight from the freezer and were not worth the calories. I ask the server if I can substitute something and she suggests onion rings. When the shrimp dinner arrives I want to kiss her because as the onion rings are exceptionally good, sensational skinny, grease less and golden brown. What a happy and unexpected triumph. Who knew?

I keep my head swiveling to see what other people are eating. On many tables I see the hot Connecticut lobster roll, a big frankfurter bun packed to the hilt with large hunks of lobster meat. The lobster glistens seductively with melted butter and the people who ordered it all seem delighted. And so yes, this is my next course.

As I sit by myself looking at the maritime view I am suddenly transported from Norwalk to Cape Cod or Maine. Sono Seaport is located at an actual seaport, with boats and boaters. There is an indoor dining room and a large, capacious outside deck. The weather is lovely and I am sitting outside on the deck. On each weathered wooden post sits a seagull with knobby black knees. I love the sound of a screeching gull and the gentle lap of water hitting the sides of the boat.

Sadly, but not uncommonly, I have been to seafood restaurants with friends who hate seafood, and it is often uncomfortable. The kitchen can often scrape together a hamburger, but it is usually pretty lame. One thing that I like about Sono Seaport is they have a good choice of non-fish options. There is a spicy roast chicken with spicy South American chimi churri sauce, a juicy 14-ounce ribeye with roasted onions and a fine Asian salad of Napa cabbage and ginger dressing that comes with either steak or chicken. No matter what your dining companions like, they will be satisfied.

You will not see the long-suffering wistful expression of the person stuck with the hamburger while everyone else enjoys the bounty of the sea.

If I wanted to start laughing again like the village idiot while dining alone, I could easily get there with the tempting, long list of clever cocktails served. I find waterside dining very relaxing and sitting by the water, hearing gulls cry makes me want to get buzzed (not by the gulls, but by alcohol). I order a Regatta Rossa Lemonade, which combines hibiscus and grapefruit zest infused with Broken Shed Vodka and house-made lemonade. And yes, thank you, I would also like a Stormy Seas, which is vodka with chili liquor, a splash of orange and a muddle of club soda.

I have never been to a truly formal seafood restaurant (except for one insanely expensive and very famous one in Manhattan that made me feel like I was eating lobster in a funeral home). To me seafood equals casual and even sitting alone laughing to myself, or drinking two drinks at a time I do not feel strange. I don’t care what the gulls think and even if they think I am nutty, I can always buy them off with a few fried shrimp.

Jane Stern in co-author of the long-running Roadfood book series.