Everyone has, or at least needs, at least one truly local favorite joint in their lives, a go-to place for real, honest food served in a straightforward setting. I have a bunch of them in New York City, and I live and long to discover them elsewhere. Sometimes all it takes to discover a local favorite is friends who live in proximity to one of these gems. Our friends Tom and Vicky Kaiser have a house in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, a shore town an hour or so from Boston that's just north of New Bedford, and they turned me on to the Oxford Creamery, a truly undiscovered and unhyped local fave.
Just how under the radar is the Oxford Creamery? Jane and Michael Stern, my friends over at Roadfood, live less than two and a half hours from the Oxford Creamery, and they have written nary a word about it. There are two books dedicated to seafood shacks, The New England Clam Shack Cookbook and New England's Favorite Seafood Shacks, and neither mentions the Oxford Creamery.
Just what is there to discover at the Oxford Creamery?
Befitting its name, there's a zillion flavors of pretty good ice cream, frappes, freezes (can anyone tell me what the difference is?), milk floats, milk shakes (no ice cream), sundaes, and soda floats galore. I like the butter pecan most of all. The soft ice cream is not even as good as Carvel or Dairy Queen, and the hot fudge is a sludgy, overly sweet disappointment.
The fried clams are crisp, greaseless, and well-salted, and the roll they come in is toasted and buttered. The french fries are standard-issue frozen fries. The lobster roll is a great bargain ($9.95 with fries and cole slaw), and features moist and tender lobster meat mercifully not overcooked. The crab roll ($7.25) might be even better, full of sweet, not stringy crab meat. Burgers are thin with a nicely griddled exterior, though not particularly moist. And then there's cacoila, slow-cooked shredded meat Portuguese style that's meltingly tender if a little too lean.
When you walk into the Oxford Creamery, you'll be walking into a time warp. You'll be surrounded by local teenagers, families, and senior citizens who have known each other all their lives. Yet it's one of those magical local places that makes outsiders feel most welcome.
I'm not saying that the Oxford Creamery has the best ice cream or the best lobster roll or the best fried clams. It doesn't have the best anything, to be honest with you. What it does have is real, honest, and crazy cheap (adding cheese to any sandwich costs 30¢ and a cheeseburger is $2.75) local food served up in unpretentious style by welcoming people. It's what I hope to find in every town I pass through, and yet it's becoming increasingly rare. If the Slow Food movement wants to take up a cause in this country, then it should take up the cause of joints like the Oxford Creamery. Because my greatest fear is that one of these days, I'll get a call from Tom and Vicky telling me that the Oxford Creamery is no more, and a McDonald's is going in in its stead.
So if you ever find yourself driving to Cape Cod from either Boston or New York, stop for a bite at the Oxford Creamery. It's less than five minutes off Route 195.
Have you discovered an Oxford Creamerylike place? Do tell.
Address: 98 County Road, Route 6, Mattapoisett MA 02739
Notes: Open Easter through Columbus Day only