Cooking Up Community: Scup’s in the Harbor
by Steve Holt
The Scup's experience is all about community. From the warm welcome received upon walking through the door to the seating around a common table, ownersWendy Saver and David Rockwood say their mission is simply to foster togetherness in East Boston around the world's great unifier: food.
"We noticed people don't sit around the table and break bread together anymore," Dave says. "It's an act of sharing that reinforces positive neuron flow. People walk out feeling good about themselves and others."
Human community at its purest transcends the boundaries of age, profession and socioeconomic status. By that measurement, Scup's gets it right, as one is just as likely to bump into an ironworker with grease under his fingernails as to a foodie visiting from Cambridge.
Oh, and did I mention that the food is great, too?
Nearly two years after opening its doors, the unlikely East Boston dining spot is turning heads and filling seats with its innovative takes on classic comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, tuna melts, savory soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, empanadas and one of the most unique and delicious brunch lineups anywhere.
Setting up shop in a working marina at the end of a dead-end street, Dave and Wendy depend on sending away satisfied eaters who return again and again and also tell their friends. But for many first-timers, finding the place can be a bit of a challenge.
First, you'd need to find East Boston. (Yes, people do live there.) Next, you'd need to make your way to the East Boston Marina, past a security guard who will ask where you're going, and by a number of looming warehouses echoing with radio music and industrial tools.
Another option for getting there is by boat, as Scup's is Boston's only restaurant where you can "dock and dine." The boatless majority can take the City Water Taxi from Long Wharf, though, letting the captain know you're coming to Scup's to receive a $10 roundtrip fare. By land or sea, get there however you can-Scup's is worth the hunt.
Drop in during the evening or on the weekend and you'll be greeted by boisterous and beaming co-owner Wendy, the public face of Scup's. Visit more than once and she's practically your best friend, treating every customer as if they were walking into her home, not just her restaurant. Her partner Dave, the culinary genius at Scup's, has created a daily menu and rotating assembly of specials that takes traditional comfort foods and kicks them up a notch with super-fresh and often homemade ingredients.
"When people say, ‘Oh my God, this is the best BLT I've ever had in my life,' it's basically a BLT," Wendy says, "But we got the best bacon we knew of, we added the basil, pesto and mayo that we knew would give it that much more flavor. And then it's not like we just slice tomato; we actually season them and roast them. We just take them to the next level."
Named after a dog Wendy and Dave rescued from Boston Harbor, Scup's opened its doors in 2008 to both anticipation and skepticism. How would a restaurant in a marina-in Eastie, no less-fare? It was only breakfast and lunch during the week at first, but brunch on Saturday and Sunday was what revealed their culinary genius and helped form a following of true believers. The scones, breads and sumptuous desserts (can you say chocolate espresso cake?) are a testament to the contributions of bakerThalia Large, who has become as much a fixture of Scup's as Dave or Wendy and is considered "part of the family." Dave's son, David III, even moved to East Boston in the fall, bringing his own talents to the Scup's kitchen.
When it's warm, patrons cram around three picnic tables on a small deck attached to the restaurant, many of them enjoying a post-meal stroll past the yachts to the end of the pier for some of the best city views anywhere.
The past two summers, Dave and Wendy filled planters and abandoned dinghies with tomatoes, peppers and fresh herbs, but last summer's late blight hit their garden hard, and they questioned whether they'd be able to plant this year. They were able to, however, which is good news for their fresh veggie-loving clientele. Dave says Scup's is so committed to fresh, local produce that they depended on the vegetable donations of customers with gardens during last summer's blight. The restaurant may soon be looking for an area farm to serve as its vegetable supplier. Scup's also serves New England beers and a smooth locally roasted coffee-most notably Pretty Things Beer out of Westport and Hogan Brothers Coffee out of Framingham.
Scup's has recently added dinner, beer and wine to its repertoire, and Dave built a new booth to accommodate the growing customer base. Catering requests-including several weddings in the shipyard-have been pouring in. Wendy says she is increasing the vegetarian options, and wants to cater the party boats in the harbor and "green" the restaurant. But she is most excited about soon playing host to set-price, reservations only, family-style dinners one night a week.
Dave says he owes much of the restaurant's success to this sense of community they've been able to foster.
"We're probably not the best business people in the world.We should probably charge more, have more menu items, etc.," Dave says. "But at the end of the year we don't base our success on the profit margin but on the connections we've made with people."
Scup's in the Harbor
256 Marginal Street
East Boston, MA 02128
Steve Holt is a freelance writer living in East Boston. He spends his weekends running, gardening, resting-and enjoying brunch at Scup's, of course. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.