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Catch of the day

Wren Wertin

When Eric Wuppermann headed out to sea on a lobster boat, he knew the men in the sea around him by their first names. Years later, he buys his seafood from those same men for Cranberry Isles Seafood Co. in Edwards. Chef and co-owner of the restaurant, Wuppermann still knows them all by name. So does his staff.

Cranberry Isles is a kick-back joint, meticulously clean but relaxed. It’s the sort of place you stumble upon, and then spend weeks congratulating yourself for finding. Those craving seafood will leave sated. Those looking for ambience are in the right place.

“I wanted it to be somewhere people could come in and be casual,” said Wuppermann. “Where they could sit in flip flops and shorts, and feel comfortable.”

If you want to jump-start your comfort level take my advice: Start with the rum punch. The West Indies-born chef got the recipe from his mother.

“What’s in it?” he reiterated my question. “It’s simple. Sour, sweet, strong, weak.”

The cloudy brown concoction is topped with a grind of fresh nutmeg and tastes of fruit and secrets, as all beginnings should.

Wuppermann designed his menu so people can share their food. More than half of the menu is described as small plates.

“The idea is people can come in and order several things,” he said.

He already has a reputation for clam chowder ($6). Rich with cream but not too thick, it’s the epitome of simplicity.

“It’s peasant food,” explained the chef. “It’s the easiest thing to make in the world, but most people mess it up by trying too hard. I’m not fancy. I like to make simple food.”

His chilled shellfish plateaux ($50) proves the point. Wuppermann’s rule of thumb seems to be: Buy the freshest seafood available and let it speak for itself. The dish could easily be shared by four, and comes with two tiers of saltwater treats. (Most everything can be ordered separately from the small plates menu.) Oysters on the half shell are icy cold and taste of the sea. A shredded crab salad is dressed with the merest drizzle of flavor, and the tuna tartar salad is spicy with a hint of sesame.

The scene stealer was the steamed shellfish plateaux ($20). It packs a wallop with clams, mussels, shrimp and tomatoes swim in a peppery, garlicky wine broth. A touch of pancetta completes the flavor.

Those craving a bit of meat can try the ribs, which would fall off the bone if the spicy honey glaze weren’t keeping them on.

While my husband and I were dining, nobody hesitated to ask fellow diners what they were eating. Inevitably, the table of folks would order one of the same. The small-plates set-up is well designed for such culinary curiosity.

Manager Christine Street has been on board since they opened. The stories behind the food and wine they serve are important to her, as evidenced in her descriptions of both. Ask for her food and wine pairing recommendations, or simply order the chilled plateaux and a bottle of Caymus Conundrum blend and call it good.

For Wuppermann, it all leads back to the lobsters. His piece de resistance is the steamed lobster, sent to him by the Cranberry Isles Co-op, the group of men he used to work with. On a shelf in the dining room are five buoys, each a different color signifying a different fisherman. The group leader is an old man named Warren, whose photo is also hanging in the restaurant.

“It’s good to have these guys that know us personally,” said Wuppermann.

The lobster arrives with all the accouterments – crackers, picks, bibs, bowls, butter and lemon. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as cracking the shell and easing out an entire claw of meat. The butter is unnecessary, as the meat is so rich.

“It’s pretty easy to make good food,” said Wuppermann.

And at Cranberry Isles, it’s pretty easy to enjoy it.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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