Neptune Oyster, North End, Boston

Posted on
Sep 19, 2012

The lobster roll at Neptune Oyster.

I’m always up for a bit of decadence. You don’t get hips like mine from being restrained.

But there’s the everyday sort of decadence (which involves a bit of cake with breakfast, and a bit with lunch, and hell, some with dinner, too) and then there’s the once-every-few-months-or-my-heart-will-suffer kind of decadence. And Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End falls into the latter category.

After a meal there, I looked at my husband and declared myself in need of a shower and a cigarette. And I don’t even smoke.

Like the Duck Tours, Neptune came at the recommendation of our pal Ryan, who I’ve since declared purveyor of all guilty pleasures and a bad dietary influence (I mean this in the best way possible).

We met at Neptune at 12:30. There was a massive crowd, but we were seated pretty quickly – only a 15 minute wait or so. But – hey, fifteen minutes can seem like a long time, so some of us might have had a pre-lunch cannoli. Again, I blame Ryan.

Fact: even though we had JUST had breakfast, and were minutes away from lunch, I started devouring that damn cannoli until I looked up, powdered sugar smudged on my cheeks and screamed, “WHAT AM I DOING?” before running away down the street. #truestory

Neptune is cramped and lovely. Though you are packed in like sardines (which, by the way, are available on Thursdays), the restaurant is covered in cool white tile, which helps stave away any feelings of claustrophobia. It’s clean and a bit chilly – and smells strongly of seafood and lemon.

If you don’t like shellfish, or are a vegetarian, be warned: this is not the place for you. Even if you don’t order it (which is hard to do; virtually everything on the menu contains seafood), it will be mere inches from your face.

For me, though, it was positively heavenly. We began with raw oysters. All meals should start thusly.

They tasted like the sea.

Rand and I decided to share our entrees, since we’d just eaten breakfast, and accidentally devoured street cannoli a mere 10 minutes prior (note to self: “street cannoli” sounds positively dirty). I ordered the octopus gazpacho (which was technically an appetizer) and he got the heated lobster roll. We erroneously thought we’d be able to finish all of it.

Traditionally, lobster rolls are served cold and heaping with mayo. This is somewhat horrifying to Rand and I (neither of us are fans of the pus-colored condiment. It’s one of the shared views that helps make our marriage strong). So when we found out that Neptune had a hot version, smothered with melted butter instead of mayo, we were all for it.

There were fries, too, but our attention was on other things.

What we did not realize is that the roll would be positively soaking with rich, creamery butter. So much so that the soft grilled bread fell apart when we tried to lift it. We ended up digging in straight with our forks and fingers.

And though I usually eschew sandwiches after they’ve lost their structural integrity, I was not at all unhappy about this:

“My finger tastes of lobster, and so I will eat it.”

My gazpacho was a nice, tart counterpoint to the buttery sandwich. It was cool and smooth and velvety. The waitress assured me that there was no cream in it, but I found this hard to fathom. It felt like a quart of full-fat milk had been poured in there.

When a place can make chilled veggie soup seem rich, that is no small achievement.

At the center of the soup was an island of tender octopus pieces, paired with heirloom tomato halves, and dusted with paprika.

After our meal, we somehow left the restaurant, despite barely being able to move, and heaved ourselves down the block. As we walked, I voiced my desires for a cigarette and a shower. A few people attempted to chuckle, despite their full tummies. Someone merely burped in reply.

And when I realized that neither a shower nor a cigarette was in my immediate future, I contemplated another cannoli. Because if you are going to jump into the deep end of decadence, you might as well make big splash, right? (And let’s face it: with my hips, big splashes are the only ones I can make).


Tips for visiting Neptune Oyster:

  • I suspect this place gets mobbed on weekends, so you’ll want to try an early or slightly late lunch on a weekday. We were there at 12:30, and it wasn’t too long of a wait (and when we passed by at 11:30, which is right when they open, there were plenty of empty tables). Note: they don’t take reservations, and they won’t even put your name on the list until your entire party has arrived.
  • This place is not cheap. Our sandwich was a staggering $25. And my soup was close to $20.
  • There’s no kiddie menu, so unless your little ones are hardcore foodies, you might want to skip this place.
  • If it is at all humanly possible, consider saving some room for dessert. Modern Pastry is just down the street, and it’s absolutely worth a visit.

Leave a Comment

  • Molly

    Looks wonderful, I haven’t lived in Boston for 5 years and I cannot tell you how much I miss the North End. DC doesn’t have decent Italian restaurants, let alone a single Italian pastry place. NOT A ONE.

    Though I think Modern is the better of the two, I think its worth giving a shout-out to Mike’s Pastry, which is the more famous of the pastry shops in the North End. It’s a tourist hot spot, which means that the lines are unconscionably long, but it’s fun.

  • Ha! Love the caption on the second picture…in fact, I think you described me in a similar scenario, whenever I see a bakery or a new pastry product.

    Because if you are going to jump into the deep end of decadence, you might as well make big splash, right? Yes! 🙂

  • I SECOND WHOEVER MOLLY IS AND EVERYTHING SHE JUST SAID! Took the words RIGHT out of my mouth. Er… keyboard.

    I recently moved to DC, and while the city is teeming with delicious Middle Eastern kabob places and hole-in-the-wall-authentic Salvadorian food, I have not yet found any semblance of an authentic, good Italian restaurant, let alone a pastry shop! My family is from Boston and whenever I am back to visit, Mike’s Pastry is a must-eat. Regardless of where we go to dinner in the North End, I always skip dessert and opt for a trip to Mike’s afterwards. NOM!

    I’ve also always wondered why lobster rolls have mayo dressing all over them. Isn’t lobster supposed to be delicate and dipped in butter? The mayo never made sense… why treat it like a can of tuna?

    PS: If I’m back in Boston for Thanksgiving, I’m requesting to go on a duck tour.

    • Molly

      Hi 🙂 Welcome to DC! I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who mourns that lack of decent Italian. I occasionally have fantasies about opening a pastry shop, seeing as there are so many New England transplants down here. At the very least it deserves a food truck or pop-up.

  • Jen

    Writings like this make me want to be a foodie, but I don’t have a wallet deep enough. My husband and I eat at local restaurants like that once a year–on our anniversary.

  • Growing up in Maine, we would NEVER buy seafood in Massachusetts. (Because Maine lobster is where it’s at.) But I also hate mayonnaise, so perhaps that buttery lobster sandwich would be worth it.

    It’s a tough call, I’m not sure if my Maine pride or my hatred of mayo would win out in the end…

    Your post is very convincing though, so I think I’d probably go for the sandwich.

  • De

    Welcome to Boston! I’ve been in Boston most of my life and I have yet to try Neptune because of the scary waits. This summer I had a serious hankering for lobster rolls and made my way up to Portland, ME. If you ever make your way up there you should check out Fisherman’s Grill. It’s a hole in the wall but the lobster is just pure chunky lobster meat with the slightest hint of mayo. You won’t be in fear of a clogged artery with this bad boy.

    Happy Travels!

  • I love lobster rolls. I am putting this place on my need to visit list.

  • A.E

    I’m gonna be a Karma whore and post this on Reddit.

  • OH YUMM! nuff said.

  • Last week I walked through the North End in Boston and didn’t stop for a meal—or even a street cannoli. Dumb. Dumber. Dumbest!!!!

  • Damn. I started nibbling on my computer screen after this one. Wonder if that’s covered under the warranty?

  • Oh all these pictures…to die for. Can’t get anything like that in Bavaria, sob.

  • Neptune Oyster is beyond amazing! It has been precisely 1 year and 5 months since I was last there, and I still remember that beautiful, succulent lobster roll like it was yesterday. Oh, that glorious butter! I miss it now. Great post on a great restaurant!

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