23 Plum Island Boulevard, Newbury
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. -9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
The food at P.I. Beachcoma is good but not earth-shaking — or so we thought. We were tucking into our appetizers when the whole place shook, rattled, and rolled. And there wasn’t a big truck going by or anything.
The casual Plum Island restaurant’s motto is “Shake off the sand without shelling out your wallet.” Well, the earthquake in Maine last week shook every table and glass in the place. As soon as it stopped, a lively communal feeling took over the bar and dining room, with texts from friends arriving on many phones and an epicenter map popping up on the big TVs.
“We had a hurricane party last year,” our waitress said cheerfully. “Now we can have an earthquake party.”
Up until then, things were pretty quiet Tuesday night, with a decent bar crowd, but almost no one in the dining room. A midweek night in October isn’t peak time for this brightly painted spot only steps from the beach, although it often fills up in the summer. The food is worth a visit anytime.
This isn’t high-end dining, like the Plum Island Grill just up the road, but a funky little place that offers a more family- and wallet-friendly option for locals. (It’s formally known as the Plum Island Beachcomber, although “Beachcoma” is what it says on the sign and the menus.) A restaurant first opened on the site in the 1950s, but had been closed for years when it was reopened by the Pugh family in 2011.
It had been a very long day when we rolled in, even before the quake, and a Stella Artois draft ($4) and a Knob Creek bourbon on the rocks ($8) were just right. The mood was welcoming, upbeat, and easygoing.
For an appetizer, I went for a plate of fried calamari with Cajun aïoli. The generous portion of rings and tentacles was well worth the $12 and the rings were delicious, although some of the tentacles were a little overdone.
The aïoli was good, but could have been even spicier. Anything Cajun should be hot enough to be divisive.
My wife decided at the last minute to keep me company with some onion rings ($5), which were thin, lightly breaded, and delicious.
Her entrée was the plate of the night. We won’t comment on the idea that these were The Best Ribs we’d ever have, as the menu claims. (We lived in barbecue-centric Chicago for a decade.) But these were pretty great, no-silverware-required tender, sweet and spicy, and a generous half-rack for $15.
I went for the $12 Holy Smokes cheeseburger, 8 ounces of Angus beef, with cheddar jack cheese, bacon, and a chipotle smoked barbecue sauce. My vague request for “not rare, not well done” produced a nicely pink burger. The accompanying fries were thick with plenty of skin on and tasted like potatoes, not just fry oil. A glass of Sterling cabernet ($7) from the short wine list went along nicely.
The menu also includes an $8 Caesar and other salads that can be customized with chicken, steak tips, and the like for an upcharge, as well as fish tacos ($11), ginger-soy steak tips ($13), and wraps. There’s pizza, a kids’ menu, a specials board, and takeout service.
Dessert? Uh, blurrrgh. We were way too full — blame those onion rings — although we have heard good things about the $7 cheesecake.
So we didn’t sample the sweets. But we did enjoy the tropical yellowy-orange and blue color scheme in this humble cinderblock spot right by the road.
The summer-party feel was kept up by the nautical charts and art on the walls, and the Bob Marley/Jimmy Buffett-intensive playlist with the occasional “American Pie” dropped in.
When it was time to go, we would have preferred the waitress take our plates and deal with our doggy-bags, but we got to-go boxes brought to the table to pack up ourselves. The extra napkins we’d asked for came in handy.
Around that time, proprietor Gregg Pugh passed by to check, jokingly, if we made it through the earthquake OK. I mentioned aftershocks, and we kidded around for a moment. Then he realized “Aftershock” was a great name for a drink special, and went off to talk to the bartender.
It’s our kind of spot.