15
Jun-2013

Ruth & Wimpy’s serves lobster 30 different ways

Kohui and John Hutchins of Penobscot grab an early dinner at Ruth & Wimpy’s. John recently retired from building lobster boats. PHOTO BY CHARLES EICHACKER

At first, it wasn’t clear if Ruth was referring to her husband or the giant crustacean outside their place on Route 1 in Hancock.

“He got a facelift last year,” she said, smiling widely, as is her habit. Her husband didn’t seem like the cosmetic surgery type. Ruth elaborated: “Yeah, he got a new coat of paint.”

To her husband, their giant fiberglass lobster is a “she,” and he has his own story to let you to know she’s off limits.

“A van comes in, and I was in the shack working. Back then, she was beautiful,” Wimpy explained. This third “she” was actress Kirstie Alley, who was passing through the Downeast area at the time. “She pretty much wrote an open check for Wilbur, and I said, ‘No, she’s not for sale at all.’”

Ruth and Wimpy Wilbur are from Hancock and Waltham, respectively. Together they have been cooking lobsters out of their restaurant for 23 years. Even if they never settled on a gender for the lobster replica that local artist Joe Rizzo fabricated soon after they opened, they did agree to give it their last name.

Local artist Joe Rizzo fabricated the giant lobster claw nicknamed Wilbur. PHOTO BY CHARLES EICHACKER

Local artist Joe Rizzo fabricated the giant lobster claw nicknamed Wilbur.
PHOTO BY CHARLES EICHACKER

At Ruth & Wimpy’s Restaurant in early June, the summer rush still hadn’t arrived. Ruth and Wimpy both joked around with customers and wait staff, while great-grandkids hung around. Making both locals and out-of-towners feel like family does seem to be a part of the mission at Ruth & Wimpy’s, where every dish is made on the spot.

Getting his lobster from nearby Winter Harbor and cooking it all himself, Wimpy never turns down customers who arrive after closing, while Ruth will happily explain how to tell your lobsters apart, be them big or small, male or female.

But where Ruth & Wimpy’s really excels is in variety. They serve lobster 30 different ways, including steamed, stewed and on a roll, and offer options such as lobster “newfredo” and — befitting the far-ranging empire that is their menu — lobster Caesar salad. Of the traditional grill fare, steak and cheese and seafood fettuccine command particular loyalty.

The award for most eccentric goes to something not from the sea but the farm: the Fatty Patty, a half-pound piece of beef served with lettuce and tomato between two grilled cheese sandwiches. In the 15 years Michelle Rice has waited tables there, only one customer ever finished it.

That emphasis on variety extends to desserts, beer selection (40 kinds) and décor. In addition to receiving a new layer of paint, Wilbur is now joined by an old blue lobster boat that had belonged to one of the dishwasher’s families. Wimpy (whose nickname comes from the “Popeye” character) used to drive trucks, and the roadhouse spirit carries on with license plates, drag-racing trophies and die-cast trucks lining the walls.

Putting off the work of firing up his cookers, Wimpy made repeated claims that he’s getting too old for this.

“Young guys are all full of piss and vinegar,” he joked, flexing his arms. Once, the couple briefly listed their restaurant as for sale. Eventually they decided to hang onto it, although they have scaled back the hours of operation and close during winter.

But Ruth — a busybody who still runs the kitchen —called her husband’s bluff. “Wimpy sometimes says ‘I’m ready to retire,’” she said. “And I say, ‘you wouldn’t know what to do with your time!’”

Charles Eichacker covers the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Castine, Verona Island, Penobscot, Brooksville and Dedham. When not working on stories, he likes books, beer and the outdoors. [email protected]