Growing up Catholic in Boston is was a given that on Friday’s we ate fish. To me the best place for fish on Friday’s was always Legal Seafood in Cambridge. Not the new swanky joint in Kendall Sq. I mean the old hole in the wall that was in Inman Sq. In 1968 the Berkowitz family took over a vacant space next door to their family market and made it a fish restaurant. Rumor has it that when the Pope said it was OK to eat meat on Friday’s the family was desperate for new business and had to expand or bust. The dining was no-frills, saw dust on the floors maintained that market feel. We had to pay for our meal before we got it and meals were served at white washed picnic tables, with white paper plates and plastic cutlery instead of silverware. But no one complained; the fish was superb, customers clustered together chatting, strangers and neighbors alike. That was part of the magic…The Fish and Clam chowder (Chowda) was and still is to die for ……..and everything else on the menu was fried (back before fried was bad) and we loved it with heaps of Ketchup and Tartar (ta da) sauce. You can always tell a great fish restaurant if the place never smells of fish. Julia Child lived down the street and raved about Legal giving it class with what we called the high mucky muck crowd….
In the 1980’s Legal’s business was booming and the growing company was two weeks away from opening a big new restaurant at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston. The Cambridge location I am told was stocked to the hilt with booze for the grand opening (Hmm tons of alcohol and saw dust). During morning of January 16th, fire broke out at the fish market/restaurant/oyster bar in Inman Square and it moved fast and burned hot. By the time the fire was extinguished, the building was a total loss.
Comedian Lenny Clark also from the neighborhood sometimes mentions that fire in his comedy act. It is important to mention that the Cambridge Fire Department was literally across the street from the Inman Sq. Legal Seafood. Lenny talks about the many strange things that happen in Cambridge and when referring to the legal fire he points out….
“Ya know if each of the fringing fireman on duty that morning, stood in the firehouse windows and whizzed in the direction of the restaurant, we’d still be enjoying Chowda at Legal’s in Inman Square today”. “God know those guys drink enough”.
I miss the old place and I miss the crowd…but I have to say…. the fire that burned Legal to the ground is the only thing that ever made it to smell little fishy to me.