Summer Lovin’: Outdoor Dining Season Begins

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

outdoor

The weather may not be cooperating just yet, but we’ve pulled out our tank tops and beach cover-ups and officially declared the start of the no-socks season.

To that end, we’ve got a round-up of the best al fresco dining we’ve found on the North Shore, followed by a list of several more we’re hoping to get to before Labor Day.

We’ve just begun compiling this list, so feel free to vote for your favorites from below or add any we might have overlooked. Please note that we’ve purposely left out clam shacks and beach-food places like Lime Rickey’s in Marblehead (we’ll have more coverage of lobster rolls, fried clams, and ice cream as the temperature rises) and a few places that have outdoor seating but may not meet our criteria for good food.

The Barnacle, Marblehead
It’s lunchtime on a sunny day, you’re sipping a bloody mary on the deck of the Barnacle and waiting for your fried clams—you’ve officially hit the seaside dining jackpot. The food at this unassuming pub is good, not great (stick with the chowder, the fried seafood, and the bloodys), but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer view than Marblehead harbor in the summer, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.

Jack-Tar, Marblehead
The patio outside one of our favorite pubs is small but charming, and the food is both comforting and reasonably priced. We’re fond of the generous drinks, the $3 to $5 tapas, and the pizza with pancetta and blue cheese (a selection of pizzas is $5 from 5:00 to 7:00 every night).

The Landing at 7 Central, Manchester
The pubby front rooms at the Landing are great for cozying up in cold weather, but make your way all the way to the back, and you’ll be seated on the comfortable second-story porch. The menu is large and varied, featuring everything from burgers and caesar salad with salmon or steak tips to pepper encrusted duck. We recommend the lobster omelet for brunch.

The Landing, Marblehead
This Marblehead institution is right in the thick of the summer action at the town landing on Front Street. Sitting out on the deck overlooking the harbor you’re likely to see anything from lobster boats unloading their catch to campers returning on the ferry from Children’s Island. As you’d expect the menu offers many summer seafood favorites; ours are the lobster roll and the baked scrod.

Rockafellas, Salem
The place to see and be seen in Salem in the summer, Rockafellas’ entrees are reasonable (honey glazed salmon is $16, bourbon turkey tips are $15), and there are plenty of tapas for those just needing a little something with their cocktails, including quesadillas and catfish fingers. If the wait at Rockafellas is long, there are several options for outdoor dining nearby, including Gulu Gulu Café, Fresh Taste of Asia (best dumplings on the North Shore), and the Lobster Shanty.

The Farm, Essex
Whether you are heading back from the beach hungry or just looking to savor a cold brew on a summer night, a brand new patio with live music and weekly specials like their 35-cent wing night make this new addition to the Essex restaurant scene fun central.

Grapevine, Salem
Sumptuous food is the attraction at this Italian gem, starting with tuna carpaccio over crispy flatbread and proceeding to rigatoni with braised veal or perhaps oven roasted swordfish with lemon-caper sauce. With only eight tables in the outside garden, the atmosphere is romantic and the service is top-notch.

Can’t Wait to Try:

The Lobster Pool, Rockport
This seems to the favorite among foodies for casual outside dining in Rockport. The straightforward menu of seafood (and homemade pie) implies a no-fuss-no-muss attitude, and we’re looking forward to trying the lobster roll this summer.

My Place By the Sea, Rockport
We’ve been hearing good things about the food at this upscale restaurant for years. From the pictures we’ve seen of the outside deck, this is the place to be on a summer night with your sweetheart.

Madfish Grille, Gloucester
Rocky Neck is one of those places that always makes us feel happy, and the Madfish Grille looks like just what we’re in the mood for when eating outside in the summer. Margarita shrimp, crab BLT, panzanella salad, grilled lamb, scampi pizza—need we say more? (Ed. Our review 9/3/09)

Plum Island Grille, Newbury
Creative cuisine and a fabulous sunset: sign us up. This island retreat is at the top of our list to try—if anyone has been recently, please leave your menu recommendations in the comments. (Ed. Our review 11/13/09)

Michael’s Harborside, Newburyport
The Newburyport waterfront is always hopping in the summer, and Michael’s is right in the thick of things. The menu says their lobster roll is famous, we hear good things about their burgers, and the balsamic brown sugar short ribs sound intriguing.

Danversport Grille and Bistro, Danvers
Quite a few North Shore residents have pointed us toward this restaurant, part of the Danversport Yacht Club but open to the public. The menu tends to classic dishes like chicken oscar and prime rib, and the view overlooking the inlet’s docked boats looks spectacular.

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Salem’s Lobster Shanty Is More Than Meets the Eye

Posted: May 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Lobster Shanty, Salem, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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After running some early evening errands in Salem on Friday, we passed the Lobster Shanty and decided to stop for a bite. A local dive bar lauded by Yelp-ers as the best place around to get drunk with your dog, the Shanty advertises “warm beer, lousy food, surly waitresses, rude bartenders and cranky cooks.” How could we not investigate?

The place is one of the tiny buildings in Artist’s Row, so the actual bar is relatively small, but what draws locals on summer nights is the good-sized patio area with free live music on weekends. We opted to sit outside and perused the very reasonable drinks menu, choosing a Belfast Bay Lobster Ale ($4.25) and a specialty cocktail, The Perfect Storm ($7.50), that turned out to be a tasty rum punch with a nice kick.

Along with the requisite boiled lobster and fried seafood offerings, the menu provides a wide range of choices, including grilled pizzas ($7-$9), gourmet burgers ($7-$10), and entrees ($13-$20) We got a chance to chat with executive chef Diane Wolf, who co-owns the Shanty with her husband, Lee. When they bought the place two years ago from the previous owner, she told us the menu was very limited, and she couldn’t resist having a little fun with it.

So while it boasts about limp salads and the tepid sodas, The Shanty’s menu actually reflects creativity and quality not found in your standard pub food; a burger dredged in sesame seeds and cracked black pepper and topped with gorgonzola, grass-fed Guinness-soaked steak tips, and side dishes like wilted spinach and bacon and grilled seasonal veggies. All of the seafood is bought from local fishermen, and Wolf said they make their own mozzarella.

We ordered the calamari ($10) to start, the lobster roll ($17) with a side of the spinach and bacon, and a fishwich ($7) with sweet potato fries and an extra side of pickled beets. The teenaged member of our party ordered the chicken tenders and fries basket.

The calamari was terrific, lightly breaded and very tender. Our only disappointment was that it wasn’t a larger portion—we inhaled it in short order. The chicken basket was pub standard, but the fries were salted with what looked like sea salt, a nice touch.

fishfriesThe lobster roll was what a lobster roll should be: chock full of meat, not overly dressed or seasoned, served on a toasted hot dog bun (we’re sticklers on that point). The piece of fish in the sandwich was good-sized, lightly breaded, and crisp. Our server, a smiling young man who answered to the name of Betty (!?), forgot the tartar sauce but was highly apologetic about it. The spinach and bacon was lovely, and the sweet potato fries were divine. Delicious and crispy with large flakes of salt, we would return on their merit alone.

In truth, there are many reasons to return to The Shanty. Yes, it’s a small unassuming place with some surly looking characters haunting the kitchen, but we found the staff genial, the food tasty, and the prices excellent. (Wolf told us that with an eye to the current economy, they’re staying with last year’s prices). With outdoor seating, music on weekends, inexpensive drinks and snacks as well as the more gourmet options, we’re thinking it’s a great place to chill on a summer night. Whether or not you bring your dog is up to you.

The Lobster Shanty
25 Front St. (At Artist’s Row) Salem
(978) 754-5449
http://lobstershantysalem.com

Lobster Shanty on Urbanspoon

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Down on The Farm: New Essex Eatery Shows Promise

Posted: April 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Essex, Farm Bar & Grille | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

ribs2When we drove into the parking lot of The Farm Bar and Grille, the new Essex eatery, at 6:30 last night, we were lucky to find a space. We wondered whether the jammed lot was because it was new, good, or simply the only neighborhood bar.  Inside, we realized there was something else we hadn’t considered: thirty-five-cent wing night. Yep, that’s right, Thursday nights at The Farm feature wings for just thirty-five cents apiece, and the sizable bar was packed with both young and old taking advantage of this deal while sampling the many beers available on tap.

We were seated in the dining room, which was about half full when we arrived and at capacity by the time we left. The room has a nice open feel to it with big windows, warm tones, vintage farm tools adorning the walls and a vast chalkboard filling the rear wall. This isn’t a quiet romantic dinner place; it’s a big boisterous family and friends place.

While the much of the beer selection was listed on the blackboard, when asked about wine our waitress said there was no wine list, but recited a handful of reds and whites. We opted to try a few of the brews and also ordered a Sidecar from the bar, which tasted oddly of Benedictine, so was likely made with B&B ifarm21nstead of brandy.

We felt compelled to start off with some of the wings, which required a minimum order of six and were available in buffalo, BBQ, or honey mustard. We opted for the buffalo, which were meaty, hot but not eye watering, and accompanied by homemade blue cheese sauce that was marvelous.

The menu was short and to the point, focusing on comfort food at very reasonable prices. There was no kids’ menu, but we were told that burgers and mac and cheese were available in less expensive smaller portions for children.

The burger ($9) was fresh and juicy, piled high with bacon but missing the cheese, which was quickly rectified. Also missing was a pear salad that never arrived, but truthfully we didn’t notice once the other entrees were served. The rack of smoked babyback ribs, ($22) were very impressive—a huge portion falling off the plate. They were tender and meaty, wet-style with a tangy sauce and excellent flavor. We also tried the grilled salmon topped with cilantro olive oil infused oranges. ($16) The oranges were unremarkable, without much cilantro taste, but the salmon itself was delicious. It was moist and rich, enhanced by the subtle smoky grilled flavor. The grilled seasonal vegetables were also quite good, especially the zucchini spears. All of the entrees were served with hand-cut french fries, generous and tasty.

Alas, we were disappointed when told that the restaurant had already run out of all of the desserts except apple crisp. However, when the junior member of the party ordered an ice cream, it arrived as a mini sundae, complete with whipped cream and a cherry.farm-sign

The Farm has only been open a week and the owners are still obviously working out the kinks, but they’ve got a lot going for them. With a great outdoor patio, weekend live music (no cover charge), plans for a volleyball court, horseshoe pits and a Richardson’s ice cream stand, they are positioning to be the destination for fun this summer. All we can say is that if they succeed, they’re gonna need more parking spots.

The Farm
233 Western Ave., Essex
(978) 768-0000
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Essex-MA/THE-FARM-Bar-Grille/61002762093

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