Having just opened last month, the Sea Dog Brew Pub still has a temporary sign on its front. The restaurant group isn’t a newcomer to New England, however, with locations already in Hull and three communities in Maine: Bangor, Topsham, and South Portland.
According to Malden resident Jason Carron, co-owner and executive chef, the Massachusetts restaurants share a menu that is more upscale than its northern neighbors (part of the Sea Dog Brewing Company). In addition to Carron, formerly of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Boston, the ownership group includes entrepreneur Michael Crowe; Peter Lucido and Jeff Boisseau of the Greatest Bar in Boston; Aaron Sells of Altus Marketing & Management in Boston; and Michael Nedeau of Party By Design in Braintree.
“Across the board, we carry top-of-the-line meats and fish, and we have a great produce company,’’ Carron said. “We serve high-end food without being high-end.’’
When our four-person party visited on a recent Tuesday evening, the 37-seat lounge area and 75-seat dining room were about half full. The former site of Nickels Grille, the Sea Dog has an interior painted a deep blue in line with its nautical theme, and offers an unusually spacious waiting area with plush chairs and plenty of standing room. On the opposite side of the restaurant is a private room for up to 35 with television hookups and Wi-Fi, plus another function area that can accommodate 100 guests.
In addition to a wide selection of specialty martinis, wines, and 10 varieties of Sea Dog beer brewed in Maine, a Sea Dog Mug Club offers membership benefits including a 20-ounce numbered mug to be used only by the member. Families are welcomed along with the after-work crowd, however, with a children’s menu of chicken fingers, hamburgers, hot dogs, and mac-n-cheese (all $5).
After watching several overflowing platters of food pass by, we eagerly ordered two appetizers. We started with the marinated grilled chicken wings, a house specialty, which are available in Buffalo, teriyaki, and honey mustard versions. We stuck with the original version, which is achieved by marinating the meat for 24 hours in Sea Dog’s Old Gollywobbler Brown Ale.
The wings were served with crisp celery sticks and ranch dressing, which provided a welcome reprieve from the spicy chicken. In comparison, the fried calamari ($9) was oddly bland despite being served with a combination of jalapenos, arugula, and a generous drizzle of citrus ranch mayonnaise.
While tempted by the opportunity to build our own Sea Dog burger (regular beef and ahi tuna, $10; Kobe beef, $14; and veggie burger, $8), our party opted for some of the more sophisticated entrees.
The thick yet tender Cajun encrusted ribeye steak ($19) was grilled exactly to the diner’s medium specification and served with blue cheese butter and two marinated shrimp with a similarly spicy kick. The shoestring fries were appropriately hot and crunchy.
The brined pork chop ($16) was flavored with an apple cider glaze, giving the impression of a fancier version of the traditional grilled pork chop with apple sauce. It was served with well-seasoned, roasted red Bliss potatoes and surprisingly tasty peas, which had been sauteed with leeks, salt, and pepper.
The lobster spaghetti ($19), one of the restaurant’s top sellers, was a delicious concoction of pasta, artichokes, cremini mushrooms, and sauteed peas in a basil cream sauce with 5 ounces of knuckle and claw lobster meat — enough for a chunk in virtually every bite.
According to Carron, the pan-seared tuna ($18) with mushroom risotto (made with vegetable stock) was designed with semi-vegetarians in mind. Drizzled with wasabi beurre blanc sauce, the No. 1 grade fish was tremendously flavorful.
As a reflection of Sea Dog’s commitment to serving diners with other dietary restrictions, peanut oil is not used and gluten-free items are available.
“My son has a gluten allergy,’’ Carron said, “so as a parent, I know how frustrating it can be when people don’t pay attention’’ to special diet needs.
While Carron said he believes that the Sea Dog Brew Pub has the ingredients for success, he understands the importance of continual improvement. Within the next four to six weeks, for example, he said that desserts will be made in-house.
Currently, offerings include carrot cake, cheesecake, lemon berry cream cake, tollhouse cookie pie, peanut butter pie, and chocolate bundt cake, each for $6.
He also intends to carefully consider any constructive criticism that comes his way.
“We’re going to do everything we need to do to keep Sea Dog fresh, hip, affordable, and fun,’’ Carron said. “We’re hitting all the spots so we can be ‘the place’ for everyone.’’