Fishermen's old haunt is once again shipshape
Maddie's Sail Loft
15 State St., Marblehead
Hours: Open seven days, 10 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted
Not handicapped accessible
For 62 years, bartenders poured drinks with a heavy hand, and you could grab a cup of chowder or a plate of fried fish at Maddie's Sail Loft in the Old Town section of Marblehead.
But last January, the lights went dark in one of Marblehead's most popular watering holes, and by the time spring rolled around, locals figured it had become just another victim of the souring economy.
And then on a visit to Marblehead, Loretta Lang, a former Michigan schoolteacher, had an epiphany. Lang, who grew up helping out in her father's bars, always figured she'd get into the family business.
After a quick glance at the place, she decided to breathe life into what many in town considered an institution.
If you're up for a history lesson and want to begin to understand the sociology of how important the fishing and boating industry was to Massachusetts, then make time for a trip to Maddie's.
It opened after World War II and quickly became a favorite haunt for Old Town's residents and its fishermen. Above the entrance on the first floor, you'll find more than a dozen plaques dedicated to regulars who braved the Atlantic to bring home fish. Inside, you'll find more plaques bearing the names of locals, along with paintings of boats and a poster from the Great Race: a competition from Watertown to Marblehead, that was conceived at Maddie's, where people raced from land and sea.
If you visit, start at the bar - and if you're feeling thirsty, order the house special, the thunderdome ($6), a champagne and vodka beverage.
When you're hungry, make your way upstairs where there is another bar and a dining room of booths and tables that seats 124. Last week, we arrived around 5 for dinner and were personally served by Lang, who said business has been better than she ever expected. She has tinkered with the menu, adding more fish and salads to the roster and cutting back on the fried offerings.
For appetizers, we decided on green salad ($6), Caesar salad ($6), and onion rings ($4). Of the three, the green salad was the most memorable. It included fresh spinach, mesclun, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and a red wine vinaigrette. This was superb - light, textured greens that proved to be a nice balance to the thick cut, lightly battered onion rings.
The rings, not your regular fast-food fare, were heavily spiced and had a smoky aftertaste. While the Caesar salad seemed bland, overall this was an excellent beginning.
For entrees, we ordered baked haddock ($16) - still one of the most popular dishes at Maddie's - along with roasted salmon ($16) and fish and chips ($17).
All the entrees arrived hot, always a good sign that the kitchen and staff are working together. The haddock was perfectly flaky and moist, lightly topped with bread crumbs, and served over sauteed spinach and sage mashed potatoes.
The salmon filet was equally delicious. But its accompanying butternut squash risotto - which offered a delicate sweetness and balance to the fish - was the star of the offering.
Fried fish is not always the best choice on the menu, but the fish and chips exceeded our expectations. Lightly fried, with a burnished gold finish, the eight-ounce cut of haddock was crisp, juicy, and delicious. The fries were crunchy and peppery.
Lang said she will continue to change the menu and is open to requests from regulars. She says many of the old-timers have returned, bringing their stories and daily musings to the bar and restaurant.
The town is richer for their words and for Maddie's food.