We heard about the latest outpost of the North Shore’s locavore movement from Ipswich friends who had made recent pilgrimages.
The Market Restaurant on Lobster Cove opened on Gloucester’s Annisquam waterfront in June. Its out-of-the-way location is easier to reach by boat than by car. One friend liked to motor over in his skiff from Essex Bay on calm weekend mornings (though, to his disappointment, the restaurant recently stopped serving breakfast and lunch).
The Market Restaurant looks like a typical New England seaside lunch joint, which is what the space used to be. The building sits on pilings over a boat-filled cove. Picnic tables are squeezed onto a narrow deck outside the nondescript dining room.
But this isn’t a typical lunch joint, and it’s not cheap.
The co-owners, who are leasing the space for the season, are a couple in their late 20s. Amelia O’Reilly and Nico Monday met while working at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and they have taken to heart the eat-local ethic of the restaurant’s cofounder, Alice Waters.
In an interview, O’Reilly summed up the approach: “If you use great ingredients, things that are fresh and seasonal — the perfect tomato, the perfect peach — you don’t have to do too much to them. You just enjoy food when it’s supposed to be eaten.’’
One result of this, O’Reilly said, is an ever-changing menu: “It forces you to be creative. You adapt to what’s available.’’
A map drawn on a chalkboard inside highlights some of the restaurant’s local suppliers: Fellows Farm and Russell Orchards in Ipswich, Gloucester’s Beacon Street Farm, First Light Farm in Hamilton, the Food Project in Beverly, bakers A. & J. King in Salem, the cheesemakers of Topsfield’s Valley View Dairy.
Compared with the offerings of most restaurants, the menu here is tiny. The Tuesday evening we visited, just three entrées and three appetizers were scribbled on a small card. Between the two of us, we ordered two-thirds of the day’s offerings.
An appetizer of gazpacho soup ($10) was made from heirloom tomatoes and a relish of summer vegetables. It was cool and fragrant, perfect for a warm summer evening outside. The other appetizer we chose was a plate of warm roasted peppers and tomatoes with anchovy and basil ($9) in a light but pungent dressing. The vegetables were tasty and not at all mushy. Nothing could be simpler, but it’s a hard dish to duplicate.
An entrée of local sea bass with wilted greens ($26) was an unusual treat. For years we’ve avoided ordering Chilean sea bass due to outcries about overfishing. The fish served here is from a nearby dock, not South America; that may be a reason, of course, for the high price. The fish, blackened on top, came with slivers of cooked onions in a tangy-sweet but thin brown sauce, which was delicate rather than overwhelming.
A serving of seafood chowder ($27) was a mix of fresh haddock and mussels in the shell with fresh corn and lobster butter. The dish was simple but filled with flavor. The chowder was served on a shallow dinner plate rather than a bowl. This showed off the ingredients, since you didn’t have to dig for them, but it also made clear that the serving size, as with other dishes here, tends toward the modest. Gourmands beware.
Dessert — there was only one that evening — was a brown cow ($5), the unpretentious macaroni-and-cheese of sweets: a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a plain mug of root beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Having heard the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license, we brought our own bottle. Bear in mind that there’s a $10 corkage fee.
In general, the prices here don’t seem to be scaring off diners; the restaurant was filled, or close to it.
Also, if you’re planning ahead, the restaurant will take a hiatus next month, closing from Sept. 15 through 20, and then shutter the operation for the winter on Oct. 15.
A small but telling hint that these chefs know what they’re about: our picnic table had no salt or pepper shakers. Nothing we ordered needed even a dash of do-it-yourself seasoning.
COCO McCABE and DOUG STEWART