There's nothing that defines New England summers more than fried clams, lobster rolls, and fresh, cold local beer.
In Boston, we're blessed with this type of food up and down the coast. Most people think of Cape Cod when summer comes around, and the traffic down to the "Cape" during summer weekends is notoriously brutal.
There's another slightly quieter cape that's just as charming, has plenty of delicious seafood, and is definitely less stressful to get to than Cape Cod.
This is Cape Ann, a much tinier cape just 45 minutes north of Boston that includes the towns of Rockport, Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich.
Last week I had a chance to visit a number of highlights in Cape Ann as part of a tour organized by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. It was a fun food (and beer!) focused exploration of what the region has to offer.
Stop #1: Ipswich Brewing Company, Ipswich
Ipswich Brewing Company is located right in the heart of Ipswich. In fact, I took the commuter rail from Boston to Ipswich ($8, about 53 minutes) and was able to walk to the brewery in 5 minutes.
The company just recently moved into this new building in December 2013. What I found most interesting about Ipswich Ale is that it not only makes its own line of beers, it also makes beer for other companies.
It's a contract brewery.
Founder and president Rob Martin explained to us how it worked. Basically, Ipswich Brewing Company offers various of levels of contract brewing services. On the most basic, hands-off level, a beermaker can just come in, rent the equipment, and do everything himself.
On the other extreme, a brand could come to Ipswich Brewing Company and ask them to create a beer for the brand. The brand would market and sell the product but would let Ipswich Brewing Company take care of the beer making.
And then there's also everything in between. They can consult as much or as little as you need.
While we were at the brewery, we had a chance to try a variety of beers from Clown Shoes Beer, a small local company that makes all of its beer at Ipswich Brewing Company. My favorite from the tasting? An IPA called Galactica.
The tour was educational and fun. In the back of my mind I kept wondering, wouldn't it be fun to partner with them to make a beer for Tiny Urban Kitchen? Ha ha . . . just kidding.
The brewery is not open to the public for tours right now, but they are in the process of building a restaurant in the space. Soon, guests can come and enjoy great food while sampling lots of beers on draft, including experimental brews!
Stop #2: J. T. Farnham's Famous Fried Clams, Essex
Our next stop was in the town of Essex. Essex is home to several famous fried clam shops. During the first part of the tour (which, unfortunately I missed because I had to work), the group stopped at Woodman's of Essex. A couple hours later, we stopped at J.T. Farnham's.
One very unique thing about J.T. Farnham's is its location. It's situated right on the edge of a salt marsh, which means you can sit on these wooden benches and stare out at this beautiful view.
It's relaxing and so pretty.
Inside, the set up is pretty simple. Order your fried clams (and onion rings, fries, and the like) and then wait.
We came on a weekday during what's still considered "off season" (yes, June is still not completely peak season yet), so it wasn't very crowded at all. I'm not sure what it's likely normally, but I'm guessing there can be huge crowds and lines.
We tried some fried full belly clams, clam strips, onions rings, and seafood chowder.
Unfortunately, red tide had just recently closed the North Shore clam beds, so it's likely these clams came from another area (maybe Maine?) that doesn't have red tide.
I really liked the way these clams were fried. The breading was nice and crunchy while not greasy at all. I was starving by the time we got here at 2PM (I hadn't eaten all day), and thus I happily chowed down many clam strips and bellies. Some people on the tour said they liked the fried clams at J.T. Farnham's better, while at least one favored Woodman's.
Though I really enjoyed the clam strips, I did not love the flavor of the clam bellies, which were not super sweet and tasted a bit "offal-y". It's was really different in flavor compared to the super sweet cherrystone raw clams I had enjoyed a week earlier at a clam shucker in Boston's Haymarket.
Stop #3: Cape Ann Brewery, Gloucester
Cape Ann Brewing Company is a family-owned brewing company located in Gloucester. They hold tours and tastings at this location.
In fact, there is a full service restaurant where you can try various flights of their beers.
We met owner Jeremy Goldberg, who shared with us about how he started beer making. He had been working on Wall Street in the world of finance when 9/11 happened. At the ripe young age of 28, he had a mid-life crisis, evaluated what he really wanted to do with his life, and decided to pursue his passion.
Cape Ann Brewing Company was thus founded in 2002 and has been going strong since.
Jeremy taught us a little about the difference between lagers and ales, likening lagers to a red wine (where you have to dig deeper to appreciate the nuances in the depths of flavor) and ales to a white wine (where the flavors - like bitterness and crispness - are immediate and right up top).
You can try many different types of beers at the restaurant.
We ended up trying all twelve, which was definitely fun.
Many people really liked the Sunrise Saison, which is made with rhubarb and strawberries. I'm personally not as big of a fan of fruity beers, so I only thought it was OK. I did really like the Joey Rock's Milk Stout, which was rich, caramel-y, and very smooth. I also thought the Tea Party was kind of fun. It's a barleywine made with three different styles of tea that were dumped into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party.
Stop #4: Lobster Pool, Rockport
This last stop turned out to be my favorite stop of the whole trip.
In Rockport we stopped by this quaint little Lobster Shack called Lobster Pool.
It's a family-owned restaurant. Owner Myalisa Waring runs the restaurant with the help of her five (!) kids. Unfortunately her husband, who used to be her partner in all aspects of the restaurant, passed away suddenly in 2010.
With the help and encouragement of her family and friends, she has continued to keep this restaurant running.
Here's the lobster pool right inside the restaurant.
Lobster Pool faces the ocean on the west, which means you can watch the sunset over the ocean while eating lobster rolls (unusual on the East coast!).
Everything is made from scratch and made to order. That means if you don't want any mayonnaise in your lobster roll, they won't add any.
The lobster roll was fantastic.
It's simple yet shines due to the high quality ingredients. The lobster meat was fresh, sweet, and juicy. There was hardly any mayonnaise, which is exactly the way I like it.
They also sell a lobster quesadilla, which actually was created due to a mistaken order of too-large tortillas one day.
The lobster quesadilla was born, and became so popular they made it a permanent item on the menu.
It's excellent. It's a quesadilla filled mostly with fresh chunks of lobster and a blend of three cheeses. It's relatively simple, but uses good, fresh ingredients and is executed really well
Finally, we tried their haddock fish cakes with their house made tartar sauce, which was also really good.
The restaurant is BYOB. There's also a raw bar where they serve raw clams, raw oysters, and raw lobster tails (I've never had one!).
I love the idea of sitting out here on a summer's evening, chomping on excellent seafood while watching the sunset.
Myalisa told us that sometimes the sunset is so dramatic, the crowd bursts into appreciative applause as the sun makes its final, fiery descent behind the ocean.
There are dozens of photos of the sunset throughout the restaurant and Myalisa's house.
She never tires of it.
Stop #5: Back to Boston
Cape Ann was a lovely afternoon distraction from all the stuff going on in Boston. I loved just looking out the window as we were driving between towns. It's a beautiful area, filled with quaint little houses, seafood shacks, and lots of pretty ocean views.
My little afternoon tour barely scratches the surface of this beautiful part of Massachusetts. It's definitely an area I hope to explore more this summer, especially since it's so close by!
Disclaimer: this trip was organized and paid for by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
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