Cal’s Haddock Sandwich from The Lobster of Gloucester is a Winner

fried haddock sandwich from the lobster

The summer is almost here and I’m hankering for a fried haddock sandwich – one of my favorite sandwiches on Earth. Some sort of fried fish sandwich is pretty universal among seafood restaurants, but have you seen the prices lately? In the last few years a decent fried haddock sandwich has gone from $12-15 to $20 and above. I have a dream to sample as many fried fish sandwiches I can, but I just can’t afford it.

The saying is “Good seafood isn’t cheap, and cheap seafood isn’t good” does hold some truth. But when you can source your seafood right from the boats, you can shave off a couple of bucks without sacrificing quality. That is what you get when you visit a new favorite restaurant on our waterfront: The Lobster of Gloucester.

About The Lobster

Fried Scallops the Lobster of Gloucester
I got these perfectly fried scallops on my first visit

The Lobster is owned, operated and supplied by Cape Ann Lobstermen, whose wharf is right next door. Your seafood traveled about 200 feet to get from dock to dish. If you go during the day, you can also buy great fresh lobster and seafood to bring home. I have been to The Lobster twice and love both the food and slightly lower prices than the competition.

We locals also get a kick out of the location, which, back in the day was the home of Bob’s Clam Shack. Pleasing tourists can be a lot easier than pleasing us picky locals. The Lobster has quickly become a favorite among us townies, sometimes it’s hard to get a table and you always end up running into friends and relatives.

Cal’s Haddock Sandwich

Cal's Fried Haddock Sandwich

I don’t know Cal, but he makes a pretty tasty fried fish sandwich. It’s not the biggest sangwich in town, but has got to be one of the freshest tasting I’ve had. The haddock was fried in a light and crispy beer batter that I really liked. It showcased just how fresh the fish was. I don’t think you can get away with such a light batter if your haddock isn’t this fresh.

From a marketing perspective, I bet tourists love how the fish is way bigger than the toasted, yet still soft potato roll. I ended up breaking off the long pieces to dip in the tangy mix of tarter sauce and apple fennel slaw that was oozing out of the bun. A little messy, but good sandwiches usually are. Overall it was a very tasty fried haddock sandwich with fries for a reasonable $18.

Good job The Lobster, and good job Cal. Not that I needed another reason to go back, but good to know I can recommend your haddock sandwich along with everything else I’ve tried so far.

Whole Belly Fried Clams from the Boat House Grille Left Me Fully Satisfied

fried clams from boathouse grille

If I ever won the Powerball, I probably would not last long. Prime reason is that I would go out for whole belly fried clams twice a week until my heart exploded. Food prices are crazy and restaurants are just too expensive for me right now. It’s still spring and a fisherman’s platter is already priced at $40 and up in local restaurants.

That being said, it’s been a while since I had a fried clam plate and I had just enough cash for a night out. With limited funds we needed to get our money’s worth and let me say the Boat House Grille in Essex, Massachusetts did not disappoint.

The Boat House Grille – Essex, MA

Located close to the Ipswich line, the Boat House Grille was founded in 2016 in the former home of Lewis’. I used to love the old place, it was a part of that dying breed of old-school New England restaurants that had Prime rib Fridays served by gravelly-voiced waitresses. Although the Boat House Grille is a more modern vibe, it’s just as hopping as the old place every time I go. This is the sister restaurant to another local favorite – the Blue Marlin Grille, located across town. You really can’t go wrong with either venue for nice portions of local seafood, steaks and more.

Fried Clams from Boat House Grille

fried clams from boathouse grille

It’s still a little early in the season and right now there are a lot of big clams being dug. That might turn off some, but for me, you can’t fry a clam too big. I kind of like the big, chewy “honkers” when fried just right, they have a lot of flavor. My plate of fried clams did have a few big ones, but there were some smaller clams mixed in as well. One bite and I entered fried clam nirvana and all was right in the universe.

I like Blue Marlin’s fried clams, but I think I like the Boathouse’s clams even more. They have that classic taste with just the right crispiness you get with a mix of flour and cornmeal. They reminded me a lot of J.T. Farnham’s, which many emphatically state are the best fried clams around. I savored every bite, and ignored the french fries to focus on the clams dipped in their tangy tartar sauce.

blackened haddock tacos

The clams were a little too big for my wife so she opted for blackened fish tacos, which she upgraded from pollock to haddock on request…and my onion rings. Needless to say both of us were very happy with our choices. This was not a cheap dinner, but a good value considering we both left stuffed and even had some to take home.

Thank you Boat House Grille for satisfying my fried clam craving. Looking forward to the next visit!

Trader Joe’s Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes: Too Good to be This Cheap!

Trader Joe's Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes

Good things come in small packages, and sometimes with a small price tag as well. I went searching in the Trader Joe’s frozen section and came across a box of Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes for only $1.99. That is too good of a deal to pass up even though Portuguese food is not exactly my favorite.

In the past, I’ve had some not so great seafood both here among my town’s mostly Azorean community, and also in mainland Portugal. One of the most pungent fish markets I’ve ever been to was in Lisbon so I was somewhat prepared for a “fishy” experience. I am very glad that my apprehension was proven wrong in the end.

What are Bacalhau Tartelettes?

I am not an expert on Portuguese cuisine, so I apologize if I misidentify the origins of these unique tartlettes. To my eye, it looks like Trader Joe’s have paired two Portuguese favorites into one delicious bite-size snack: Pasteis de Bacalhau (aka cod fritters) and the famous custard dessert tarts known as Pasteis de Nata. In my travels, and right here in Gloucester, I’ve tried both of these but I’m not sure if this version is a traditional preparation. Traditional or not, according to the box, they are made in Portugal so that gives them some authenticity in my book.

Trader Joe’s Packaging and Product

bacalhau tartelettes ingredients

The image on the box looks much more similar to Pasteis de Nata than a typical Portuguese cod fritter. I have not seen a cod fritter that came in its own foil liner like a cupcake before. The bacalhau fritters I’ve had in our local Azorean restaurant look more like croquettes than cupcakes. The list of ingredients did not contain anything scary and I was pleased to find real salt cod (bacalhau) included.

The box contained 8 well-frozen, foil lined tartelettes, which should serve two. I decided to treat these like an entree and ate the whole box myself in the name of research. The incredibly low price means it is basically a risk-free purchase not matter how they turn out.

Preparing the Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes

Making these salt cod snacks is as easy as heating the oven to 375F and putting them on a baking sheet for 35 minutes. Once the tops look all golden brown and bubbly, take them out and let them cool for about 15 minutes. That wait was probably the hardest part of all of this.

I was worried that something with salt cod cooking in the oven would fill my house with a pungent, but not unfamiliar odor. Fresh cod has a very faint briny smell, salt cod however…let’s just say the old time Gloucester fish dealers said it was the “smell of money.”

Fortunately there was little to no fish smell and the aroma was actually very pleasing, like I was making a fish pie. The rest of the family, who already opted out of trying the bacalhau tartelettes, had to admit they smelled really good.

The Verdict

Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes cooked

These were way, way better than I expected. A delicious mix of textures from the flaky crust, the soft potato and the cod all worked so well in the custard. My advice it to follow what the box says and let them cool down. Of course I had to try one just a few minutes out of the oven and it was bacalhau lava!

Trust me, you will enjoy the flavor even more if you let them cool to nearly room temperature. The custard firms up and all the flavors meld together. There was nothing fishy tasting about them either, just a subtle but tasty cod flavor. Potatoes, custard and cod are a great match – who knew?

I feel these would be a crowd-pleasing hors d’oeuvre that is just different enough to stand out from the usual. They are also incredibly cheap, which makes them even more appealing to try out. I was apprehensive at first but for a few dollars, it was so worth it. If you have tried these tasty cod morsels please share your thoughts in the comments.

Branzino Grigliato by IASA: Tinned Fish with Fresh-Grilled Flavor

IASA label

I’ve been getting in the habit of scouting out tinned seafood when I’m out doing errands. This time I found a tin of grilled Italian branzino on a recent trip to a local organic grocery store. I have not sampled enough Italian brands of tinned fish so far. The bright yellow box was familiar to me from some online shops, but on the shelf it stood out from the other tinned fish with its larger size. It also usually sells for a few dollars more than the $9.99 I saw at the market. I impulsively grabbed a tin, assuming I won’t see IASA branzino for this price again.

About IASA

IASA stands for Ittica Alimentere Salerno, a family run company founded by Francesco di Mauro and today is based in Pellezzano Italy. They employ about 50 locals during the fishing season to produce traditional Italian seafood like jarred anchovies and yellowfin tuna loins. Although I have seen them listed for wholesale, I have not seen any of these products sold for retail thus far. Most online stores that I know who specialize in conservas only carry their tinned branzino.

For this particular product, IASA uses farmed Italian branzino, that is lightly grilled before being hand packed in olive oil. Their American importer states that it is all done in the fishermen tradition of grilling branzino with olive oil and some lemon juice. This was a standard way of grilling fish in my Sicilian-American family with mackerel, striped bass and with swordfish. I even got to experience this with fresh swordfish in Sicily. When the fish is good, this is really all it needs.

About IASA Tinned Branzino

tinned branzino

Upon opening I saw some nice looking sea bass that was lightly grilled and covered in a light oilive oil. IASA does not skimp on the oil as I a big mess when i cracked the seal. I was too busy cleaning up fish scented oil from my counter – before my wife or the cat found out – to take great pictures.

Mess aside, my first impression was a good one. Right out of the tin it tasted like freshly grilled fish. It was probably the closest thing to fresh fish I’ve ever tasted in a tin. The delicate fillets were moist and mild tasting with the look and texture of grilled sea bass. If i spent the time to warm up the tin before serving, it would have been even better. It had such a nice fresh flavor and was far better quality branzino than the frozen farmed fillets I got from Trader Joe’s.

I served the tinned branzino over a piece of Heidelberg brand sourdough toast with a sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Definitely made for a tasty snack and would be a welcome addition to my next Seacuterie bord.

The Verdict

tinned branzino tapas

Ten to twelve bucks is about mid-range for conservas these days, but I still expected something of good quality for that price. I was not disappointed in any way. It’s kind of remarkable just how fresh the IASA branzino tasted to me. There were no offensive, fishy odor and no off flavors. The only real giveaway that is was tinned and not fresh-grilled was the extra-delicate texture due to the canning process.

I will certainly buy this tin again. Next time I grab a tin I want to make a mini-entree by warming the tin first in hot water and having the branzino top some sauteed vegetables and rice. It is must for seafood appetizer or tapas and would also work great as a tuna substitute on summer salads. If you are curious about tinned fish, but sardines and mackerel scare you a bit, then try IASA for a nice mild tasting introduction.