The Gloucester Schooner Festival signals the end of summer and onto fall! I always look forward to seeing all those beautiful vessels in our historic harbor, it’s the closest any of us will get to see how America’s Oldest Seaport looked in the days of sail. The weather postponed the parade of sail and race until Labor Day Monday, which worked in my favor, I’m usually working at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum during the entire festival.
And thanks to my friends, the Lynch family, I was able to have some family watch the schooners up on the deck of my late friend Jim’s house. As you can see, it’s one of the best spots on the harbor! The parade of sail will always bring back great memories of my buddy, who left us this spring at 92.
I’m also looking forward to some cooler days in the A.D. Story Shipyard and a little less traffic on the roads. The fall also brings thinner crowds in the local restaurants, which seem particularly busy these last few weeks of summer. Over that time we were able to try out one of the newer restaurants in Essex, and then enjoyed some Portuguese style food at a family favorite in Gloucester.
Our first stop, Riversbend seems to have moved beyond the first year growing pains. It’s still a little out of my usual price range, but my wife and I had been sitting on a gift card since last year. Although it is more known for wood fired gourmet pizzas, they also serve some high-end seafood. If the place wasn’t so packed I would have asked about their king salmon and halibut, besides it was late and we were starving. Maybe I’ll send them an email…
My wife’s king salmon was a beautiful piece of wild caught fish that was cooked to perfection. Served with broccoli pesto, cippolini onions and broccoli rabe, it was silky-smooth and melted in my mouth. Although delicious, it was a little on the small side for my appetite, but suited my wife just fine. It was a toss-up when it came time to order but I was very happy with my decision.
The stuffed halibut was a nice meaty piece of fish topped with crushed cheese-its (trust me, it works somehow) and resting upon clam stuffing along with a buerre blanc and grilled vegetables. Like the king salmon, it was perfectly cooked and oh so delicious. We were both very pleased with our meals, but at nearly $30 a plate we can’t afford to be regulars.
The other night we joined my family for dinner at the Azorean in Gloucester. This is a local favorite that serves a mix of traditional food from the Azores, mainland Portugal and Portuguese inspired American fare. I always enjoy what I get here and honestly I’ve had a better eating experience here than in Portugal.
The owner’s mix is a spicy, saffrony blend of fried calamari and shrimp that is an insanely addictive appetizer. The shrimp is pretty good but the squid is so tender and flavorful that I can’t eat it fast enough.
For dinner my wife, dad, and myself opted for seafood, the rest of the gang went for their famous steak tips. My wife chose the baked stuffed haddock, dad got the haddock supreme, and I chose something I’ve always wanted to try: Sao Miguel style grilled octopus, but opted for hand-made Portuguese fried potatoes over rice.
The octopus far exceeded my expectations. It was so flavorful and tender that I may get it again next time. Not a local item, but something you see a lot in Portuguese and Mediterranean style restaurants. I’ve only had octopus as a salad, which I love, but was nothing like this. I assumed grilled octopus, because of my experience with polpu salad (in Gloucester it is often pronounced boi-pee) would be tasty, but chewy.
It certainly was tasty, with the char of the grill and the garlic sauce, but it was unbelievably tender. The grilled octopus arms gave with just a touch of the knife. At first glance I was a little bummed since my portion size seemed smaller than everyone else except the kids. By the end of it I understood why – octopus is surprisingly filling!
My wife liked her haddock – but it’s not as good as mine – and my dad enjoyed his, topped with lobster and a sherry cream sauce. Add dessert and some tawny port to finish it off and we all left full and happy.
As the schooners sail off until next year’s get together, I get ready for what I hope to be an exciting fall. With some local history projects as well as celebrating the upcomming one-year anniversary for BuyingSeafood.com