The Village Restaurant in Essex, Massachusetts has been a Cape Ann favorite since the 1950’s. However my go-to place for fried clams and baked haddock may not be around for much longer. As reported in the Gloucester Daily Times, the Village may not be around for long as the owners plan to sell the property to the Town for a badly needed fire station.
The news sent shockwaves through the local community and beyond. The Village may not be the most famous restaurant in the area, but it is certainly one of the most beloved. And without a firm end date, none of us know when our next visit to this old-school New England seafood destination, will be our last.
After a cold and dreary day across the street at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, my wife and son met me on the town landing (actually a shipyard from 1668) and headed for some of the best seafood around.
We started off splitting an order of baked stuffed clams, which have always been one of my favorite starters. They came out piping hot with a fresh, moist, and not too dense filling of chopped hard shell clams.
When it came to dinner, it is really hard for me to not choose their fried clams…which I’ve already told you about. However they had one my favorite specials, something I wish they had on the regular menu: baked haddock with a crab and cornbread topping. The Village is one of the few places left in the area that actually still serve you cornbread after you are seated. My wife on the other hand went straight for the fried clams, which tend to be small to medium-sized this early in the season.
By the time I was ready for my second 20oz draft our dinners had arrived. The wife’s clams were more mediums than smalls, but sweet as candy, as always. I planned on eating the clams too big for her, but my haddock was so rich and decadent I could only eat one. The sweet crab and cornbread along with the delicious, perfectly cooked haddock was memorable. They only put it on special once in a while but I would order it every time if it were on the menu. We were way too full for dessert (well, at least the adults were, I’ll be eating my son’s awesome chicken fingers for lunch today), which is a shame because I was looking forward to their grape-nut custard or Indian pudding.
They don’t make restaurants like this anymore, they haven’t changed much in decades because they don’t have to. They may add new items, but the baked haddock is the same as it was in 1956. Cornbread at the table, traditional New England desserts, no frills, no fancy “plating”, just good honest food, in just the right proportions for a fair price. Hey fried clams are not cheap, but some of the more modern places that try to put a needless spin on local favorites, would give you an appetizer portion (arranged decoratively) for the price of the dinner portion in a place like this.
All things must pass I guess, but before The Village is gone I suggest going if you haven’t already. In an area where many of us grew up with all the fish you could eat, brought home for free, find out why so many of our parents and grandparents would drive “over the bridge” to Essex to eat here.