Summer is officially over here on Cape Ann and we finished it off the right way with the 34th annual Gloucester Schooner Festival. This is the most important weekend of the year for those of us in the sailing and maritime heritage community and this year is one we will remember for a long time.
Captain Harold Burnham of the Schooner Ardelle invited me out on Friday as the local schooner fleet welcomed the beautiful Columbia the mighty Bluenose II to the event. We had some real sailing weather our there which was the highlight of the weekend for many of us.
With this mix of characters we had some serious boat building and sailing talent on board, including about 20 generations of collective Essex shipbuilding legacy. I had to bring my “A” game as I regaled them all in the history behind fishing schooner races of the 19th and 20th centuries, as Bluenose II, all 144 feet of her, thundered past our starboard side.
After a day out sailing, I was beat, and ready to eat! That evening the family headed to Maritime Gloucester for the annual Mayor’s Reception, which officially kicks off the Schooner Festival.
We enjoyed wine, cheese, beer and oysters on the pier in the shadow of the masts of Adventure, Lynx, Bluenose II and Ardelle. I ran into a lot of both old and new friends as we listened to some local bands, and watched Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo-Theken work the crowd.
When it comes to free food and booze, we Gloucesterites can be as bad as the seagulls dive bombing your lunch at the beach. Good thing there was plenty to go around. These guys working the shrimp and oyster tables could hardly keep up. I know I slurped down a half a dozen as if I was trying to set a record. I’m lucky I got there early, that pile of shrimp was the first of several.
The last Gloucester Block Party was also being held up the street, so after we finished our appetizer, our son headed to grandma’s and the wife and I headed to Main Street to find dinner.
We ended up at Passports, a long time favorite that always has a good selection of local seafood. In fact, Passports proudly serves our local catch as a participant in the Gloucester Fresh program. They are also known for their popovers, and who doesn’t like popovers? With all the beer, wine, rum punch and now a delicious popover, let’s just say I ignored the FODMAPs for the weekend.
We both got the grilled swordfish special (it’s swordfish season) with tomatoes, greens, mashed potatoes and a balsamic syrup drizzle. It looked fantastic, however while it was good, it was not great. We both felt it was a little overcooked, which gave it a stronger flavor than when I cook it at home. It is the rare time that I was a little disappointed in Passports, but I’ve had so many good meals here over the years that it does not change my opinion of them. I’ll be back soon to give them another chance.
So that was most of my fun, after that I was back to work in Essex at the Shipbuilding Museum. It’s not as exciting as being around the schooners, but our yard is hallowed ground when it comes to American shipbuilding and for those who want to seek out the birthplace of several of the schooners sailing this weekend. Flush with cash from my recent sails aboard Ardelle, I decided to treat myself to lunch in the shipyard. I went across the street to The Village Restaurant and got myself a tropical shrimp salad, which was as delicious as it was colorful.
On Labor Day, the three of us decided to go down the street to Mile Marker One to have lunch out on the deck overlooking the marina. The endless stream of pleasure boats heading down the Annisquam River was expected…having the whole deck to ourselves was not! Everyone else was in the air conditioning while we sipped cocktails (and lemonade) in total seclusion.
We started off with some “shark bites” which were really blackend tips of mahi mahi served with a spicy aioli. I find that mahi mahi can be hit or miss, it should not have a strong flavor and when grilled, it can have a texture similar to chicken.
I thought these bites were pretty tasty thanks to the seasoning and dipping sauce. For my wife, who is pescatarian, she thought they were just OK, reminding her a little too much of grilled chicken breast.
Our entrees came out in a short time and were both very good. My wife’s grilled peach salad came with a nice big piece of salmon. She didn’t like that it was skin on, but It was so nice and crispy that I had to take care of it for her.
Meanwhile my fish and chips was a good sized portion of fresh local haddock perfectly fried. It’s really hard to screw up fried fish and French fries, but when done right, there are few things better in this world.
Too many places jazz up their breading so you taste spices or black pepper more than the fish. In my opinion if you are using fresh, local fish you don’t need any of that. Mile Marker’s manager (a childhood friend of mine) gets that, and let’s the haddock do most of the talking.
So we end summer here on Cape Ann with some great food, family fun, and by all accounts one of the best Gloucester Schooner Festivals of all time. Can’t wait to do it all again in 2019!