Archive for February, 2016

Post #3, “Heather vs. Howard” – Steamer Clams

Monday, February 29th, 2016

illustration

 

I have moved on to the “Steamer Clams” section of the “Shellfish” chapter, the first chapter, of Howard Mitcham’s Provincetown Seafood Cookbook.

happy people

Mitcham has no favorites in the mollusk department; he evenly states, “Clams are for happy people.” But, much has changed for steamer clams, or Mya arenaria, since Mitcham published this book in 1975. Here is his method for rinsing them:

“Steamer clams often have a good bit of sand in them, and you should always wash them thoroughly in the surf after digging them. After getting them home sample a few, and if they are sandy take the rest of them and put them in a wire basket. (or a wooden vegetable hamper will do), cover it and tie a rope to it, and take them out on a wharf and suspend them in the water; leave them there for a day or two and they will blow out their sand. A simpler but less effective way to do it is to soak them in a tub of fresh water and sprinkle salt in the water.”

There is so much impossible in 2016 about the above, I don’t know where to begin, except first with the permit you would need if you really could dig your own clams, second with that wharf, and third with that wooden hamper. Who has one of those?!

But, let’s say you have a permit. Your next battle would be green crabs, on the top one hundred of the world’s most invasive species. Green crabs, or Carcinus maenas, are devouring soft shell crabs at such a rate that clammers say you can hear them chewing – or just clicking in their crabby way – when you walk onto the flats. Check your local fried clam joint. If you look at the menu, the clams with bellies, which are true soft shell clams, are something like $30 a plate. “Clam Strips,” which are sea clams chopped into strips, are a more reasonable price. This inflation is because soft shell clams flats are being devastated by green crabs. There just aren’t that many wild soft shell clams anymore. For more information on green crabs you can check out Roger Warner’s piece in the Boston Sunday Globe. 

While green crabs have been around since the early 19th century, a new strain of them arrived on this continent in the late 1990‘s, creating wildly effective genetic diversity which makes these hideous creatures, considered the cockroach of the sea, unstoppable. Mitcham knew of them, certainly, but not in the cataclysmic numbers seen today. No kidding, green crabs are an issue of biblical proportions.

One speck of good news is that Dole & Bailey, purveyors of gourmet foods, has begun selling green crabs to be used as stock to local restaurants. God bless them, but we will need green crab stock to be produced commercially, and maybe sold to both Red Lobster AND MCDonalds, to stop this scurge.

steaming

 

The clams I purchased were from Maine. There were almost void of sand, but they were also void of briny flavor, which makes me think they are farmed, which is looking like the only way to keep clam shacks stocked with soft shell clams when green crabs are clicking voraciously in the salt marshes and estuaries.

Still, Mitcham’s recipe is easy and, as usual, a brilliantly delicious way to treat these sweet members, so sadly threatened, of the Northeast coastline.

 

plate of clams inside

 

Steamer Clam Appetizer

Ingredients

36 steamer clams

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup bitter black olives, finely chopped

2 teaspoons vinegar black olives, mild

Instructions

Steam the clams open but leave them on the halfshell. Cut off the siphons with scissors. Mix the olive oil, onion, parsley, olives, lemon juice and vinegar and mix well. Spoon this sauce of ther clams on the half shell. Chill and serve as an hors d’oeuvre, with the clams attractively arranged on a tray. Decorate the tray with pitted mild black olives.

clams outside

Mitcham’s Quahaugs With Saffron Rice

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

2 bowls, quahaugs & rice

This is post #2 in the “Heather vs. Howard” series, that’s Howard Mitcham, author of The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, declared the best seafood cookbook in the world by Anthony Bourdain. I’m featuring this book because it’s brilliant – the writing, the recipes, the culture – and talking about it frames how much or how little fishing and harvesting seafood has changed since the book was first published in 1975. (See the first post for more on Mitcham, the book, and why I’m doing this.)

 

little necks 2

 

This recipe is from “Quahaugs,” the first section of the first chapter entitled “Shellfish.” The quahaug recipes here are arresting, showing how people once considered the sweet, briny taste of Venus mercenaria something to have for dinner.  Sadly, our 2016 littleneck and cherrystone recipe glossary has diminished to a few predictable choices: on the half-shell, stuffed, or gaping from a pan of paella or cioppino. Don’t forget pasta with clam sauce. Mitcham has recipes for all these in his “Quahaugs” chapter. Each is – like all his recipes – definitive if not inspired.

But quahaugs are to Mitcham, as they once were for so many people who lived near a clam flat, a revered main ingredient.  He pushes the outer limits of what can happen in a kitchen to a shiny nugget of seawater-steeped muscle.

 

chopped clams

 

“Phil Cook’s Portuguese Quahaug Pie” for example, a pie crust filled with a quart of chopped quahaug meats, a pound of linguica, and two chopped onions sauteed in butter.

And this recipe, pure Mitchem, “Pepper Pickled Quahaugs.”

“I’ve always prided myself on my ability to eat hot peppers. I’ve visited the Tabasco factory in Louisiana and devoured with gusto those flaming little morsels out of which they make the famous sauce, and I survived, in spite of acute Mexican heartburn. But there is a Portuguese red pepper from the island of St. Michael, Azores, growing in a few gardens in Provincetown, that will put anything from Louisiana or Mexico to shame when it comes to sheer unadulterated hotness. One of my Provincetown friends, Bill Fields, sometimes brings me a share of his pepper crop and I use it to make pepper pickled quahaugs, a very foolish item, since only about one person in ten can stand the heat of them, but if you happen to be that one out of the ten you’ll love ‘em.”

If you want the Pepper Pickled Quahaugs recipe, write me or even better find the book.

I’m including here a suaver quahaug recipe, a recipe that teaches how quahaugs can be a delicious, unusual, simple, light meal without being the ubiquitous clam sauce over pasta.  Again, quahaugs are are great choice of seafood to be considering for dinner. The quahaug fishery is well managed and considered sustainable, whether it’s farmed or wild. To purchase 24 little necks for this recipe will cost almost $20, but the remaining ingredients (except the saffron) are pennies.  This recipe can serve 4 for a light dinner or a heftier lunch, a really good dinner or lunch without being too fussy.

Some little necks are opened – save the liquor! – and sauteed with onion, celery, parsley and garlic. (I put my little necks in a large sauté pan with a tablespoon of water, covered the pan, and turned up the heat just until they began to slightly open.  This makes finishing the unhinging part much easier.)

That sweet, briny, fresh saute is served over a steaming pile of saffron rice. Don’t skip the saffron; this is a simple meal by the combination of flavors is flawless.

 

soul mates

quahaugs at lunch

Mitcham was as much an artist as he was a cook; there is as much Mitcham humor in the (his) woodcuts that line the margins of the book as there is in his writing.

 

Mitcham's quahaugs & rice

 

Quahaugs With Saffron Rice

serves 4 for a light dinner

Ingredients

2 dozen cherrystone quahaugs and their liquor

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 stick butter

1/4 teaspoon imported saffron or 1 tablespoon American saffron

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound rice

Instructions

Shuck the quahaugs and save their liquor. Cut the meats up coarsely with the scissors and set aside. Melt the butter and saute the chopped onion and celery until soft, add the parsley and stir it in, then the clams and their liquor. Cook for 10 minutes.

Serve very hot on a mound of saffron rice which has been cooked as follows: fry the raw rice in a little oil until it as become golden, add to the skillet a quantity of hot water equal in volume to the rice; add the saffron and bring it to a rolling boil, stirring it around. Then cover the skllet and lower the heat and cook for about twenty minutes until the rice has absorbed the water and saffron. You can add a Portuguese touch to this by adding slices of linguica or chourico to the clams in the sauce.

Heather vs. Howard: Broiled Quahaugs

Monday, February 8th, 2016

mitcham

The Provincetown fisherman knows more profanity in more languages than any other breed in the world, and he can cuss five minutes without saying the same word twice. But he cusses with such a beguiling grace and naivete that he can shout all night on Saturday and go to Mass on Sunday with a conscience as clean as new-washed bedsheets. – from the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, Introduction, by Howard Mitcham.

PSC

Howard Mitcham is the author of the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, first published in 1975. Anthony Bourdain discovered it, and called the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook the best seafood cookbook in the world. Old paperback copies begin at around $60.00, and hardcover copies at $200. I just noticed that Dover Publishing has reissued it. Clearly, they know a good cookbook. I suggest you click fast or drive fast to purchase this new release for $16.95 in paperback.

Mitcham was born in 1917 in Winona, Mississippi. He died in Hyannis, MA in 1996, dividing most of his life between New Orleans and Provincetown with some Greenwich Village in between. Deaf from meningitis as a teenager, Mitcham was a well-known character in all these places, but also a poet, a recorder of the sizzle in these places, and an authoritative cook. Provincetown history here is as vital as the recipes.   The large and small stories site this town in history:  the arrival of the Portuguese and how they changed the face of fishing in Provincetown and the smells in its kitchens, or stories of how salt cod ruled the town for years.  Every square inch of space that wasn’t dock or road was covered in the wooden racks upon which the salted cod dried. When the industry ended  (with refrigeration) the wood from all those racks was used to build houses in Provincetown. To this day those houses are called “salt houses,” and they are unpaintable, so soaked in salt is the wood. The paint just peels right off.

The writing is vividly noisy, smelly, crispy, honest and real:

In the 1840’s and ’50’s Provincetown was the wealthiest town per capita in New England, and mackerel was one of the cornerstones of this prosperity. In those pre-refrigeration days salt mackerel was the most widely eaten seafood product in America, one of our principal sources of protein, and every small grocery store had its barrel of salt mackerel standing alongside the cracker barrel (and casting off a reek that you could smell all the way out in the street. Those old time grocery stores must have been fragrant things with their medleys of smells: whale oil, mackerel, salt meat, cheeses, hard tack, coffee, kerosene, leather, rope, peppermint, horehound candy and so on. Modern packaging and the supermarket have really murdered the nice smells which gave glamour, mystery, and seductiveness to the old time grocery store.

Like the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, Mitcham’s other cookbooks, Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz, A New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, (1978) and Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Scallops, and Snails: A Cookbook and a Memoir, (1990), all cover the wild streets, bars, wharfs, clam flats, oyster beds, draggers and salty deliciousness that happened in those two cities, or the kind of mood that prevailed in places like Cookie’s Tap in Provincetown:

The Lord took away a great bon vivant and gourmet back in 1946 when he laid a heart attack on Friday Cook in the prime of his life, only forty-eight years old. His grandfather had come here as a cabin boy and cook on Captain Kibby Cook’s whaling vessel, and the family adopted the name of both of the vocation and the benefactor. Friday ran one of the most amazing bar and restaurants in America. All the fishermen hung out at Cookie’s and they would bring in their “trash” for which there was no ready market: crabs, giant lobster, squids, butterfish, catfish, wolffish, pollocks, blinkers, conches, tinkers, quahaugs, and Lord knows what else. Friday and his wife, Clara (and later sons Wilbur and Joe) would cook this stuff in all sorts of tantalizing ways, and they’d pile it on the counter. Anybody who didn’t look TOO greedy and hungry was invited to help himself. I remember that in my first summer here I didn’t spend a nickel on food. I spent my dimes on beer at Cookies, and the food was on the house. The late John Gaspie, the clamdigging bon vivant, wold sit with me all afternoon, spinning fabulous yarns as we devoured galvanized tinkers and squid stew, and sipped the foamy. Halcyon days they were.

Pay attention to that list of “trash fish.” I’m not just writing about the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook because we will never see this kind of color in our culture again, for what that’s worth; I hope Mitcham’s text and recipes make people think about how much the fishing industry has changed – or not – since 1975.  Mitcham was already seeing changes, poignant foreshadowing of today’s crisis. He writes in 1975:

Today’s fishing is composed of diesel-powered draggers which pull their bag-like otter trawls across the bottom of the sea. There are about thirty of these vessels in the Provincetown fleet, and when the summer tourists go home the fleet becomes the economic backbone of the town. But economic and ecologic problems have become so acute that no one can say for certain whether the fleet will grow or become extinct; as the catches become smaller and fuel and operating costs rise to astronomic heights, it becomes pretty obvious that the government is going to have to help; it will have to subsidize the fishermen in the same way that it now supports the wheat and cotton farmers. But as long as the codfish and flounders are with us, things will turn out right.

Not so much.

Mitcham never imagined we could fish the oceans clean of cod, but he already foresaw haddock’s demise:

One of the saddest chapter of our fouled up modern ecology is the decline and fall of the noble haddock. A few years ago it was the topselling fish in America, and a money maker for Provincetown’s fishermen. It is one of the highest gastronomic treats for gourmets. But its numbers have gone into such a tailspin in recent years that biologists are afraid it will soon be as extinct as the dodo, great auk, and passenger pigeons. Overfishing has done it. Foreign factory ships and trawlers and our own beam trawlers (we can’t blame the Russians for everything.) have swept the George’s Banks so clean that there are not even enough fish left there to spawn, as they did in the past. Man’s inhumanity to man is equaled by his inhumanity to nature.

Chapter 1 from The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook is entitled “The Shellfish.” It covers quahaugs, steamer clams, sea clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, snails, and periwinkles. I’ll be selecting a couple of recipes from each section. Snails and periwinkles will be interesting. I’m beginning with a very simple recipe, a kind of beginners slope for Mitcham. (Some of Mitcham’s recipes are three-ingredient-simple, and some have twenty-five ingredients, but they always work. I have never yet seen a superfluous ingredient or step in a Mitcham recipe.) This is for a simple broiled in the half-shell morsel of shellfish topped simply with a little Tabasco and bacon. I used “little necks,” sometimes called “top necks” in the grocery store, but I’m including Mitcham’s handy chart to keep things straight.

 

measures

 

The most important point to remember is that a quahaug is not officially a clam. A quahaug is Venus mercenaria; in New England clams are the soft-shell ones, Mya arenaria, that end up steamed, fried, or in chowder. (Although there is a quahaug chowder, too.)

little necks

 

Mitcham has a bunch of interesting quahaug recipes, and I will write a long, dinner version next week, but this recipe is a perfect composition: briny + heat + sweet, salty.

Quahaugs are easy to source (on the coast) and a trustworthy seafood. I purchased these at Whole Foods; they were wild, dug in Wellfleet the day before I purchased them, a wild, local seafood responsibly captured with loads of flavor. But here’s Mitcham on the Provincetown history of the quahaug, a really good example of how resilient fisheries can be.  To a point:

If the Indians hadn’t taught the Pilgrims how to dig quahaugs they would all probably have starved to death that first hard winter in Plymouth. Ever since that time, especially during depressions, a lot of other folks would have gone hungry except for a bucket of steamed “hogs.” Like the shmoos, they were a self-perpetuating bounty. But only up to a certain point. During the depression of the early ’30’s, when money was so very very scarce, a barrel (three bushels) of quahaugs would fetch two dollars, so the desperate commercial clam muckers raked Provincetown mudflats as clean as a hound’s tooth. And to cap it off some sort of epidemic killed off most of the eelgrass which produces the microscopic diatoms on which quahaugs feed. This double disaster made quahaugs so scarce that many people thought they were extinct. But around 1940 the eelgrass began to make a comeback, and so did the quahaugs, and so did the dollar. The current wholesale price of a bushel of littlenecks is $34 ($102 per barrel), and they must be purchased from commercial clam farmers or fishmarkets. This is one of the sharpest comebacks of almost any commodity on the market except call girls.

We shared a dozen of these for a light lunch – absolutely nothing else – and felt as if we had just dined on something very special, and as if we had been incredibly – surprisingly – well-nourished.

quahaugs with bacon

 

Broiled Quahaugs

serves 2

2 dozen littlenecks or cherrystone quahaugs

6 slices bacon

Tabasco

Many people prefer this simple broiled quahaug dish to the more elaborate clams casino.

Open the quahaugs, over a pan to catch the juices. Cook the bacon in a skillet unilt it is 3/4 done; cut the strips in 1-inch pieces. Place rock salt on 2 sizzle platters or pie pans and place the clams on the halfshell on top of the rock salt. Spoon a bit of the liquid (strained of grit) over the clams.  Add 1 drop Tabasco to each clam. Lay a piece of the bacon on top of each clam. Place them under the broiler flame until the bacon is browned. Serve at once.

Notes:  I used “Ribs Within” nitrate-free, chemical-free bacon made from pigs raised on Amish farms.  Just try some.

As you can see, be careful to only cook the bacon 3/4 in advance or else it will get a little too crispy under the broiler.  To open these littlenecks I actually steamed them just a tiny bit to get the shell just starting to open. I’m just a whuss with a clam knife.

p.s.  Thanks, David Calvo, for providing this little gem of pure bacon joy: baby’s first bacon

“Heather vs. Howard” and more news.

Monday, February 1st, 2016

PSC

 

My blog has been too quiet recently, only because I’ve been working on a bunch of projects.

Here is a sketch of what’s going on: this blog will be redesigned soon, and will change a little. I will be writing occasionally for the Gloucester Times, and will post those local food stories – like this one on Magnolia 525 Tavern and Restaurant! – in one section of my blog.

In another section I’m looking forward to sharing a new video series. It’s called “Stories Served Here,” and that’s all I’m saying for now!

I’ve also become more and more sensitive to local, national, and international fishing issues, which is leading me to collaborate with some great friends on a new cookbook idea. Sorry to be coy, but I can only say “details coming soon!” But I will be attending Slow Fish 2016 in New Orleans in March, so watch for posts about that, too.

Until then, I am going to begin a new, very specific blog series, weekly posts featuring recipes from a cookbook declared by Anthony Bourdain to be “the best seafood cookbook in the world,” The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook. Written by the amazing chef Howard Mitchum, who lived, fished, and cooked in both New Orleans and Provincetown, (Now deceased, Mitchum was completely deaf since childhood.) The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook is now out of print, but so full of salty stories (like cooking fish on the back of a red-hot tailpipe), visions of what it was like to live in a fishing town just fifty years ago (certain species were already declining, but mostly people considered Mackerel as important as Swordfish) and perfectly written recipes full of good details (like don’t add cornmeal to soaking soft shell clam water because the bellies will be full of raw cornmeal after you cook them), that this cookbook is truly a seafood bible.

But my point is not really to sell more out-of-print cookbooks; my point is celebrate Mr. Mitchum’s talents, and to highlight how much the fisheries have changed. First published not really that long ago, 1975, Mitchum has recipes for Flounder, Halibut, Mackerel, Sardines, Pollock, Butterfish, Skate, along with what you would expect – Swordfish, Haddock and Cod. In the “Crustaceans” chapters he includes Moonsnails and Periwinkles along with that ubitquitous list that starts with Clams and ends in Quahogs. It’s been not quite fifty years, and the list of what people consider “fish for dinner” has shortened to three species: Cod, Haddock, and Swordfish. Ok, maybe Tuna. People look at the other fish on the list above as if they are monsters, when once – less than fifty years ago – they were as welcome to the dinner table as cod.

I promise, whether Mitchum is preparing Haddock Meurniere or Fried Codfish Jaw Bones, his recipes are perfect, and should be tried. While I am not committing to a Julia vs. Julia year of cooking, Heather vs. Howard will be a systematic approach to The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook. I will choose ten recipes from each of the five chapters, starting with Chapter 1, “Quahogs.” If I cannot find the ingredients, if a certain seafood is not available anywhere, I will highlight that, too, because how much fishing, selling fish, and cooking fish has changed is part of the story here.

Watch for the first post by February 7. I’m hoping we all learn a lot from Mitchum’s recipes, even the ones we can’t make anymore, if only because of just that.

Lastly, I am working on a NEW blog all together, one produced with friends. That will be where many other great recipes will be posted, restaurant discussions, and stories that make life generally interesting. That blog should be up by March. I already have recipes I’ve been dying to share, like Sook’s Silken Tofu with Crispy Shallots. Or I want to talk about Matt Billey’s gorgeous, hefty candlesticks, sculpted out of wood leftover from his real-life, hand-built wooden sailboat, moored in Manchester.

In sum, this blog will be reworked soon, including video content and the “Heather vs. Howard” series. A new blog will be up at another site, coming in March. Cookbook news will be leaked as appropriate.

Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook will just continue the random loveliness. As ever, thanks to all of you for following!

xo, Heather

Magnolia 525 Tavern & Restaurant

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Mag sign

The reasons to visit a cafe, a bistro, a neighborhood pub are not the same as reasons to visit a “bar” or a ”restaurant.” A bar invokes both the singularity of drinking and perhaps the singularity of being single. Making restaurant reservations assumes the meal is the first priority.

But the neighborhood pub falls somewhere between the “clean, well-lighted place” from the Hemingway short story and the Cheers bar where everybody knows your name. The food and drink should be good to excellent, but, more importantly, these places answer a critical and ageless need: the need for a comfortable seat, maybe a familiar waiter, and an easy exit away from a taxing work week. It would be good if this kind of restaurant also had a cheerful dining room where everyone from the pre-schooler to the father-in-law can find something for dinner, and the waitstaff doesn’t mind finding the high chair. The on-tap list should be heavy in beer’s with names that evoke gritty life, hop vines, and/or pumpkins. A glass of wine doesn’t have to be a Robert Parker stud, but it should dance a little with the first relaxing sip, a Chardonnay that sets up perfectly with a Chicken Caesar Salad or a Cabernet that, beside the house burger, makes the week’s woes disappear. A house-crafted cocktail is a bonus.

Magnolia 525 Tavern is doing a skillful job at being a virtuoso variation of this kind of place.

On a recent January night we drove through Magnolia darkness down the winding Hesperus Avenue. It felt as if the entire world had left town or gone to bed, although it was only 6:30. Making the left hand turn onto Lexington Avenue, everything changed; cars lined both sides of the street. An inviting glow spilled from the glass doors of Magnolia 525. The handy parking lot in the rear was filling up.

Inside, Magnolia 525 purred with conversation. Replays of Tom Brady’s sacks were being broadcast across three television screens over the bar, but the well-dressed booths on the other side of an elegantly paneled half-wall allowed diners to ignore – or not – last weekend’s tragedy. In other words, from the comfortable booths it was easy to glance over to the bar’s t.v., but it also felt snug and relaxed on that side of the restaurant. Industrial-chic pendant lights created a gentle, youthful brightness.

 

Tavern fries

 

Nachos and chicken wings are de rigeur in a place like this, and Magnolia 525’s menu is studded with these pubby standards, but I recommend you go right to the Tavern Crisps. This is bar food, or sharing food worth leaving your own neighborhood for: a little thicker than a potato chip, Tavern Crisps have heft to them. Fried to a luscious bronze, they are crowned with spoonfuls of homemade creme fraiche, then showered in bacon and chives. The nachos and wings are good, but I would go where chef Justin Plumadore’s heart seems to be, as in the beautiful attention this basket of potatoes receives.

stromboli

That heart showed up in the nicest places on this menu, like in the Stromboli, which my daughter declared the best thing she’s eaten in years: a torqued rope of crusty pizza dough, melting cheese, prosciutto, and pepperoni served with a marinara sauce. The pizza (crispy almost cracker-like dough with a variety of toppings) is good pub fare, but the stromboli seems to be the best cheesy, crusty 525 inspiration. (I thought this was just a little salty, but again, my daughter declared it perfect.)

Steak Tips

 

Plumadore’s heart appeared in the Root Beer and Soy Sauce Steak Tips. Fired perfectly rare as requested, these were meaty, juicy parcels of tender steak. The root beer and soy sauce seemed to have caramelized away, leaving their mark only as a nicely balanced – delicious – background.

 

icelandic lamb

 

Again, that heart appeared in a nightly special of Icelandic lamb chops, served with crisp green beans, roasted potatoes and a bright, three-onion gremolata. Each element was well-prepared, fresh tasting, and full of character. The ingredients and execution, while straightforward, showed that care and pride is alive and well in that kitchen.

 

Baba Burger

 

And then there is the burger, the cornerstone of the neighborhood place. Some restaurants create burger towers, a mile-high pile of ingredients the least of which is the ground beef on the bottom, sacrificing edibility for architecture. Although big on wow, these stray far from the main point of a burger: a vehicle (the bun) for a well cooked 1/2 pound of high quality ground beef with a couple of complementing flavors (mustard, ketchup, red onion, etc.) We tasted the special burger that day, the Baba O’Riley (sic), ground black angus beef served with baba ganoush, red pepper and feta cheese. I have to confess I am more of the “meh” school of ordering hamburgers from menus. I am usually eyeing more adventurous options, but The Magnolia 525 burger feels exactly like what a burger should be, a reliably delicious way to enjoy a serving of hot, perfectly charred black angus beef. Magnolia 525 seems to believe that the burger is what it’s all about; what’s on top is accent. This is a burger to come back to, a burger to remember when you are at work imagining just the comforting dinner you want to have with your date on Friday night, a burger that calls out for a glass of red wine, a burger that you can’t reproduce at home and that’s why you order it out.  I’ve left my school, and will be ordering it again.

Manager Matthew Rask has assembled an earnestly creative cocktail list with some nice local nods, like the “The Red Blazer,” made with Ipswich Privateer rum, carpano antica, and maraschino liqueur. “The Dogtown Sour” is a hand crafted whiskey sour made with Ryan & Wood’s rye. “Marshall’s Last Stand,” named for our favorite local farm, is made with Ransom Old Tom gin, apple juice, lime and honey. Rask, half Swedish, and a member of Spiran Lodge, the Rockport Scandinavian Society, even includes lingonberries in “The Undecided,” – citron vodka, lingonberry, triple sec, and lemon juice topped with prosecco.

Rask Cocktail

 

We sipped a “Char #4,” named for the 55-second char the oak barrels receive in order to create the perfect batch of bourbon: the Rask drink was stovetop-smoked cherries and oranges muddled with a vanilla syrup with bourbon on the rocks, not your mother’s manhattan.

Another local nod, “525” refers to this tiny hamlet’s telephone exchange. The village of Magnolia is cited in guide books for its once-upon-a-time history of grand hotels, fine shops, and summering aristocracy, which all ended gloomily with the Depression and a number of fires. But the updated Magnolia 525 energy – and care – is leading a revitalization – (along with the Magnolia Farmers’ Market in the summer!) With its doors open, with Plumadore in the kitchen and Rask’s warm smile at the door, Magnolia 525 Tavern & Restaurant is making Magnolia the neighborhood of neighborhoods. If you don’t live there, brave the darkness this winter and find it.