What’s for Dinner?
A self-proclaimed food snob’s personal guide to dining out on Cape Ann
I am a food snob.
There. I said it. Now let me explain.
First, I’m offended by the use of ‘snob’ as the noun in ‘food snob,’ but I’ve been called one enough times to finally succumb to it. I will, however, take this opportunity to squeeze in the fact that ‘food connoisseur’ sounds a heck-of-a-lot better.
The truth is that I’m the absolute worst dinner date ever. Or am I the best?
It depends on how you look at it.
If you ask my mother about my relationship with food, she’ll tell you I’m ridiculous. Mention my food snobbery, or even someone else’s, to my boyfriend and I can bet that he’d probably stand up from his seat, outstretch his arms — as if he were an umpire declaring a runner safe at home — and say something like, “Oh, you want to talk about food snobs?!” Then he’d share his bit about me not liking so-and-so place for such-and-such reason, or the fact that my pizza preference is mood dependent.
I simply care more than the average person about where I choose to get my food and what I choose to order once I’m there.
A friend of mine recently had an eat-in date on the books and she came to me for advice.
“He’s bringing the food,” she explained. “Where should I tell him to go?” She turned to me, she said, because I’m “decisive and duly critical” with all things food. I can’t argue with that.
So, maybe you’ll take my word for it when I share my go-to list of all places for grab-and-go and call-it-dinner options on our Cape. Because going out doesn’t have to mean going in.
Take my word for it, or leave it, but I suggest you don’t pass it up because you’ll be missing out on some pretty tasty eats. Here goes ...
Short & Main
There’s “dinner pizza” and there’s eat-in-the-rough, hangover, family-party type of pizza.
I certainly don’t discriminate against either kind. It all depends on my mood. When I’m feeling like “dinner pizza,” Short & Main is my spot. The pizza here is as close to Italian pizza as I’ve been able to get my hands on in this entire country. It flops, it bubbles, it’s crunchy-but-soft, and the medley of flavors that goes into all of their signature pizzas is unmatched.
With a menu that changes daily you’re sure to always discover a new favorite. Bring it home and pair it with a bottle of red or head to the beach for a picnic in the sand after a long day in the sun.
Either way, here are my favorites:
Margherita: My go-to. Whenever I order from Short & Main, getting the Margherita is a requirement. It’s a perfect party of basil, tomato, mozzarella, and wood-fired goodness in your mouth. For every signature slice I balance it out with a slice of the Classic. That’s the best way to enjoy the fancier selections — break them up with an appreciation for the simple.
Rosso: Don’t look over this pick just because it lacks mozzarella. This pizza is all about the sauce, which has a little kick from the hot pepper. If you’re into spicy, then go for it. Tip: Add on the Iron Ox arugula. You won’t be sorry.
Louis Prima: The sausage that these guys put on their pizzas is heaven sent. I’m not sure why it’s so good. It just is. Mozzarella, basil, tomato, red onion, hot pepper, and sausage. This one sells itself. That is all.
■ Short & Main, Main Street, Gloucester. (978) 281-0044. Open year-round: Mon, Wed, Thu, 5–10pm, Fri-Sat, 5–11pm, Sun, 10am–2pm, 5–10pm.
Surfside Subs & Pizza
When you’re not in a “dinner pizza” mood, Surfside Subs will extinguish all your burning pizza cravings.
It takes care of that pizza craving you get when you’re in the mood for just good-old-fashioned pizza. The kind of American pizza you devour at family cookouts and birthday parties. The kind of pizza you eat standing up. The type you pair with a beer and wash down with an ice cream or two.
First off, these pies are huge. They’ve got thin crust, and they’re floppy. (But in a good way). They’re so thin that you can pack in more slices than usual, even though each slice is just about as big as your head.
As with Short & Main, the Margherita pizza is probably my favorite here. The sauce is chunky and the slice is foldable. I like to fold my slice in half and then flop the pointy part of the triangle onto itself before I take my first bite. You can eat it however you want. But this is clearly the best way to go about it.
If you’re a ranch dressing-and-pizza kind of person (I am in all instances. Except for dinner-pizza instances), this kind of pizza is ideal. Another favorite from Surfside is the Vegetarian. It feels kind of like a salad in pizza form with white garlic sauce instead of the typical tomato. It’s covered with mushrooms, peppers, onions, olives, and artichokes, so you’re simultaneously getting in your pizza fill and your daily dose of veggies.
■ Surfside Subs & Pizza, 147 Thatcher Road, Rockport. (978) 281-1700. Seasonal: Every day, 11am–8pm.
Happy Belly’s goal is to spread happiness and I’m certainly not going to argue with that. This is a perfect place to grab a quick salad, sandwiches made with daily baked breads, cold brews, and even fresh, house-baked pastries.
You come here when you’re in the mood for something a little different.
It’s a place where you don’t have to cheat to eat. There are plenty of healthy options made with fresh and locally sourced ingredients on this menu. And if you’re hanging with a gluten-free or vegetarian human, there are plenty of options for them, too.
Order at the counter, grab a Nitro Cold Brew while you wait, then take your yum and go. Some notable options: Breakfast Burrito, Kale Salad, Crispy Crunchy Chicken Salad, Happy Burger, Pho and Ramen bowls, Chicken and Waffles, and Crispy Pork Belly Tacos. There’s plenty of interesting and healthy eats to experiment with.
■ Happy Belly, 3 Duncan Street, Gloucester. (978) 281-3997. Open year-round: Every day, 7am–9pm.
Mediterranean flavors to go? My vote is yes! Let me just say that the people who work here are so incredibly friendly — and fast! The last time I called in an order, it was ready five minutes later and I was greeted the second I walked through the door.
This is a place where regulars call in their order, arrive early for pickup, and catch up with the owners while they wait. During my last visit the cook was grilling chicken while asking the next customer in line where he was at lunchtime. “Oh, you went golfing today? We missed you at lunch,” he said.
This is another clean-eats spot. The Chicken Shish Kebob salad or bowl is a good pick. So is the Chicken Gyro bowl. It’s prepared the traditional Turkish way on a rotisserie, shaved off, and served in thin slices. Their tzatziki sauce is delicious. I always get it as one of my toppings. The menu is simple, but has all the options you’d look for when you’re feeling Mediterranean. Falafel, Lamb Adana, and Baklava included.
■ Paprika Grill, 185 Washington Street, Gloucester. (978) 551-8186. Open year-round: Mon–Thu, 11am–8pm, Fri-Sat, 11am–9pm, Closed Sun.
Common Crow Natural Market
Ever since it moved to its new location on Pond Road, the Crow has been one of my favorite places to stop for a quick meal to go. Plain and simple.
My favorite is their Tex-Mex Burrito (which can also be ordered as a bowl). I usually substitute chicken or pork for the beef. I’ll almost always grab their house-made Lemon Garlic Hummus and some crackers to go with it, even though the burrito itself weighs about a pound-and-a-half on its own.
Other favorites: Thai Chicken, the Cluckingham Palace, Spicy Sausage and Kale soup, Beef Chili, Chicken Salad Salad. They also offer smoothie specials, so keep an eye out!
■ Common Crow Natural Market, 200 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester. (978) 283-1665. Open year-round: Every day 8am–8pm
The Lobster Pool
The Lobster Roll here is unmatched. It’s so good, in fact, that I ordered it the first time I went to The Lobster Pool and haven’t bothered to order anything else. Ever.
And that’s fine by me. The bun on this baby is sweet, buttery, and toasty on the outside and soft on the inside. The lobster is packed with all the flavors you look for in fresh lobster meat. There’s no fuss, just lobster. Tender, sweet, crisp, chunky, hunks of lobster.
If you do end up here, bring yourself a bottle of wine to sip on while you wait. The Lobster Pool is BYOB and eat-in-the-rough. Around back you’ll find people with full bellies and their favorite beverages awaiting another glorious summer sunset.
You haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve seen a Lobster Pool sunset.
■ The Lobster Pool, 329 Granite St, Rockport. (978) 546-7808. Seasonal: Thu–Sun, 11:30am–8pm.
“I’m gonna do the burger.”
That’s exactly what you should be saying when you go to Superfine. It’s the best burger I’ve experienced around these parts. It’s like a high-class Big Mac®. Char on a burger is something I underestimated, until Superfine. It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize you’re missing out on until you taste it. I’ve added the Superfine burger to my mental Best Burger list, which now has three burgers populating it. (The others? The burger at Riversbend in Essex (huge double decker amazingness), and the other is from Barbara Lynch’s DRINK, which is a speakeasy-type place in the Boston Seaport. Get the fries with it! And if you’re in New York City, definitely check out Black Tap’s burgers. Unforgettable.)
The atmosphere here is amazingly low-key and their to go counter makes things super-easy. You can also place your order on their super-cool website and have it all ready when you get there.
Other amazing picks at Superfine: I highly recommend the Warm Brown Rice bowl, and the Crunchy Chicken, Whiskey Glazed Ribs, and the Brussels Sprout Pizza are all on my list to try.
■ Superfine, 25 Union St, Manchester. (978) 526-0964. Open year-round: Every day 11:30am–10pm.
See? There is a silver lining when it comes to being a food snob, and that is that you’ll never go without good food. Never.
Shawn Henry is a Gloucester-based commercial photographer.