It’s a typical Saturday night in Manchester-by-the-Sea and a relative hush has fallen over the town—except at Superfine, in the former space of the Coffee Cup, where amidst the buzz of music and conversation and the clink of barware blistered pies, sticky ribs, and burgers fly out of the kitchen with astonishing speed.
“My thought, when we first were developing the concept, was that I wanted it to feel like your older brother’s basement bedroom in the ’70s, with a turntable, the game systems, and goofy name,” says Matthew Gaudet, who, along with Chris Robins and Paul Emmett, co-owns Superfine. The name pays homage to Superfine Pictures, the film studio in the 1936 Mae West flick Go West Young Man.
“I wanted to make food that was playful, hearty, and delicious,” says Gaudet; the menu includes fruits and vegetables from area farms, local seafood, and artisanal meats and cheeses. Gaudet’s dream was to create a radically stripped-down version of the super fussy, labor-intensive fare he’d been making at West Bridge in Cambridge, where he won a Best New Chefs 2013 award and continued cooking until 2015, when he threw in the towel.
“It wasn’t me anymore,” says Gaudet. “Just the mental wear and tear of trying to be ahead of the curve, on top of things—and maintaining a certain level of perfection—was brutally exhausting. And the birth of my daughter [in 2014] made me start to feel I was missing part of the world.” So Gaudet and his wife, Miranda, sold their home in Cambridge and moved to Miranda’s hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Gaudet began combing the North Shore for restaurant spaces, eventually settling on 25 Union Street.
“It was affordable, and I put in a really low offer and they took it,” says Gaudet, chuckling at his good luck. “But it’s what we wanted. I was looking for 40-seat pizza places that had a hood [pizza oven] and enough space to put in some fryers.”
To achieve Superfine’s pizza parlor look, Gaudet and his team tore away five layers of paneling and beadboard until they reached the original brick wall that runs along the right side of the restaurant (now sporting a black-and-white photograph of Boston predating the Prudential Center and John Hancock Building), which the plumbers found when they opened up the kitchen wall. Gaudet kept the Coffee Cup’s tan tile floors but yanked away the drop ceiling to garner more height, and he put in new cushioned booths, a wooden side table and stools along the brick wall, and a center communal table, resulting in seating for 38 people. Paper napkins and self-serve silverware sit on each table in large tin cans. A full bar runs along the front of the restaurant, with views into the open kitchen. A huge window looks out onto the sidewalk of Union Street.
“It’s supposed to be fun here,” says Gaudet. “I don’t want anyone to take the food too seriously. We’ll take our end seriously, but I just want people to come in and relax and have a good time.”
Since it opened in early September, Superfine’s menu has shifted slightly to accommodate the seasons and diners’ tastes. Not surprisingly, the half dozen pizzas are among the most popular items on the menu, along with the succulent, smoky barbecued ribs, the fried chicken (juicy from its brine bath and served inside a shatteringly crunchy batter shell), and the burgers. In addition to a traditional beef patty, the kitchen crafts a fish burger—made moist with 60 percent ground tuna, 40 percent ground salmon, some edamame, carrot, fish sauce, and spices—topped with crispy shallots and yuzu aioli and served in a soft bun. For lighter fare, the kitchen offers daily farm-fresh roasted vegetables, such as charred broccoli with salsa verde or honeyed beets. They also regularly feature a catch of the day.
Looking ahead, Superfine will offer breakfast and lunch, with lots of items available to go. In addition to a hot egg sandwich, morning fare will include baked goods and yogurt, fruit, and granola. For lunch, the kitchen plans to offer a variety of special sandwiches, along with select items from the dinner menu.
“Eventually, we also want to offer cooking classes and workshops,” says Gaudet, who plans to feature other chefs, brewers and distillers, and folks in food-related industries like sustainability, recycling, and wellness. “I want to incorporate more of the community into the restaurant, because even though Manchester is a small town, it’s really close and connected, and I want people to feel like we’re a part of them.”
25 Union Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea