It’s sadly rare to find cheese fondue on a menu these days. The dish of gooey Gruyère, spiked with cherry brandy and served with accoutrements for dipping, seems to have fallen out of favor, even in an age in which shared plates are trendy.
But Brenden Crocker doesn’t care. At his new Manchester-by-the-Sea restaurant Black Arrow, the cheese fondue calls out from a cozy appetizer menu that includes house-made potato chips and fish cakes. Accompanied by some Granny Smith apples, bread made in-house from a sourdough starter Crocker has nursed for years, and some crispy potatoes, it is satisfying and complex.
For many, a big bowl of steaming cheese is perfect in any season. For those who tend toward lighter fare in the warmer months, the skillet clams might be just the ticket. Simply steamed and sauced with a bright mixture of lemon and butter, the dish is served in a miniature cast iron pan with a side of that same tasty bread. Or try the blue cheese salad, a vibrant fresh mix of greens tossed with tiny pungent salty crumbles.
Entrées are similarly approachable and thoughtfully prepared. Fans of Wild Horse Tavern in Beverly and The Old Spot in Salem—Crocker’s former restaurants—will recognize his style, and perhaps some of the dishes as well. The pan-roasted breaded haddock was a favorite at Wild Horse. Displaying all the components of a classic New England baked haddock, but presented with a modern twist, the beautifully burnished piece of breaded local haddock is topped with a rich sherry cremini mushroom cream sauce and served with seasonal sides. Similarly, the seared Long Island duck is a spin on a popular dish from Wild Horse; scented with vanilla and coriander, it is both exotic and familiar.
Many of the appetizers and entrées, including the skillet clams and the haddock, are offered in a generous half-portion size as well—it’s a great way to sample a wide variety of dishes, or share with a few friends.
For Crocker, taking on the former Foreign Affairs spot is a homecoming. While his previous restaurants have been located nearby, the chef grew up in Manchester. Even the eatery’s name reflects his heritage—Crocker’s great-grandfather designed boats, including one called the Black Arrow. His drawings of that boat grace the walls of the restaurant, giving a subtle nautical theme to the cozy space, which is mostly unchanged from Foreign Affairs days, with rough-hewn exposed beams and a busy bar.
Desserts change nightly, and are almost exclusively made in-house—Crocker got a taste for baking during a stint in the kitchen at Green Meadow Farms in Hamilton, whipping up pastries, bread, and pizza, as well as a farm-to-table dinner series. Future plans for sweets include adding some handmade chocolates from Crocker’s wife, co-owner Milissa Oraibi, who has been the proprietor of Pride’s Crossing Confections, just a few miles down Route 127, since 2014.
While Oraibi’s chocolates weren’t on offer, a recent evening did feature a mason jar ice cream trifle, layered with rich chocolate cake, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. Get two spoons—it’s generous enough to share.
26 Central St., Manchester-by-the-Sea