What sorcery is going on in the kitchen of FRANK restaurant? A dish simply called “Bacon and Eggs” arrived at the table like some sort of parlor trick—an egg shell held upright by a mound of salt, with a slice of maple-cured bacon balanced across like a tiny bridge. But the real magic occurred when guests dipped their spoons into the shell, scooping up a frothy, maple-tinged sabayon and discovering an unbroken, perfectly cooked yolk resting at the bottom.
An impressive dish in any kitchen—but doubly so when presented to a seating of 60 or 70 people all at once. Such is the enchantment of the Apple Street Farm Supper Club, chef Frank McClelland’s members-only prix fixe paean to hyper-seasonal dining.
The gathering, held the first Tuesday of every month at McClelland’s Beverly restaurant, is an homage to the farm in Essex that the chef and his wife, Heather, owned and operated several years back. “We loved working the land and hosting small, intimate gatherings where I would create menus around what I was able to grow and harvest,” McClelland says. “We miss the farm and those small parties; this was a way to bring them back in some form.”
Now many of those close friends who came to the farm dinners belong to the Supper Club, but it’s no exclusive party. The chef opens the email list several times a year to welcome new members, and was recently able to add a second seating, doubling the number of guests he can accommodate.
It’s a pretty simple premise—membership is free, and while there are no contracts or penalties, once you sign up, you’re expected to attend. The five-course meals, paired with beverages, run the gamut of what is available locally and what is exciting to the kitchen crew. That can involve everything from a vegetarian feast to a barbeque pig-out.
“The event affords an opportunity for our culinary team to think creatively about ingredients, seasonal themes, and connections between people and food systems,” McClelland says, adding that sometimes the evening might home in on a single ingredient. “Last August, our menu was a celebration of the tomato, and it was spectacular. When we focus that narrowly, people are often surprised at the very diverse ways that simple ingredients can be used.”
In March, that Bacon and Egg dish was part of a maple-themed meal, celebrating the new syrup harvest. And perhaps more surprising than that course was the next one, a single perfectly cooked scallop, drizzled with a delicate sweet-and-sour maple gastrique. It was perfect in every way, with the maple adding a subtle lift to the dish, alongside the slightest hint of a crunch from sea salt.
The scallop dish brought to mind McClelland’s fine dining restaurant—the much-beloved L’Espalier, which went out with a flourish on Dec. 31, 2018. Everything from the exquisite plating to the correct service felt like it would have been perfectly at home in his former Boston spot.
But the supper club is not a monthly flashback to those days, McClelland says. “Naturally there are echoes of L’Espalier reverberating throughout FRANK and Supper Club,” he says. “They are both real-world manifestations of my philosophy, of my creative energy, and my own preferences. But it’s merely that, an echo.”
Between the vibrant dining room, where guests can be overheard chatting about Wordle and what they’re watching on Netflix, the warm décor, and the casual vibe, FRANK definitely has a different feel that of the special-occasion, white tablecloth ambience of L’Espalier—but the same attention to detail is baked in.
“If someone came to Supper Club expecting a L’Espalier experience, they might be disappointed,” the chef says. “It’s an entirely different approach and a different feel: More casual, more energetic, more free-wheeling, and more closely tied to coastal New England farms.”
In fact, for every Supper Club event, the planning starts with local farmers, says McClelland, who grew up on a farm and has honed relationships with growers throughout his career.
“They are so in tune with the food they are growing that we always think it prudent to work from there,” the chef explains. From there, the entire FRANK culinary team starts thinking and testing.
In March, maple syrup was the star, since the event fell in the heart of the sugaring season. “It was pretty exciting to give [the kitchen staff] the freedom to really experiment with so few guardrails,” McClelland says of the maple menu. “We try to capture, in a pure and true way, what’s coming out of the ground or from the land or sea. Whether it’s maple or tomatoes or pork or halibut, that’s what drives the story of our menu.”
In the dead of winter, that can be tricky, the chef admits. “What do you put on a farm-driven menu in February when the ground is frozen solid?” he asks. “It forces us to think about preservation methods like curing, smoking, [and] pickling. In many ways, the challenging bits keep everything a little more interesting!”
Of course, with spring in the air, the choices blossom—literally. “May is precisely when things start to burst to life on farms,” McClelland says. With fresh vegetables available once again, the menu will likely shift focus. “You might see lighter preparations, more delicate flavors, and the bright colors of spring on the plate.”
Putting farms at the center of the plate means more than delicious food to McClelland, though. “Watching guests fall in love with these farms and start to feel a greater connection to them is so fulfilling,” he says. “When people make those connections, they begin to assign more value to farms. They care more about them, more about the people who work them, and about the land. Farms are vitally important, but at some point years ago, many people forgot that. And whatever we don’t value or don’t remember eventually fades away. We don’t want to let that happen to small farms.”
Monthly dinners, including food and beverage pairings, are $125 plus tax and tip. While there is currently a waitlist, it moves fairly quickly, and FRANK is exploring expanded seatings. farmtofrank.com/apple-street-farm-supper-club