It takes a bit of nerve to put fried clams on the menu at a brand-new eatery in Essex that is sandwiched between Village Restaurant and the double threat of Woodman’s and J.T. Farnham’s, all three with generations of fierce adherents for that very dish. But chef Mario Capone and his staff are well up to the challenge, bringing the same care to the upscale pub food at Great Marsh Brewing Co. that is on display at the much-loved Bancroft restaurants Capone also oversees. Their fried clams are plump and sweet, dipped in a house-secret blend of flour and seasonings and then burnished to a crispy bronze hue.
The generous portion, served with house-made dilly tartar sauce, is perfect with beer—which is, of course, part of the point. Stretching across the top floor of Great Marsh Brewing Co.’s looming 15,000-square-foot brewery, the restaurant brings elevated pub food at casual prices to complement the brewer’s wide selection of beer.
Want to learn about more north of Boston breweries? Check out The Complete Guide to Every North Shore Brewery.
You can’t have beer without pretzels, and Capone, who serves as culinary director for the trio of restaurants owned by The Webber Group, spent weeks experimenting to craft his dense Everything Pretzel. The chewy exterior, painted with butter and crusted with a mix of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, and garlic, gives way to a pillowy-soft interior. The cheese sauce, made with GMBC lager and a secret mix of spices, cream cheese and other cheeses, onion, and red pepper, is really just gilding the lily.
In a nod to both the beer and its waterfront location, the Fish N’ Chips is classic; a large haddock filet, nicely crisp on the outside and moist on the inside, is served with house red cabbage slaw on a fun old-school metal tray. The long rustic space offers other nods to a classic clam shack, but with a thoroughly modern edge. Floor-to-ceiling windows invite in the Essex River Basin from every angle, which will be easier to appreciate as the days start to lengthen—as will the 40-seat deck, overlooking the marsh.
The GMBC menu borrows from some Bancroft favorites—fans of the Bancroft & Co. burger might recognize the combo of house-made brioche, juicy beef, and aged cheddar. And the selection of steaks, while smaller and less expensive than at the sibling restaurants, are just as carefully sourced and prepared. For value, it’s hard to beat the Prime Skirt Steak Frites—tender, flavorful and perfectly seasoned, served with truffle fries and grilled carrots.
In addition to beer, the restaurant offers a truly inventive roster of cocktails, created by Webber Group beverage director Dave Werthman. Half of the drinks use GMBC beer or hops, like the refreshingly crushable Amer Bière. This classic French cocktail combining their Cologne KÖlsch (a light, crisp German-style beer) with Bigallet China-China, (the French equivalent of Italian amaro) is the one you’ll be reaching for this summer on that expansive deck.
Looking for something more wintery, frothy, and wholly unique? Try the IPA Flip. Loosely based on the hot ale flip, which sailors in the late 1600s enjoyed at sea, it combines bourbon, honey gastrique (equal parts organic honey and apple cider vinegar), Mexican chocolate bitters and an egg. The whole thing is vigorously shaken, strained into a beer glass, then topped with Great Marsh New England IPA V2. Sounds weird, maybe, but the result is a frothy, slightly sweet-tart and bitter beer cocktail unlike any you may have had.
Desserts are seriously for sharing—the brownie sundae, gooey and satisfying, can easily provide a chocolate fix for four people. And the equally large apple crisp has a thick topping almost like an oatmeal cookie, hiding tender, sweet apples. Paired with the GMBC English Brown Ale, it’s the perfect way to wait out the winter.
For more information, visit thegreatmarsh.com.