Grove’s mission seems to be to bring the outdoors inside. Even the name evokes a summertime forest, and both the food and the space thrive on the restaurant’s Rowley location. Housed in a newly constructed post-and-beam barn whose tall windows let in the views from the natural surroundings, the rustic dining room, painted in shades of taupe and white with a cathedral ceiling, is all about light and air
Meanwhile, chef Ben Lightbody brings the North Shore straight to the table, working with local food purveyors to highlight everything from local clams to the seasonal soup and putting a creative spin on whatever is fresh. Lightbody grew up in Ipswich, and has developed deep relationships with local farms like Alprilla in Essex and Cedar Rock Garden in Gloucester. He expects to change his creative regional menu with the seasons, with specials popping up as the produce does.
Unexpected tastes and textures abound in the imaginative menu, starting with the Snacks section—ideal to accompany drinks on the restaurant’s charming patio or to start a meal. The Tator-Tots may seem like a classic bar snack, but Lightbody elevates them, cooking the shredded potatoes low and slow, confit style, in duck fat before shaping them into cylinders and frying them to order. The outside is crispy, and the inside is creamy. Served with a changing slate of dipping sauces, they are a terrific accompaniment to a cocktail or local beer
For a unique take on a seasonal starter, try the cauliflower salad. A mix of orange, purple, and white cauliflower and green romanesco, some pieces blanched and some roasted, is served atop a bed of riced cauliflower rice. Topped with Marcona almonds and raisins and dressed with a curry vinaigrette, it is a delightful mix of flavors and textures evoking the Middle East—and it’s vegan to boot. This is a hearty salad, but as June moves into July, Lightbody expects to introduce more veggie starters, perhaps combined with seasonal fruit.
For a heartier appetizer, check out the smoked pork belly, which is served with a changing array of accompaniments, but most recently was presented atop a vibrant English pea puree, dressed with carrot slivers and pea shoots. It was as lovely to look at as to taste
Everything is made in-house, from the brioche buns for the 10-ounce burger (served with pickled jalapenos) to the pastas, which include tagliatelle topped with local clams and angolotti stuffed with lemon ricotta. The menu also boasts a breaded local fish dish that changes to feature whatever the fishermen are bringing in.
The red wine–marinated steak is beautifully tender and flavorful, not to mention a good value at $29. The coulotte cut of steak is similar to a New York strip, but without the fat cap. It’s unusual to see on a menu; it is traditionally what’s known as a “butcher’s cut,” so called because the butcher would set tasty bits like this aside for his or her family while selling the higher priced ones. Served in a red wine sauce with charred spring onion, asparagus farro, and morels, it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.
Desserts are also completely prepared in house, and will reflect the same seasonality. A rotating selection of at least three ice creams and sorbets rounds out the sweet offerings—if it’s available, the cinnamon ice cream is a terrific accompaniment to the warm chocolate cake. Or indulge in the strawberry cheesecake, served with a side of intensely flavorful strawberry sorbet.
101 Main St., Rowley, 978-484-5166, briarbarninn.com/grove