Sunlight streams through widened windows, reflecting off charming porthole-style mirrors, playful tile flooring, and an expanded bar area. A dramatic new glass-walled storage unit calls attention to a long-standing, thoughtful, and expansive wine program. And a new sushi menu includes a show-stopping lobster tempura roll ripe for a starring role in every diner’s Instagram feed.
Fresh off an extensive renovation, Legal Sea Foods’ Northshore Mall location in Peabody wears its nearly 25 years exceedingly well. Underneath the polish of a stylish new look beats the heart of a much-loved New England institution, with an extraordinarily loyal staff. Hostess Sue Connelly has been greeting customers at the Peabody location since it opened in 1993, and it’s not unusual to come across employees, from servers to chefs, who have been with the company for a decade or more.
Combining New England hospitality with a menu that celebrates fresh fish, spanning classics through new preparations, Legal has long been a meeting ground that pleases every generation. College students visit with their parents, grandparents recall anniversary meals, while singles and couples can chat over a cocktail or glass of wine.
Legal wears that history proudly—placemats trace a cheeky “timewave” rather than a time line, from the company’s origins as a fish market in 1904 to its first restaurant in 1968 to the present, with more than 30 restaurants along the East Coast.
Bask in that history by starting—as every newly inaugurated president has since Ronald Reagan in 1981—with a cup of New England clam chowder. A mixture of light cream and fish stock thickened with a touch of flour, it strikes the perfect balance of richness, while a whole lot of littleneck clams bring bivalve goodness to every bite. To balance that classic with a hit of something new, try the lobster tempura roll—and watch heads turn all the way through the dining room. The roll—filled with avocado and gently deep-fried lobster and topped with colorful tobiko and a drizzle of spicy-savory mayonnaise—is crafted to look like a lobster, with a full lobster head and tail decorating the ends.
Entrees run the gamut from salmon to shrimp, with little concession to landlubbers. All of the seafood is carefully selected and tested at the company’s quality control lab in Boston—meaning it can trace the provenance of everything that is served. Fried selections are high-quality—Legal was one of the first restaurants around to remove trans fats from the menu, and the fish and chips is a tower of crispy goodness, topped with a few crispy onions for good measure.
There’s barely a whisper of breading in Legal’s signature crab cake—so little that it seems a magical feat of culinary showmanship that the giant lumps of meat stay together at all. Big chunks of sweet, tender crab are somehow held together with a hint of Ritz cracker crumbs, with the richness balanced by a mustard sauce. At dinner, it’s available as either an appetizer or an entrée in the crab cake combo, which includes perfectly grilled shrimp and scallops.
For a spin into classic New England fare, try Anna’s Baked Boston Cod. Buttery, with a light breading on top, it’s a traditional seaside dish done just right. And no wonder—it was the first nonfried food offered after the original restaurant opened in 1968, a special recipe of Anna McAllister, a neighbor who also worked in the kitchen for 41 years.
Back then, it is unlikely that Anna’s Baked Boston Cod could be enjoyed with a glass of French burgundy, but these days, it’s perfect with the restaurant’s crisp signature chardonnay, the Louis Latour “LSF Cuvee.” Try that, or ask for something new—well-educated servers are happy to help. Legal changes over most of its wine list every six months, and prides itself on being on top of trends. They recently added a few selections from Israel—an up-and-coming wine region not seen on many lists. A broad range of wines are available by the glass, so customers can try a different wine with each course. A suggested dessert combination of Key lime pie with Jorge Ordonez Malaga #2, an intense, refreshing muscat from Spain, was spot-on, elevating and playing off the bright, citrusy dessert.
While Legal‘s is steeped in tradition, it is far from hidebound, as the Boston cream pie displays—the historic dessert is ramped up with an espresso-soaked base, complementing the pastry cream and dark chocolate topping. You could gild the lily with a glass of port, but it stands on its own as a delicious blend of classic and contemporary—just like the restaurant itself.
Legal Sea Foods
210 Andover St., Peabody