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Joshua and Ariel Smith’s first restaurant, Gloucester’s Talise, is a decidedly upscale dining experience. The menu changes daily, highlighting the freshest ingredients the couple can find from local farms and fishermen. The atmosphere at the waterfront eatery is casual and warm, but the culinary creations make it a destination for date nights and special occasion meals.

For their new restaurant, a fast casual burger joint in Rockport called Little Sister, the Smiths may have traded the beef tenderloin and miso tahini cream for ground beef and American cheese, but their signature attention to high-quality ingredients, impeccable preparation, and straight-up tastiness remain delectably evident.

“Our focus is on making sure everything we put out is top-tier,” Ariel says. “We want to make sure it’s really tight, really delicious, and the quality is there with every burger we put out.”

The Smiths first joined the North Shore dining scene in 2015, when Joshua took a position as chef at Short & Main, the Gloucester wood-fired pizza spot and raw bar owned by Nico and Amelia Monday, who also at the time owned the beloved waterfront restaurant The Market in Gloucester’s Annisquam neighborhood. Joshua already had an impressive culinary resume, working in kitchens across the country and helping launch a restaurant in Nantucket. Ariel, meanwhile, had been working in front-of-the-house positions for many years.

At the end of 2019, an opportunity presented itself: The Mondays were ready to step away from The Market and were looking for someone to take over the space. The Smiths seized the reins, opening Talise in 2020.

Even as Talise thrived, however, there was always a nagging desire to start a second restaurant, something a little more relaxed, Ariel says. And then, opportunity knocked again. The Top Dog, long a quick-eats institution on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck, was going out of business, and the space would be available.

“It just felt like the time was right,” Ariel says. “It’s a very small space, but it has this very cool vibe and energy in there, and it has an iconic reputation.”

The pair dove into menu development throughout the winter, while Talise was closed for the season, finding the perfect burger meat and experimenting with topping combinations, incorporating feedback from their 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. The name they chose for the new venture is a multifaceted nod to the compact size of the space, the restaurant’s status as the younger sibling of Talise, and the fact that the eatery is managed by Ariel’s younger sister Audrey.

Little Sister opened in May to an enthusiastic weekend crowd. The carefully designed menu offers up four specialty burgers (including one using a plant-based Impossible Burger), two hot dog options (“You can’t take over the Top Dog without serving hot dogs,” Ariel says), and a fish sandwich. Diners are also welcome to choose their own combinations of toppings if the preset options don’t quite suit.

Sides include classic fries, spicy waffle fries, onion rings, and coleslaw. As the season progresses, there will also be rotating seafood specials: a lobster roll, perhaps, or a fried catch-of-the day. Beer and wine will be available.

As much as possible, Little Sister will procure vegetables and ingredients from local farms and purveyors. “We’re paying really close attention to the quality of meat and vegetables and sides,” Ariel says. “We’re really keeping as much locality and seasonality as we try to do at Talise.”

The Lil Sister Burger is topped with American cheese, onion, spicy pickles, garlic aioli, and butter. The Big Brother, crafted with input from their son, features American cheese, tomato, griddled onion, pickles, lettuce, and bacon-jalapeno spread. The burgers arrive wrapped in a twisted paper nest and are a little messy in the best possible way, dripping lickable bits of cheese and sauce onto fingers.

The Smiths have taken care to maintain the casual charm of the restaurant space. The low-slung ceilings and wood walls create a cozy atmosphere, but the pair has maximized the space by building some banquettes inside to increase seating at the four indoor tables. A bar inside seats about five people and patios in front and back offer counter seating for outdoor dining with water views.

The current plan is to stay open through December, then close for a couple of months before reopening again next season. In addition to the flow of tourists, Joshua and Ariel are hoping to build a regular clientele who think of Little Sister as a go-to neighborhood spot. And one target audience is already sold: their son and his little sister.

“Even though they have two parents who run restaurants, they are still little kids who can be pretty picky,” Ariel says, “so they are very excited for French fries and hot dogs and burgers.”

2 Doyle Cove Rd., Rockport,