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Well before you enter Oak to Ember, the new waterfront spot in Gloucester, the smell of woodsmoke confirms the restaurant’s name and theme, perfuming the air. 

Open-flame cooking is the centerpiece of chef/owner Neal Maver’s cuisine—and his kitchen. A custom-built GrillWorks kit—with two large adjustable grill stations, a plancha, and two smoke chambers, all fueled by wood—is the focal point of the restaurant, dominating the large open kitchen. But even that wasn’t enough: The restaurant also boasts two wood-fired smokers outside to perfume its own bacon, brisket burgers, chicken, Dino ribs, and anything else the crew would like to try.

Crispy rockfish

Reserve the custom, six-person chef’s table, built by Timber & Salt Design in West Gloucester, for a front-row seat to the smoke show. That space, created in the top-to-bottom renovation of the old Cape Ann Brewing Co. tap room and brewery, is also the transition point between the quieter street-facing section of the dining room and the raucous back dining room, anchored by a curvy 24-seat bar. 

The custom table, made from reclaimed wood, is far from the only local contribution. Maver himself grew up in Beverly and summered in Gloucester. And his mom, Lyndsay Maver, and sister, Erica Murach, helped to design the space, while his dad worked as project manager. It’s not surprising that Maver is very familiar with the bounty of ingredients available on the North Shore, using relationships with local farms like Utopia, Iron Ox, Cedar Rock, and Three Sisters to take full advantage of local produce. Local seafood also appears on the menu, from bluefin tuna and scallops, to lobster, striped bass, and Jonah crab.

Many of those items see the grill too—the menu features beets, oysters, and even lobster with an open-fire treatment. If you want to start with something just gently flame-kissed, try the wood grilled calamari. The tender rings and tentacles, cooked fast in a mesh basket over the fire, sit atop a gently spicy purée of fire-roasted red peppers and onions, blended with garlic confit. Topped with a garnish of Marcona almonds and Castelvetrano olives, it’s a bright, fresh start to your meal.

Steak frites

Or save the heat for later. Umami-laden steak tartare never goes out of style. A showcase for quality beef—in this case flat iron steak—diced and tossed with shallots and capers, it gets some spice from gochujang tempered by a bone marrow aioli and egg confit. Scoop it up with the sturdy house-made chips for a fun treat to share.

It’s difficult to choose from the large entrée list. The smokers are on display in entrées like a smoked brisket ragu and a smoked burger. Or go from raw flat iron steak to that cut treated by fire in the classic bistro dish steak frites. Perfectly cooked with a gorgeous sear from the live fire, it’s seasoned only with salt and pepper. Dip into the house-made bearnaise sauce to gild the lily.

The crispy rockfish entrée may be a bit intimidating, but it’s worth staring down. Also known as Acadian red fish or perch, the mild white fish is sustainable, underutilized, and abundant in the waters of Maine. Chef Maver deep fries it whole, and the moist flesh adheres nicely to the crispy exterior for a more interactive version of a classic fried filet. Maver skips the tartar sauce in favor of a Latin accompaniment, a bright mint and fennel salsa verde, which balances the richness of the crisp crust.

Don’t skip dessert! Pastry chef Brittany Healy draws from myriad sources to put out treats that match the seasons. The dense, intense chess pie starts with a barely sweet chocolate custard in a graham cracker crust, topped with house-made ice cream and peanut brittle. For something lighter, explore the apple cake, tangy with buttermilk and sweetened with maple and a dulce de leche caramel. Either would be a delightful wintry finish before heading back out into the chill air, gently perfumed with lingering woodsmoke. 

9 Rogers St., Gloucester, 978-289-5859,