I grew up in farm country, in the heartland. Now, my son and I call the North Shore home after years of living in Austin, Texas, where BBQ and tacos are currency and summers are hot as heck and heading to Barton Springs with a kolache and a Topo Chico is routine.
Here, it’s seafood: fried, fresh, finished with beurre blanc, however we can get it, and picnics on granite ledges at Gerry Island with a lobster roll and a bottle of rosé. Those granite ledges make the marble of Marblehead, and the views and salt air and life on the edge between land and sea makes the most sense these days for the two of us and we revel in every change in tide, wind and season.
Since we settled in Old Town, Marblehead, we have immersed ourselves in getting to know the people who make our food possible here on the North Shore. What we have come to learn, and even to welcome, is the plain and simple truth that if the “food” didn’t come from these waters or the farms nearby, we likely won’t be eating it. Unless, of course, we are in Boston and that’s a story for a different issue.
Although I could write an endless screed about fisheries and family run businesses and farmers and food culture here on the North Shore, I have touched on just a few go-tos for their brand story-telling, community commitment, quality, and impact.
Little Harbor Lobster Company
What makes this spot special for us locals and even for the people who drive miles to enjoy one of the best lobster rolls around, are location and people. Although getting there and parking can be a test, most folks who aren’t on foot figure out soon enough the rabbit warrens of Marblehead and the joy that is parking in a community that has one-ways and narrow streets. For us, it’s easy enough as we can get there on foot, in just under five minutes, and enjoy all that this mom-and-pop spot has to offer.
Sure, the lobster rolls are the star of the shore here, but you can also pick up pre-made chowders and bisques, mussels and clams, fin fish, prepared foods and lobsters to steam at home. The people you meet in line are happy to be on Little Harbor, watching the water while their orders are prepared, but it’s the people you meet who run this spot, committing to this endeavor each and every day, who are the true storytellers and community-makers to remember.
The Brewin and O’Keefe families came together to keep the tradition of Marblehead Lobster Company alive and have the support of a loving town and long-time staff members to help out. With decades of fishing and relationship building behind the team at Little Harbor Lobster Company, you will be sure to take home and enjoy the freshest seafood and feel fulfilled to have supported a mission to commit to locally sourced food and the fishermen and women who go out there and get it done.
Added pluses: delivery (both by land and sea) and specials such as taco kits with fresh halibut and all the necessities including slaws, chimichurri and queso fresco. Throw in a bottle of wine and the evening is mapped out.
Boston Smoked Fish Co.
Although not focused on the North Shore, the Boston Smoked Fish Co. is a business worth supporting and a concept that features locally sourced fish found in the waters of the greater Boston area. Founders Chris Avery and Matt Baumann, in 2013, decided that they would test their fish-smoking skills and, through their discovery process, maintained a commitment to simple ingredients and to smoking fish that produced a richer flavor with minimal processing.
While exploring their learning curve, they experimented with over 70 brines, multiple fish varieties and several different types of hardwood. After all that R&D they landed on their sweet spot and have a smoked product with a synchronous flavor profile and a notable versatility. I know, in this household, the Boston Smoked Fish Co. salmon bacon and the smoked bluefish pâté, perfect with bagels, keeps Sunday brunch a celebratory affair.
The team hand-selects the fish daily, straight from the docks of Boston and remains committed to North American hardwoods and fresh herbs and spices, locally sourced by the communities in which we all, in these parts, live and work. Boston Smoked Fish Co. now has a permanent storefront at the Boston Public Market from Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6.p.m., and can also be found at Whole Foods, Roche Brothers and Wegmans. And for those of you who don’t live in this part of the shore, online shopping is always an easy option.
Cape Ann Fresh Catch
Our friends in Gloucester sure have the backstory, the backbone and the fishing chops to keep us all well-fed and well-learned when it comes to fresh seafood. Drive through town and you will see, perched on a granite base, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial that features an eight-foot-tall bronzed fisherman dressed in oilskins, bracing against a gale and committed to the helm. The memorial recognizes the more than three hundred years of fishermen or “They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships,” and is a reminder of the long history of fishermen lost to these waters.
The team at Cape Anne Fresh Catch has taken that history and turned it into a forward-looking concept, with a focus on sustainability and how to keep our fisheries and fishermen and women thriving, that is part fresh seafood delivery service, part pop-up pickup market, part what is now the largest community-supported fishery in the United States. With your pick up or delivery, you will receive the freshest possible fish, information about the vessel and team that brought your fish in, recipes, and details about the type of fish you will be enjoying.
Added plus: Cape Anne Fresh Catch has its own smokehouse, Twin Light Smokehouse (a nod to the stunning Thacher Island Twin Lights), and is a team born and raised on Cape Ann and mentored by the great smoking teacher, Paul “Sasquatch” Cohan. Offerings include smoked mussels, salmon, and haddock and the “Hit the Deck” smoked mussel spread. Visit virtually for details.
Our Wicked Fish
OWF is not a location, per se, but a community built through and rooted in education and information sharing. The team here is committed to giving both consumers and restaurants a full understanding of the fish they desire by creating a discourse with anglers, buyers, growers and sellers so that all are working with updated information and the best possible ways to celebrate local seafood. Our Wicked Fish provides updates on the best fish in season, shares information about organizations that support local fisheries, highlights restaurants that are committed to sustainability and showcases people who are the vibrant voices of the fisheries and this mission to inform about and celebrate the food we love and from where it comes.
Check out OWF's website for all the learning you could want from recipes, to where to buy, to farmers’ market updates, to local events, meetups, and media related to our seafood and celebration of our fish culture and community.