Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the most important items I consider when I travel is food. I am pretty picky because, quite frankly, I have some food sensitivities and some food aversions. I cannot tolerate onions or garlic in anything more than a small amount, and I hate fish and bleu cheese. When I glanced at the Pigeon Cove Tavern’s menu before I left for Massachusetts, I was happy to see that seafood was not the only entree on the menu. I was also very happy to see that the mashed potatoes and vegetables were not all drenched in garlic butter (If you look at the menu, you’ll see that they do have some items with garlic butter, but I’ll discuss that in a bit.)
When I got back to my room around 2 or so, I found a beautiful cheese plate on the dresser. Included were a number of artisan cheese that the chef, Doug Papows, had selected, preserves, fresh fruit, crostini, and crackers. Since I had not eaten lunch, I was a bit hungry, so I enjoyed having this to snack on. Unfortunately, I fell asleep before I got very far, but I was able to piece on the cheese throughout my visit.
I went down for dinner at 6:00 pm and chose a table inside but directly in line of the french doors that opened to the porch. It was a little chilly, so I figured I’d get the view without the wind. There were, however, a number of people eating outside (including the couple in the photo at the top of this post), and they all seemed to enjoy the experience. (Side note: The temps were in the 60s at that point which, to someone from that area is warm. To those of us who live in the desert, that’s winter coat weather.)
At any rate, I had to make a decision. I knew which appetizer I wanted (The oysters and mussels were out, of course.), but I wavered on the entree. Because of my fish aversion, the salmon was out, and I’m not fond of duck. That still left me with a choice of a pork chop, lamb chop, chicken, scallops, or a burger. I ended up with the burger because, darn it, I was in the mood for a good burger.
“May I have this without that garlic aioli?” I asked Lauren, my waitress. “I also don’t want any onions anywhere near it.”
“The chef makes everything fresh, so you can have it however you want it,” she replied. I wanted to hug her. I ordered the asparagus soup and the burger minus the bun and any form of garlic or onion near it. “How do you want the burger cooked?” she added.
“Can he do it medium on the rare side?” I inquired, and she assured me again that he made everything fresh so I could have it however I wanted it.
(Let me step out of this story to tell you why I think both of those answers were so important to me as a diner. Over the previous two weeks, I had been in numerous restaurants in Alaska and on the ship. One of the restaurants offered a number of side dishes…all cooked in garlic butter or with garlic included. The restaurant told me there was nothing they could do about it. “You can’t make the rice without garlic? You don’t have baked potatoes?” Nope. The second restaurant offered hamburgers, and one of the men in our party ordered one medium rare. “I’ll get it as close to medium as I can,” John the waiter said. “We precook them and keep them in a pan of broth until we need to grill them.” Say what? These two places were not hole-in-the-wall joints. They were both at lodges run by Princess Cruises.)
At any rate, the asparagus soup was wonderful. Some cream soups are very heavy, but I found this one light even with the creme fraiche swirled on it. Not only that, but it was actually hot and fresh-tasting. When I mentioned that to Lauren, she told me that they make it just before they serve it. “It doesn’t sit on the stove all day.” Wow.
My main dish arrived about five minutes after I finished my soup, another thing that I appreciated. I noted that the staff did this with everyone in the dining room. If the diners had an appetizer, their soup or salad came out after they finished. When the finished the second course, their main course came out. No one rushed anyone which, in so many restaurants, is not the case in the US. I took my time and watched and listened to other diners and the staff.
Now, you may be asking yourself why I would order a hamburger and fries in the tavern when I could have had lamb chops or pork chops or something more upscale. As I said, I was in the mood for the burger, and I also wanted to see how it would turn out. I recently interviewed a popular Las Vegas chef who told me that good restaurants are the ones that can make the simple dishes successfully. What better way to check this theory out?
My hamburger—and the fries—like the soup arrived very hot. I had requested that they bring me ketchup instead of the seasonal dipping sauces, and that’s what I got. I don’t know which I liked more, to tell the truth. The half-pound burger was cooked perfectly and, while juicy, did not fall apart. I hate to admit that I ate the entire thing, but I did because it was so good. And, unfortunately, I also ate every fry on my plate because they were, quite simply, the best I’ve ever had. Crispy on the outside, they were creamy on the inside. I like to think of myself as a fry snob because I worked in a french fry stand in high school, and we had good fries. These were much better. MUCH BETTER. (Admit it! Doesn’t that plate make you want to eat it all?)
“How is everything?” Krysten asked me as she walked through the dining room. She was helping the food and beverage manager (Meghan) out since the tavern was a little short on help. (See what I mean about how they all pitch in where needed?)
I told her that everything was delicious and that I could not believe that everything was so hot and fresh. “There is nothing worse than lukewarm french fries,” I told her. “Do you think I could talk to Chef Doug at some point?” He had a few minutes later in the evening, so we arranged that he’d come to my “desk” in the parlor when he had a minute. (More on Chef Doug below)
“What can I get you for dessert?” Krysten asked. Given I had pigged out on the main dish, I declined ordering anything sweet and left.
The next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast which is included with one’s room. The buffet main entrees change daily and include an egg dish, waffles or pancakes, and, of course, fresh fruit, yogurt, scones, danish, muffins, bacon, cereal, toast, and more than I can remember. Chef Gail MacDonald prepares the breakfast and, if you don’t see something you want to eat, she’ll prepare something for you personally. I sat out on the deck each of the three mornings I was at the inn, and the food and the view were a fantastic way to start my days on the coast. (Photos of my breakfasts are all below.)
Chef Doug Papows joined me in the parlor during a break in the dinner service. A native of the area, he studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and worked there for a number of years before returning home to be closer to his family. Until the Migis Group hired him to work on the changeover in the restaurant, Chef Doug had been at Foreign Affairs in Manchester-By-TheSea, which is a little south of Rockport. Before we talked food, I asked why he would leave a successful restaurant that he had started up to move to another start-up.
“Start-ups are hard. With the first one, I grew a lot and was able to turn it into something special,” he told me. “While I’m doing the same thing here, I’m doing it with more support. The owners are young and dynamic, and they believe in me and my food and give me the tools I need.”
I told him that I thought the meal was great. “The asparagus soup was so fresh and so hot,” I told him. “How do you do it?” He told me that he does cook it fresh for each order. While he has a base made in advance, he adds the other stuff to it as a customer orders it and finishes it then and there. “And the fries,” I added. “The were the most delicious fries I’ve ever had. I heard other customers comment on how good they were, too.” The chef smiled.
“It takes me three days to make the fries,” he informed me. I blinked hard. “We cut them first, “he continued, “and then put them in a bath of acidulated water. The bath draws out the starch. On the third day, we can fry them.” Sensing my confusion about acidulated water, he explained that it’s water that has some sort of acid—vinegar or lemons, for example—in it. Chef Doug uses lemons because, as he told me, they tend to make the potatoes a little whiter. “The lack of starch is what makes the inside creamy while the outside is crisp.” Uh, huh!
I had to ask about the burger, too. “I’m embarrassed that I ate the entire thing,” I winced. “How do you make it so tasty and juicy?” He explained that he grinds his own meat—a combination of short rib, sirloin, and a third cut that I promised I wouldn’t mention. He wouldn’t give me the percentages of each cut, but that was okay. I don’t think I’ll be grinding my own meat anytime soon. Ha. Ha.
I asked the chef what his favorite dish on the menu was, and he admitted that he likes the duck best. It includes duck confit, roasted beet & fingerling hash, beet greens with duck and beet demi. “It’s my best version of duck,” he said. I mentioned that I’d overhead a waitress tell a diner who’d ordered the duck that she’s been wanting to try it.
“The guy said, ‘Do it! You’ve got to do it! It’s delicious,’ He went on about how good it was,” I told him.
“It’s probably the best dish on the menu,” the chef admitted. I smiled and told him I probably wouldn’t find out because I just can’t eat duck. “It’s a Donald (Duck) thing, you know,” I added and let him get back to his diners.
As I mentioned before, I sat during and after my meal and listened to what other diners had to say about the tavern. While a lot of the diners were those staying at the inn, many more were visitors from the area and from other hotels in the area.
While I was eating, two parties of six sat at tables close to mine. As luck would have it, the people from the table closest to me knew a man at the other table. Man #2 (dressed in bright red and white shorts and a cobalt blue t-shirt) got up to talk with the others whom he had not seen in a long time.
“You picked a great restaurant,” he told them. “The new chef is great.” I got the impression he lived in the area.
“We come here for my birthday every year,” a lady at that table replied. “They told me it was a new chef and concept,” she added. “I’m glad to hear it’s good.”
I talked to the woman (Karen) a little later, and she told me that she and her husband live in Connecticut but that they come to the north shore area every year for both of their birthdays and that they always eat at the Emerson for hers and at another place for his. “The gal told me they had renovated and had a new chef,” she told me. “I was worried, but the food has been great so far.”
I also asked what she thought about the entire renovation of the inn, and she told me that they loved the new look. “We’ll probably stay here next time. The other place is so old and dark,” she said. “I love how calming it is here now. I always loved the view from the dining room.”
I heard nothing but good comments from other diners at breakfast, and I noticed that the dining room was sold out the evenings while I was there.
Da Nitty Gritty
The menu includes, as I noted before, something for everyone. The prices range from $9-$14 for appetizers and $9-$13 for salads. The cheese board and smokehouse sampler are $18 and $20 respectively. Entrees range from $15 (the burger) to $28 (scallops).