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Quest for the Quintessential Quaint New England Experience:

Have you ever felt the urge to experience a quintessential New England moment? By this, I of course mean having clam chowder on the waterfront in a craggy, seaside New England town. At around two o’clock on Sunday of our first long weekend after Winter Break, four of us caught the fever and embarked on Chowder Trek 2003. It was a bit like that car advertisement where the guy hops in his driving machine and goes to Maine “just for lunch”. In fact, it was this precise commercial that inspired our excursion.

After “exploring” Boston in search of an appropriate coastal route (we don’t need no stinkin’ map), we, well, consulted a map and decided we should cruise up 1A. Stomachs started to growl as we navigated our way through of a series of inland cities. By the time we arrived in Marblehead, Mass., a quaint coastal town, we almost fell for the first food we saw, a six-foot walking slice of pizza advertising Papa Gino’s. Did we come this far for chain restaurant? No. So we asked the walking pizza for advice.

We were a bit surprised to discover that walking Italian food is not a good source of chowder information. Ignoring all recommendations by the pizza humanoid (Papa Gino’s, surprise, and a “roast beef joint”-what?), we wandered into Foodies, a restaurant on Main Street suggested to us for having “good soup.” Even though we didn’t want no stinkin’ soup, we wanted chowder.

Weak with hunger, we examined the menu. Foodies had a wide array of sandwiches, and a few soups, but no chowder. The salesperson insisted that when they serve clam chowder, they have the best in town, but they were not serving it that day. We looked at each other. Should we settle, or push on to achieve our ultimate goal?

We outlined our objective to the salesperson, who could offer no substitute. Perhaps she was trying to call our bluff, thinking we would crumble for some vegetable barley. A couple seated near the counter chuckled at our conversation and suggested a place called Maddies with another laugh (or was that a snicker?) and a slight warning: “the crowd there is a little salty”. Our eyes widened and our vision expanded. We wanted salty locals with our chowder.

We walked to the corner of State and Main and into a small nautical shop to inquire as to the location of Maddies. The kind and observant shop-person astutely assessed our non-local status and asked a few questions, “Where are you from? And what exactly are you looking for?” We relayed the Chowder Trek mission statement and he redirected us to an establishment he deemed more appropriate called The Barnacle.

Seaside? Must be. He even called to check on the hours of operation (Lunch 11:30am – 4:00pm, Dinner 5pm – 10pm) before he sent us on our way.

When we saw The Barnacle, we immediately knew it was perfect-a casual place right on the water in Marlblehead’s Old Town, with a mean seafood chowder. We even contemplated purchasing T-shirts to commemorate the occasion, but they weren’t getting the good ones back in stock until May.

The Barnacle
141 Front Street
Marblehead, MA 01945
Tel: (781) 631-4236

Lunch: 11:30am – 4:00pm
Dinner: 5pm – 10pm

Our bellies full and our goal achieved, we knew we had to make one last stop before we headed back to Cambridge: Maddies, and the ‘salty crowd’. We walked over to State Street to find a man outside the establishment moving his car. “Hey guys, go ahead in, but you won’t be able to drink until I get back in there”. When the bartender returned, we ordered up a few Dark and Stormies (ginger beer, rum and rum–mostly rum) and soaked in the scene.

Plaques on the wall by our table commemorated the lives of favorite bargoers back to the sixties with notes beneath their names such as “one of the good guys” and “a true Marbleheader”. The local crowd gave us such a good stare down that the guys squirmed at the thought of leaving the bar with their drinks unfinished. Content that we had experienced a New England afternoon, we hopped back into the car for the twenty minute sunset drive back to Cambridge.

Marblehead has quite a bit more to offer other than what we saw, as I found out later at dinner from a friend who grew up there. For instance, if we had gone on Monday, we might have glimpsed a regatta from our seats at The Barnacle. Additionally, just about every tourist peeks in on the famous painting, The Spirit of ’76 (located in Abbott Hall). You may want to investigate these if you make the trek. However, even if you just go for lunch, Marblehead will satisfy.

February 18, 2003
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