Swim-Up Dinner Party
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The dog days of August run long, hot and hazy on the banks of the Annisquam River in Massachusetts, especially for people who spend those days working behind a stove. The only antidote: a dip in the water. A ragtag restaurant crew drinks chilled rosé and takes turns doing goofy dives off the dock, to giddy applause. Back on the deck, dinner awaits: a giant pot of smoky fish chowder, heirloom tomatoes in a warm anchovy dressing, thick pork chops piled with pickled peaches, slices of buttermilk cake filled with plump blackberries. This is a summer staff party at The Market Restaurant on Lobster Cove in the town of Gloucester.
Opened in 2010 by chef couple Nico Monday and Amelia O’Reilly, The Market is in the Annisquam neighborhood, one of those coastal destinations that make GPS devices go haywire. A faded sign on the old building, once an actual market, still says, “The Market.” But instead of live bait or lobsters in tanks, there’s a daily-changing menu written on a chalkboard behind the bar: oysters with mignonette, lobster-corn fritters, a Provençal tomato-and-Gruyère casserole called a panade. Most of the incredibly fresh ingredients were grown, fished or made within a few miles. All of it smacks of the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and for good reason: Monday and O’Reilly are Chez Panisse alums, and Monday is the godson of the restaurant’s Alice Waters.
Monday’s parents met at Chez Panisse when they were both servers, and he grew up stealing pizza out of the wood-fired oven. As an adult, he naturally turned to cooking, working his way through kitchens in Provence and Italy and even doing a stint at Dario Cecchini’s famed Chianti butcher shop. He returned for a job as a line cook at Chez Panisse, which is where he met O’Reilly, a culinary-school grad who was working the unglamorous garde-manger shift, tasked with doing a lot of the ordering. “You get to see the workings of the restaurant that customers don’t get to see,” she says. “You know the purveyors, the people you get your polenta from, the farmers. Everyone.”
After about four years together at Chez Panisse, the couple started looking for their own project. When work visas to Spain fell through, they came across The Market in O’Reilly’s hometown. Previously a greasy spoon, it had been empty for a year when the two decided to take it over, hiring their friends to help.
The wayward mix of cooks, waitstaff and bartenders is put through the wringer during the 20-week season. The tiny kitchen crew does everything by hand, including pickling, canning and butchering. Still, the feeling is “like summer camp,” says Monday. Many staffers live in cottages across the cove; to get to work, they either swim or walk over a creaky wooden bridge. And after the restaurant closes, they sometimes swim out to a barge owned by a local fisherman to hang out together in its wood-fired sauna.
Today, some of Boston’s best chefs make the one-hour drive up to eat at The Market. Craigie on Main’s Tony Maws, Hungry Mother’s Barry Maiden and Frank McClelland of L’Espalier, who also runs Apple Street Farm a few towns away in Essex, have all visited. “You’re sitting on the harbor, the sun’s setting—everything just tastes better,” says Maws. “It’s almost not fair.”
As night falls, laughter pours out of the sauna, along with buckets of steam, every time another Market staffer enters. Other members of the crew open Caraquet oysters on the dock, tossing shells into the water. O’Reilly takes it all in. “Sometimes I think, Wait, this is our life? All our best friends are at the restaurant with us, everyone arrives on time, wearing what they’re supposed to wear—it’s working,” she says.
Erin Byers Murray is a Boston-based food writer and the author of Shucked.
Family Meal at the Market Restaurant: Perfect Omelet
After sunset, The Market Restaurant crew hangs out on the dock with dessert. © Cedric Angeles
“Everybody likes eggs, and sometimes my staff and I like to have breakfast for a late dinner. This is a recipe we had on the menu for Bastille Day, and it was very popular with the staff, so sometimes we pull it out for a family meal. We allow about three eggs per person, whisking them gently until smooth. We add one tablespoon of cold cubed butter and a splash of water. This allows for a thin, crêpe-like omelet, which is that beautiful French classic we’re going for. Next, you’ll need something savory and delicious to put in the omelet, like herbs and Camembert or any other full-flavored ripe cheese with a similar consistency. It’s easiest to make this style of omelet with a thin, well-seasoned steel skillet, but cast-iron, nonstick or even a crêpe pan will work. Melt a little butter in the pan over medium heat, then pour in one portion of the omelet mixture, shaking the pan gently to even out the depth. Sprinkle on some chopped herbs like parsley, chives and chervil. Lay three or four slices of cheese in a line down the center of the omelet. When the bottom of the omelet is set but the top is still runny, gently slide a rubber spatula under one side and fold over the middle; do the same on the other side. Cook for another 30 seconds or so, until the cheese is barely melted and the eggs are still soft. Slide onto a plate and eat with a garden salad.”—Amelia O’Reilly