I love going to Cape Ann, Massachusetts in the off-season. Recently, on a glorious fall day, a group of us—including my sister, Susie, and her husband, Jeffrey—found ourselves in the town of Gloucester on the hunt for breakfast. As soon as we walked into Two Sisters Coffee Shop on Washington St., I could tell this was exactly the kind of place I was looking for. From the homey decor to the unmistakable accents ("Do we have maahmalade?" "Shoowa"), this was clearly authentic working-class Gloucester. I was thrilled to see fish cakes on the breakfast menu. I tried one, and it was fabulous: nicely fried and seasoned, with plenty of haddock. Jeffrey got the corned-beef hash, with substantial hunks of excellent beef tucked inside two very crisp layers of hash browns.

Not far from Gloucester, in Essex, Tom Shea’s on Main Street is a very pretty place for lunch, with huge windows looking out onto acres of beautiful marshes. It seems that every restaurant in the area has “award-winning chowder” and Tom Shea’s is no exception. The soup was very good, though a bit thick. The fried clams were excellent: small, sweet and perfectly cooked. Hand-cut, skin-on fries and a lobster roll were first-rate.

We had the best chowder of our trip, however, at Periwinkles, also on Main Street in Essex. It had a good clammy flavor, just enough potatoes and the perfect thickness. Our very lovely waitress brought us a complimentary cup when she overheard me trying to decide whether to order some. Although the menu describes the chowder as award-winning, our waitress confessed that Periwinkles had not won first prize at the most recent competition (that honor had gone, oddly, to some liquor store). I’m a sucker for creamy clam chowder and, honestly, I’ve been happy with just about all the chowders I’ve tried in Cape Ann. But there are still more to sample. Perhaps next time we’ll go back in the dead of winter.