Essex and Ipswich
By John Gettings / Illustration by Jennifer Taillon
Chances are, if you’ve got any memories of Essex or Ipswich they’re set under a summer sun.
For generations, these two neighboring towns nestled atop Cape Ann have been best known for hosting seasonal guests and tourists in search of the quintessential New England summer experience.
If you’ve never visited, I would completely understand if all you knew about them was their reputation for inventing the country’s best fried seafood and perfecting fresh lobster. I’d go so far as to argue that Essex and Ipswich are home to no less than four legendary roadside seafood restaurants worthy of being honored in the lightly breaded pantheon of New England clam shacks.
But if you take a turn off of Route 133, it won’t be long before you find yourself beyond the tall tales and long shadows of those fabled clam shacks.
And what you’ll find are local growers and distillers, brewers and cheese makers working hard to preserve the towns’ more than three-century-long tradition of local, homemade, and home-grown food and drink.
Here’s a closer look at some of those establishments helping maintain that tradition by committing to local food made fresh.
1. Alprilla Farm CSA
94 John Wise Avenue, Essex 978.273.9339 alprillafarm.com
In only it’s fourth year, Alprilla’s CSA membership has grown to 70 strong, and the farm is providing organic greens and produce to restaurants in neighboring Ipswich and Gloucester. Farmer Noah Kellerman added wheat to his crop rotation two years ago and Alprilla now mills its own whole wheat flour, which is being used by A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem.
2. Appleton Farms’ Dairy and Farm Store
219 Country Road, Ipswich 978.356.3825 thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/csa/appleton-farms-csa/dairy-store.html
How does a 375-year-old farm—one of the oldest continuously working farms in the country—recapture some of its youth? Almost three years ago it opened a new dairy and farm store. Award-winning cheese maker John Miller has crafted an incredible array of cheeses, yogurt, and butter, impressing the farms’ more than 500 CSA members and a new legion of locavores making a pilgrimage up Route 1A. The store also sells milk from its Jersey cows, grass-fed beef, and produce during the CSA season.
3. Apple Street Farm, Summer Dining Series
35 Apple Street, Essex applestreetfarm.com
In addition to providing organic produce for his famed L’Espalier in Boston’s Back Bay, Chef Frank McClelland’s Apple Street Farm is sourcing from North Shore catering services such as Chive (Beverly) and Relish (Manchester-by-the-Sea) and restaurants such as Gloucester’s Short and Main and Beverly’s Prides Osteria. But it’s Apple Street’s outdoor summer dining series that’s raising the bar when it comes to farm-to-fork events. Twice a month, from June to early October, these elegant evenings feature menus that pay tribute to everything from the summer solstice to the fall harvest.
4. Christopher’s Table
5 Depot Square, Ipswich 978.356.6166 christopherstable.com
A casual sandwich and dessert cafe by day, and cozy wine bar at night.
5. Coastal Greengrocer
51 Market Street, Ipswich 978.356.8500
Boasting restaurant-quality greens from Alprilla Farm and hydroponic tomatoes grown in nearby Rowley, David Lloyd’s market is trying to keep things local whenever possible. He’s also very concerned with waste and sustainability, and that’s why you won’t find any of his wildly popular prepared foods in plastic or Styrofoam containers any more—all paper. This spring, Lloyd says local honey from Ipswich’s Tomten Beeworks has been flying off the shelves.
6. DownRiver Ice Cream
241 John Wise Avenue, Essex 978.768.0102 mydownrivericecream.com
You’ll find homemade ice cream, frozen yogurts, and sorbets without fillers, gluten, or preservatives at this Essex ice cream stand, which turned six in May. This is a great place to get out of your flavor rut; try the Mexican Chocolate, or the Salty “C.” And now everything that leaves their window is compostable, which means that all those spoons and cups will one day soon be nutrient-rich soil for growing.
7. Essex Farmers Market
Shepard Memorial Park 24 Martin Street, Essex
Market managers Alison Taylor and Hunter Jay are very excited about the market’s second year and its move to a new, central location downtown behind the fire station.
8. Grant Family Farm
136 Southern Avenue, Essex 978.423.6694 grants-plants.com
Chris Grant started Grant Family Farm, then Grants Plants, in 2006—two years before graduating from Essex Agricultural & Technical High School. He started growing vegetables three years ago and you’ll find him at multiple North Shore farmers markets this summer and fall, including Salem, Swampscott, and Essex.
9. Ipswich Ale Brewery
2 Brewery Place, Ipswich 978.356.3329 ipswichalebrewery.com
Every beer in its ambitious 5-Mile series features at least one ingredient—barley, hops, wheat, even corn—grown within five miles of their Ipswich brewery. Their much-anticipated new brewery/restaurant (now scheduled to open in the fall) will give locals and craft-brewing fans a closer look at Ipswich Ale’s brewing process and, by all accounts, a menu packed with ingredients sourced locally.
10. Ipswich Farmers Market
Center Green on Fridays
This revitalized market has taken over a prime spot of land downtown near the visitors center and the only day of the week without a North Shore farmers market—until now. Vendor Caitlin Kenney of Ipswich’s Plough in the Stars Farm is excited about being a vendor and she thinks the market will be a turning point for the local food movement in town.
25 Hammatt Street, Ipswich 978.356.0099 ithakicuisine.com
The modern Mediterranean fare you’ll find at the cozy and charming Ithaki depends on fresh, great-tasting produce. Thankfully for all of us, owner Petros Markopoulos has cultivated relationships with farms in Ipswich, Essex, and elsewhere to keep locally grown produce on the menu all year long.
30 Central Street, Ipswich 978.356.5400 marcorelleswine.com
The Marc-Aurele family has run this downtown package store since 1934. If you’re looking for something that has been brewed or distilled in Ipswich, you’ll find it here.
13. Marini Farm Stand
259 Linebrook Road, Ipswich 978.356.0430 marinifarm.com
Three generations of the Marini family have tilled the fields of this Ipswich institution. Constantly evolving, the farm was one of the first in the state to adopt safer pest-management techniques—it began replacing its oil-based greenhouse furnaces with much cleaner corn-burning furnaces a few years ago, and it has embraced social media, releasing its own app in 2013. The farm sources produce to restaurants and markets all over the North Shore, and I’ve long argued that the day its corn arrives in its award-winning farm stand should be designated a state holiday.
14. Privateer Rum
28 Mitchell Road, Ipswich 978.356.0477 privateerrum.com
By focusing its attention on two rums, known as its Silver and Amber, this four-year-old company is meticulously crafting spirits with the highest quality ingredients they can find. It’s sourcing restaurants and bars all over Cape Ann and the rest of the state.
15. Russell Orchards
143 Argilla Road, Ipswich 978.356.5366 russellorchards.com
Where to begin? Start in the bakery, where you’ll discover that somehow a dozen made-from-scratch homemade apple cider donuts doesn’t seem like enough. It’s as family-friendly a place as you can find: PYO strawberries, cherries, blackberries, apples, and more; barnyard animals, pumpkins, hayrides; and for mom and dad, a stop in the winery for a sip or two by the cozy tasting room’s giant fieldstone fireplace.
16. SALT Kitchen and Rum Bar
1 Market Street, Ipswich 978.356.0002 saltkitchenandrumbar.com
For an opportunity to try some locally distilled and brewed beverages, look no further than this Ipswich gastro-pub. SALT’s take on the Hemmingway features Turkey Shore’s Old Ipswich White Cap Rum, lime juice, and cinnamon simple syrup.
17. Turkey Shore Distilleries
23 Hayward Street, Ipswich 978.356.0048 turkeyshoredistilleries.com
Ipswich merchant John Heard operated a small craft distillery on Turkey Shore Road from 1770 to 1836. Nearly 175 years later, a pair of childhood friends who grew up on that road, started distilling rum once again and Turkey Shore Distilleries’ first bottle of Old Ipswich brand rum debuted in 2011. Now it’s got three brands on the market at any one time and you will find them at restaurants and package stores all across the state. Its Tavern Style is the most popular, but, according to co-owner Mathew Perry, it’s their limited edition Golden Marsh, which will return this fall, that flies off the shelves.
18. White Farms Homemade Ice Cream
326 High Street (Route 133), Ipswich 978.356.2633
For more than 60 years, this perennial top-10 ice cream stand in the state has been making its ice cream on site. This year they’ve added an 18-hole miniature golf course. Ace the last hole and you’ll earn a free cone.
19. ZUMI’S Espresso & Ice Cream
40 Market Street, Ipswich 978.356.1988 zumis.com
It may not be the geographic center of Ipswich, but it may be the magnetic center. Proprietors Zillie and Umesh Bhuju have created an artspace and coffeehouse where Ipswich locals know they can always find an organic, fair-trade blend and a conversation.
20. Choate Bridge Pub
3 South Main Street, Ipswich 978.356.2931 choatebridgepub.com
If you’re looking for top quality fried seafood but you want to avoid the crowds, Ipswich residents will point you in the direction of the Choate Bridge Pub.
21. Clam Box of Ipswich
246 High Street (Route 133), Ipswich 978.356.9707 ipswichma.com/clambox
Being shaped like a clam box makes it hard to miss. The light and sweet flavor of its full-bellied clams make it hard to forget.
22. Essex Seafood
143R Eastern Avenue (Route 133), Essex 978.768.7233 essexseafood.com
Great portions, and if you time it right, easier to find a seat than some of its neighbors down the road.
23. J.T. Farnham’s
88 Eastern Avenue (Route 133), Essex 978.768.6643
Sit outside amidst the marshes and get the full Essex experience. The menu has a bit more variety than the others, including several grilled options, so everyone is sure to find something they’ll love.
24. Woodman’s of Essex
121 Main Street (Route 133), Essex 978.768.6057 woodmans.com
Woodman’s is celebrating 100 years in business this year, and whether or not they are responsible for frying up the first clam doesn’t change the fact that your first clam plate at Woodman’s can be life-changing.
John Gettings is a freelance writer and book editor living in Danvers. He helps people discover North Shore farm stands, farmers markets, CSAs, and more on his blog, NorthShoreLocavore.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.