Jack-Tar American Tavern136 Washington St., Marblehead
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5-11 p.m.;
Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.- midnight
Credit cards accepted
There are a lot of places to eat in Marblehead, but few that I'd make a habit of visiting regularly.
I might, however, make an exception with the Jack-Tar American Tavern.
If you're a native New Englander or even just moved here, you have to love much of what Old Town offers: a history that predates the Revolutionary War, one of the country's largest natural harbors, and streets that form a maze and make you want to walk throughout the downtown.
When you're done walking, you'll probably be hungry and thirsty. With the recent demise of Maddie's Sail Loft, which served food and drinks for 62 years, you'd be wise to enter Jack-Tar. The eatery is located in the basement of an apartment building and under the Muffin Shop. Unlike the rest of Old Town, there's free parking in a large lot behind the restaurant.
On a recent night, we stepped out of the chill into the basement bistro. The restaurant is cut into thirds, with a bar serving as the adjoining room.
We began with salads, and were impressed by the freshness and quality of the Caesar ($6). The poached pears and arugula ($6) also proved to be a fine choice. The Bosc pears were topped with port wine, blue cheese, candied pecans, and baby arugula, and covered with a raspberry, white balsamic vinaigrette.
We also chose the Tar fries ($6), which we'll skip the next time. The french fries were medium cut, and topped with Parmesan, sea salt, and pepper. But what looked really good on the menu turned out to be a basket of lukewarm, greasy fries that reminded me of the average fish and chips serving you'll get in London.
Fortunately, we also ordered a margherita pizza ($9), which is baked in Jack-Tar's brick oven. This is a small, thin-crust pizza with eight slices. It was served hot, and the pie had a texture similar to toasted pita bread, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil.
For entrees, we chose the haddock Milanese ($16.50). Be prepared for a fish heavy on the garlic, served with a sweet pancetta plum tomato sauce.
The Parmesan crumb-crusted haddock was fresh and served with fingerling potatoes and garlic spinach.
We also chose the sea bass filet ($21), which was lukewarm. Fortunately, it was served on a bed of warm brown rice, which added more flavor. The asparagus was fresh but was not fully cooked.
The dessert menu here is a mix of ice cream and sweet pies, and we chose the peanut butter cup brownie sundae ($6). The brownie was crisp and baked with peanut butter cups, and served warm with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.
While we chose fish, the menu has a broad offering of everything from Italian to American fare. If you're up for Italian, try the shrimp & scallop pancetta roma ($17); if you want meat, I've heard people rave about the aged sirloin steak that's grilled to order ($19).
Also, if you're thirsting for a drink, you're just steps away from a long, well-stocked bar with two large flat-screen TVs.
In a town where a couple can easily spend $100 on a meal and go home disappointed, Jack-Tar delivers. Given the geography, that's no small feat.