Location, location, location.
The Deck has it.
The small restaurant and bar and its spacious deck look directly across the Merrimack River at downtown Newburyport, with its marinas and steeples.
For the title of Best View Around, this newcomer is a worthy challenger to the longtime champion, the upstairs bar deck at Michael’s Harborside, across the river. And The Deck knows how to maximize what it has, with stools at a counter all the way around the deck railing, in addition to tables. Go for a stool if you can.
The liquor license is seasonal, though, and owner Mark Audette says The Deck will be closing for the winter after its Halloween party. So you’ll want to get over there soon.
We live in Newburyport, so we walked across the Gillis Bridge on a recent weeknight – talk about a view – for dinner.
If you’re driving, don’t be fooled by the Bridge Road address. You have to turn onto March Road at the north end of the bridge, by Stripers Grill & Inn, then find your way through the parking lot to the former site of the popular Fish Tale Diner.
The Fish Tale is no more, after the longtime owners elected to close in 2012. What would happen next on the dockside was a much-discussed local mystery for months.
Audette said he bought the diner and the Bridge Marina surrounding it not long after the closing, and he had “a ton of people calling” wanting to rent the venue and open another breakfast-and-lunch place. “But I knew no one could duplicate the Fish Tale, and it would never be the same,” Audette said.
His son Conrad helped persuade him to open The Deck, he said. Conrad manages the new place, and Audette’s daughter Carling waitresses.
Offering dinner seems like a logical idea. After the Fish Tale opened the outdoor space a few years ago, we often thought it was a shame that it served only breakfast and lunch.
We are a little sad that much of the Fish Tale’s funky décor had to be removed when it was remodeled to become The Deck. But the diner counter and a few of the idiosyncratic decorations remain.
We were seated outside after a wait of 10 or 15 minutes, taking two river-facing stools at the outside counter even though we had been offered a table. This was a different crowd than the Fish Tale. Still casual, for sure, but more “Tommy Bahama casual” than “bait-stained Surfland T-shirt casual.”
We each had a cocktail ($6-$9) while we waited, but with dinner my wife chose a Sierra Nevada Summerfest beer ($5) and I opted for a glass of Harbortown Sauvignon Blanc ($7), a nice citrusy New Zealander. We watched the sunset, and the boats, and the great blue heron that landed on the dock just below us and . . . mmm.
What? Oh, right, how was chef Matt Belliveau’s food?
We opted to go (comparatively) light on the appetizers, splitting an order of onion rings ($6). I asked for a cup of the lemon basil aïoli that would have come with the calamari I first thought about ordering. The aïoli was good, the rings were good, but the serving size was underwhelming. They didn’t come close to filling the basket they were served in.
No such problem with my wife’s pulled pork sandwich and fries ($10) or my lobster roll and fries ($16).
I’m a traditionalist on lobster rolls, preferring a hot dog roll lightly grilled and the lobster barely dressed with mayonnaise and nothing else. Belliveau’s house-made brioche-y bun was delicious, though. There was plenty of lobster inside, with a relatively light hand on the mayo.
The generous serving of pulled pork came with cole slaw in the bun and was tender, tasty, and sweet, although we agreed it could have had some more spice heat.
The assorted burgers ($14) looked huge and our neighbors at the counter said they were delicious. (I admit, though, I’ve never understood the purpose of candied bacon. Regular seems just fine to me.) I got a similar good report on the calamari.
The Deck opened in late July, so maybe we’ll give them a pass on one problem: When we tried to order dessert, we were told there wasn’t any. The chef, we were told, likes to make everything in house when possible, and he hadn’t had time to concoct anything sweet yet. So our dream of pie and/or ice cream was dashed, at least until we walked back across the river after sunset.
Bottom line on The Deck? The food is good. They still have a few minor kinks to work out, but go anyway. You’ll get a drink and look at the view and. . .
What was I saying?