Restaurants have personalities. It takes about two minutes to figure out Superfine’s. It’s hopping with happy energy and a busy hum. Menu-wise, the Manchester-by-the-Sea spot has the kind of food that makes you want to order one of everything — burgers, barbecue, pizza, healthy grain bowls, a catch of the day — familiar items made with high-end ingredients and exceptional attention to quality.
Half a year after closing his celebrated Kendall Square restaurant, West Bridge, in 2017, owner Matthew Gaudet headed to Manchester-by-the-Sea and started renovations on an old building close to the town’s picturesque boat ramp that leads into Manchester Bay. The new place, he and two chef-partners decided, would be extremely casual, with what he calls “a grown-up version of a kids’ menu.”
The trio — besides Gaudet it includes Chris Robins (Gaslight Brasserie, Cinquecento) and Paul Emmett (Radius, West Bridge) — now has a 38-seat space with booths along one wall, a communal table in the center, and high-tops along the opposite wall. The open kitchen gives the impression that the place was once a pizzeria, but for generations the 1901 building had been a coffee shop; before that it held many businesses, including a hippie head shop, but never a pizza house.
Now it serves pies ($13-$16) as good as any I’ve had. Pick up a slice of mozzarella, provolone, and pomodoro and the crust is so firm the tip doesn’t flop down. This perfect pizza is chewy at the edges and not over-topped. I’m on a mission to find out what chefs who cook pizza properly are doing. Not overloading the toppings, says Gaudet. Also, Superfine pizza stays in the oven “till the bottom has a perfect leopard print, no blond spots, and stays horizontal when you hold it up.”
A burger ($12) on a tender griddled potato bun holds a juicy, flavorful grass-fed patty, also griddled, so the outside is crusty and the center rosy. Alongside is a heap of thin, crisp, hot fries.
The wine list of “super plonks,” as one Brit calls this style, is made up of good, small-producer bottles.
The chef-partners know they’re onto a good thing. Even without reservations, they’re busy all day, perhaps boaters coming in after hours on the water, or commuters disembarking from the local rail line. The partners have noticed such a range of customers that in a single night they might see a group of seniors and a newborn (we watched with wonder as a smiling cherubic 10-month-old was passed along the communal table to half a dozen people). Another Superfine is opening in Marblehead by late fall with a large patio, more seats, and an extended menu. They’re in negotiations for a third North Shore place.
Daily BBQ ($18) when we order it is juicy, shredded pork shoulder with a piquant dipping sauce and miso slaw made with Napa cabbage, sesame oil, lime juice, and Duke’s mayo. A flat disk-like biscuit looks distinctly unbiscuit-like, but turns out to be flaky and light. Superfine’s imaginative California-healthy grain bowl ($15) holds warm brown rice, arugula, sweet potato, pickled mushrooms, black beans, and avocado, topped with a runny egg.
One day at lunch a delicious beet salad ($14) is tossed with quinoa and farro, along with slices of cucumber, crumbled feta, and pesto. The star of the midday menu is a broccoli Reuben ($8), which sounds so ridiculous we have to order it. Charred spears of broccoli are sandwiched with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, and Muenster cheese on dense, toasted, buttery rye. Gaudet’s first cooking job was at Chez Henri and it was there, he says, that he learned how a griddle could get the outside crunch and inside “melty cheese thing.” The Reuben is fabulous.
Gaudet sold West Bridge because he was stressed out all the time. “The lifestyle tears on you,” he says. Now he and his wife, Miranda, and their 3-year-old daughter live in the Manchester-by-the-Sea home where Miranda was raised.
The new venture, he says, “has been uplifting for the soul. I hope it’s been good for the community.”
I can hear them cheering.
25 Union St., Manchester-by-the-Sea, 978-526-0964, www.superfinefood.com. All major credit cards. Not wheelchair accessible. (No reservations.)
Liquor Full bar
Hours Sun-Thu 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri-Sat 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Prices Snacks $3-$7. Salads and bowls $8-$15. Ribs, BBQ, burgers, sandwiches $8-$18. Pizza $13-$16.
What to order Mozzarella pomodoro pizza, beet salad, brown rice bowl, beef burger, daily BBQ, broccoli Reuben.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.