They had me at raw-bar-and-wood-fired-pizza. Now they just have to pick a vibe and stick with it.
Short & Main, near the western end of Main Street in Gloucester, offers fresh shellfish and terrific pizzas. It’s the kind of menu I wish was available around the corner from my house.
Nico and Amelia Monday fell in love while both worked in the kitchen at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. Amelia is from Gloucester, and eventually they came east. With friends Matthew Cawley and Howie Correa, they opened the waterside Market Restaurant in Annisquam. Critical acclaim followed for their eclectic, locally sourced dishes.
But the Market is a seasonal venue — it closed for the year on Oct. 13. Besides, Nico Monday wanted to build a wood-fired oven. Thus, the year-round Short & Main, which opened its doors at the end of May.
The menu starts with a selection of a half-dozen or more varieties of oysters and other shellfish, including Island Creeks from Duxbury and littleneck clams from Ipswich, most around $2.50 apiece.
But for the first and last hours of business each day, one variety of oyster is served for $1 each. I downed half a dozen clean and briny Sunken Meadows from Eastham. A squirt of lemon was all they needed, although I sampled one with the vinegary mignonette (a little sharp) and one with the house-made fresh-horseradish and tomato cocktail sauce (dense, rich, different).
Salads next. The colorful roasted carrot and beet plate ($8) was lovely and delicious, with dollops of feta from Topsfield’s Valley View Farm and a coriander vinaigrette. The veggies were fresh enough that even the non-beet-lover at the table (me) thought they were great. I opted for the semi-traditional Tricolore salad ($8), with endive, bitter radiccio, and arugula in a bright lemon-anchovy dressing with lots of parmesan. Also terrific.
Pizzas? The wood-fired oven visible behind the chef’s counter turns out a fantastic crust at 850 degrees, fat and chewy and puffy around the rim, with little charred patches that crumble when you grab one.
It’s super-thin under the toppings, maybe more thin than some folks like, but the Margherita ($14) was nirvana. Soft puddles of mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont melted into a smooth, sweetish tomato sauce scattered with whole basil leaves. Simplicity itself, close to perfect. (A couple more puddles of cheese would have gotten it there.)
Our other pie offered strips of La Quercia prosciutto along with handfuls of arugula ($18) piled about an inch deep over a mozzarella-covered crust. Delicious, although the arugula might be better with a little wilting, in a sauté pan or even in the oven. Other pizza choices included a Quatro Formaggi ($16) with mozzarella, parmesan, fontina and ricotta salata, and a Carbonara ($17) with pancetta, parmesan, and an egg on top.
The frequently changing menu also offered a quartet of entrees, but on an October day when the mercury touched 70, we didn’t feel like lasagna ($16), much less cassoulet ($24).
For dessert, we split a house-made coconut sorbetto ($7) with shreds of toasted coconut. I thought it was subtle and restrained, but my wife said it was not coconutty enough.
The beers tend to be American and substantial, the wines Italian and affordable. Our beverages included a delicious house-made spiced-pineapple soda ($4), a small draft Whale’s Tale Pale Ale ($4) from Cisco Brewing in Nantucket that was perfect with the oysters, and glasses of a decent Dogliani dolcetto ($10).
The cocktail list, however, is curated within an inch of its life. The drinks (mostly $10) have clever names and tend to contain chartreuse or absinthe or cucumber-infused vermouth. You’d feel guilty just ordering a gin and tonic, especially if you didn’t specify brands.
In small but significant ways, Short & Main feels more South End Boston than one-block-from-the-docks Gloucester. Our server was generally on the ball, professional, and cordial. The décor is oddly stark. The restaurant straddles the line between a casual joint where you can relax and a trendier destination.
There was no bread in evidence at Short & Main., and after mignonette and two salads with vinaigrette, it would have been helpful to gnaw a hunk of bread before sipping that $10 glass of red wine. Couldn’t they just throw a few twists of that great pizza dough in the oven for a minute and call it breadsticks?
The folks behind Short & Main deliver on the plate. They just need to decide who they’re cooking for. The $1 oysters are a good start.Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.