The nearby quaint Connecticut River town of Essex boasts a colorful history, with an economy centered around ship making in the 1800s, real estate in the 20th century and tourism in the 21st century.
Along with tourism comes eating and Essex brags a lovely variety of eateries from Ivoryton (Copper Beech Inn, Gabrielle’s) to Main Street (The Black Seal, The Griswold Inn).
But, perhaps two of the best kept semi-secret Essex locations for a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner with beautiful water views are Marley’s Café on Essex Island Marina and Abby’s Place in the Brewer’s Dauntless Shipyard.
Both restaurants are a stone’s throw from each other, so it’s entirely possible to dine at one, then head to the other for dessert.
To get to family-run Marley’s Café (in their 8th season), there’s a 30-second ferry ride from the mainland to Essex Island which is fun for everyone.
Named after Bob Marley, the café’s legend, “Food, Rock, Reggae” greets visitors from a sign painted on a surfboard. Marley’s Café indeed looks like it could have been plopped down straight from the Jamaica seaside. The menu is American classic, with a lot of tasty specials. After Labor Day, Marley’s is open daily except Tuesdays & Wednesdays, from 7:30am - 2:30pm (best to call in advance as sometimes they close early).
At Marley’s, diners can choose from five kinds of Eggs Benedict for breakfast as well as simpler fare; for lunch, numerous deli and grill offerings, along with salads; for dinner, which happens Friday, Saturday and Sunday by reservation only, they have a menu that changes daily but is loaded with delicious appetizers such as Lobster Gazpacho and Escargot and entrees like Prime Rib, Pan Seared Duck and seared Ahi Tuna. Dinner prices are a tad steep, but because you can BYOB, as they say in Jamaica, ‘Cool runnings, mon!’
Three years ago, Carol started coming to Marley’s with her daughter and son.
“I was just looking online for a restaurant in Essex. I love riding the little barge (ferry) thing. The setting is pretty, I like the food and I like Bob Marley,” said Carol.
Jan brought her sister and daughter to the cafe.
“This was my first time here. It was a wonderful experience. We were going on the Essex Steam Train and a lovely woman at the Griswold Inn told me about it. The food was very good. I had a turkey club, my daughter had a hot dog and my sister had the vegetarian wrap,” said Jan.
A satisfied customer, Jan would have brought her crew to neighboring Abby’s Place, but they needed an early lunch and Marley’s starts serving lunch at 11 a.m.
In the former Crow’s Nest location, Abby’s Place is owned by the former Corinthian Yacht Club food-service employee, Abby Miner. This “Casual Waterfront Dining” restaurant features breakfast, lunch and dinner. She starts serving lunches at 11:30a.m., which means that sleepyheads can still order breakfast at 11:15! In their second season, Abby’s is a totally renovated spot with cheerful and airy décor that has been open since August 10, 2011.
New York City residents Michele Domanick and her mom found Abby’s through a recommendation in town.
“This is our first time at Abby’s Place. It is absolutely delightful. . . I love sitting outside. We had something light for breakfast and it was just perfect,” Michele said.
Millie, Michele’s mom agrees, “We’re really enjoying it.”
Boaters Shirley and Captain Ed Curley said, “This is only the third or fourth time we’ve eaten at Abby’s Place. We’re boaters and we saw the place coming along. We’re eating breakfast today; they serve a wonderful breakfast and lunch. The food and service has been great and the location is pretty nifty.”
For lunch and dinner, Abby’s Place has a full bar with a playful cocktail selection. The prices are competitive, the seating is ample indoors (and, air-conditioned). There is also outdoor seating on the sun deck and shaded deck. Dinners are served Fridays & Saturdays from 5pm to 9pm.
The evening menu at Abby’s provides more variety and price relief than Marley’s (more sandwiches and casual fare), while still offering sumptuous full dinners with specials like Portuguese Inspired Seafood Stew, Pan Roasted Salmon and Pork Rib Eye. The Abby’s specialty salads, notably the Pecan Goat Cheese and Blue Cheese Walnut salads, are always popular with diners.
Both places serve New England favorites like clam chowder and lobster rolls. Both places are very kid-friendly with helpful and attentive wait staff. During peak times, several customers have complained about the Abby’s Place kitchen not being fast enough, but often those same people have returned because their food was so good.
Marley’s Café is open through Columbus Day weekend and Abby’s Place is open year-round. Come out to Essex and enjoy a taste of summer at almost any time!
Marley’s Café, 11 Foot of the Ferry at Essex Island Marina, phone (860) 767-2489. email@example.com
Abby’s Place, 37 Pratt Street at the foot of Bushnell Street in the Brewer Dauntless Shipyard, phone (860) 767-0560. www.abbysplacect.com