All photos by Marie Cleary, @cognewengland A beautiful crisp New England day! My daughter Caroline (who…
A food chat with friends about The Mariner prompted this entire date. “The wedge salad was so good and so filling” and “best hot lobster roll” grabbed my attention. “Amazing chowder and baked clams” was the clincher. When life is too busy for too long I schedule a date with my husband and this one was extra-special.
The Mariner’s interior is completely remodeled with inviting nautical tones of blue and white. New proprietors, Jakub Andros and Shaun Golan, have completely redesigned the space and the menu with appealing results. We’re seated at a front window with a great view of the new stores of Central Hall. Interior tables include plush banquette seats and dimmed retro lanterns but people-watching at the sunny window adds a fun twist to our visit.
New England clam chowder is flavorful and creamy with finely diced clams, potatoes, salt pork and a few secret ingredients: impossibly rich yet not too heavy. Baked clams doused in garlic butter, natural clam liquor (juice), and bread crumb with a sprinkle of chives disappear quickly. Now that we’ve both eaten garlic it’s full steam ahead. Crispy artichokes are floured, deep fried then garnished with pickled chilies and deep-fried fresh mint. The creative combination is delicious. Amanda, our waitperson, guides us with fantastic results. She also brews a fresh pot of coffee for hubby which improves his entire evening.
Huge Stonington sea scallops are baked with a touch of garlic butter and a sprinkle of bread crumbs producing creamy, tender deliciousness. These impeccably-fresh local scallops are perfectly cooked and the best bites of seafood I’ve had in Mystic.
Spaghetti Nero includes house-made squid ink pasta with lobster, calamari, mussels and shrimp in a chunky, barely-spicy tomato sauce. Each generous bite of seafood is delicious but I especially enjoy the lightly-fried calamari on top. The homemade pasta is outstanding and I look forward to a future plate of gnocci.
Leo’s fish and chips become the unexpected star entrée with almost 8 ounces of thinly battered and fried cod and a mountain of perfectly-cooked, deeply browned hand-cut fries. No matter how good my entrée is I can’t help but reach for his crisp fries and flaky fish. They’re both ridiculously good. Freshly-made coleslaw and sweet pickle tartar sauce are thoughtful details. Shaun has flawlessly elevated this classic shoreline dish where simple, fresh food is perfectly prepared. Well done, Chef.
Today’s romantic date started with a 2-hour long excursion on the replica 19th century sailing schooner Argia. For sailing customers, parking is free at Union Baptist Church up the hill past Mystic Pizza. We check-in with a photo ID by 2:30 p.m. for our 3:00 p.m. sail. Wearing pants with deep pockets keeps my hands free and lets me leave my purse behind. Sun block, sunglasses, hats & lightweight jackets add to our comfort and protection on this sunny, breezy day.
Captain Matt Newton expertly navigates the splendid vessel up the Mystic River past stone walls, green lawns, docked boats, restaurants, and historic homes. In the distance, majestic sailing ships and colorful buildings of the Mystic Seaport Museum remind us that 150 years ago, mariners left this safe port for months at a time. Not all of them returned.
Near the mouth of the river we spot a seagull trying to pry a fish away from a seal who clearly had it first. The seal wins and this is the first seal sighting for this crew. Only the fore sail is manually hauled up and open on this windy day and our speed increases to cruise the protected length of Fisher’s Island Sound. Light blankets provide extra coziness. Up to 49 passengers are on each trip but the 19 foot beam (width) and 81 foot length provides plenty of comfortable room for everyone. A modern head (bathroom) and beautifully-restored salon provide a below deck break from sun and wind.
We pass near Race Rock, Morgan Point, and Ledge Light lighthouses, Noank, Ram Island, Enders Island and the Dumpling islands. Crew members Colin and Lex take turns narrating points of interest. On this clear day, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are visible. Simple refreshments are provided but small, personal coolers with food, wine and beer are allowed onboard. Universal Package Store is only a few steps away from the dock and the crew will chill beverages and provide paper cups.
The huge railroad bridge swinging open creates a photo opportunity. Between 60 and 80 trains cross it each day. We’re captivated by sights that haven’t changed much over 100 years. Viewing the world from the water, especially from the deck of a replica 19th century sailing vessel, reveals it’s magic. Argia is the only traditional rigged schooner left in Mystic. Grab your piece of the magic while she calls this charming port home. Long may she sail.
At the conclusion of our sail we stroll past Central Hall’s new stores before arriving, sun kissed and relaxed, at The Mariner. After three fantastic courses we’re both ready to decline dessert but our waitress, Amanda, has encouraged us all night to save room for it. Her suggestions for us have a 100% success rate so even though I’m not a fan of tiramisu, that is what ends our date on a sweet, unhurried note. It is the fantastic concoction of pastry chef Jeff Walker who is also responsible for the memorable chowder. We eat every bite. Of everything.
It occurs to me that we could sail earlier on a different day to take advantage of The Mariner’s happy hour deals from 3-6 p.m. Or we could come back at lunchtime with friends for hot lobster on buttered brioche buns and still sail at 3:00 p.m. or for a sunset cruise.
Re-discovering The Mariner is a bit like finding treasure in plain sight but we’re willing to share. The stellar sail is a huge bonus and more unique Mystic dates will follow.
More from The Mariner
(courtesy IG @marinermystic)
Get your tickets ahead of time online or by calling ahead, especially for popular sunset cruises.
The Argia office has tee shirts, dog sailor costumes, jewelry, sunblock, and candy.
Bonus: if you check-in at the office instead of at the dock you can get a coupon for an extra scoop of ice cream when you buy one at Mystic Sweet Shoppe just a few steps from Argia.