MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA - Chef Brenden Crocker is a straight shooter when it comes to the vision he has for his restaurant, so when he opened his new spot named Black Arrow, his mission was clear.
"We're one hundred percent focused on food and service here… We're not a craft cocktail bar. We're not a night club or a lounge. It's really a food-focused restaurant."
He is keeping that food simple, and simply delicious.
"I don't do cube-shaped food, or foams or stuff that you can't pronounce, and it's been very well received so far."
Brenden has been a fixture on the North Shore restaurant scene for more than twenty years, but opening Black Arrow in Manchester-by-the-Sea is a homecoming. He grew up in the small town and now he sees plenty of familiar faces filling his 44-seat dining room.
"It's a small town and a lot of people that come in are from Manchester," he said. "There's a lot of people talking back and forth between tables, a lot of people getting up and talking to somebody at the bar."
The restaurant is located right on the water and the space is decorated with lots of nautical touches, as well as large French doors that let in plenty of natural light. Brenden's overall goal is simply to make customers feel welcomed.
"I want my customers to feel comfortable, welcome, and happy. People walk in here, they get greeted with a smile, they get sat, we feed them. My main objective is that everybody leaves happy, full, and satisfied."
The menu at Black Arrow is filled with recipes culled from Brenden's culinary career, with an emphasis on what is simple, local, and delicious.
So starters include Local Clams sautéed with lemon, butter, and herbs, served with housemade bread for dipping; a Kale and Quinoa Salad with roasted beets and a blackberry vinaigrette; and rare Seared Tuna with cucumber and avocado.
For something a bit heavier, the roasted Shallot and Artichoke Dip with housemade pita chips is a good choice; and the crispy, Thick Cut Chips topped with bacon, scallions, sour cream, and aged cheddar is even better.
"You're getting a really crunchy, salty potato chip; you're getting melted aged cheddar cheese, a little bit of sour cream, a scallion, so it's multi-textural and it's definitely one of our winners."
When it comes to entrees, hopefully you are in a comfort food mood. Nothing satisfies like the Skillet Roasted Chicken Breast topped with bacon jam, over a big pile of mashed potatoes. This is one chicken dish where you will want to go all-in on the skin.
"It's super, super crispy skin, like it almost shatters it's so crispy," Brenden said. "We sear it at such a high heat that it immediately locks in all the juices and stays nice and juicy."
For a twist on a New England classic, check out the pan roasted breaded Haddock.
"It's got all the flavors of baked haddock, but it's just presented a little differently," Brenden explained. "It's two pieces of haddock stacked on top of each other, stacked on potatoes. So it's a cute little dish, but it's definitely a favorite."
Of course, sometimes you are just in the mood for a good, simple burger served alongside a huge pile of fries.
"We were trying to do sort of a fancier burger when we first opened, and every time we put something out there, people would just ask for bacon and cheese. So, now we just do American cheese, onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and special sauce, which is ketchup and mayonnaise."
When it comes to dessert at Black Arrow, you might keep it light with a shortcake topped with whatever fruit is in season, but as soon as you see a big chunk of chocolate cake, it will be hard to resist.
"It's a big, giant piece of chocolate cake. We make caramel sauce and ganache that we put on it with whipped cream. People love it," Brenden declared.
In fact, people seem to love everything coming out of the kitchen here, and chef Brenden and his team are happy to serve it all.
"It never really feels like work. I look forward to coming here every day. I love fooling around in the kitchen; I love cooking. It's nice to just come in and, with like-minded people, we just talk about food all day. Next thing you know we're making it, putting it on a plate and selling it."
You can find Black Arrow at 26 Central Street in Manchester, Massachusetts.
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