Tom Shea's Essex
Tom Shea's used to be - 25 years ago - a steak, seafood and salad joint with big flavors and a what we would now consider an old-school menu. The ownership changed hands in recent years and the interior now has the obligatory Cheers-style horseshoe bar and sports TV taking up one end and a dining room with fireplace on the other. The water views have not changed - the Essex River over a glass of wine is exquisite and romantic.....the late thunderstorm made it very dramatic!
To start, the service was sprightly and attentive without undue helicoptering. Since we were thinking pub food for a Friday night and perhaps a Bruins' victory, we got there too late to sit at the bar but requested a bar menu in the dining room - no problem. We were quickly served two crispy glasses of Chardonnay, one an Acacia / Carneros and the other a St. Jean / Sonoma, both in league with our expectations. There is nothing worse than 'value' chards like Turning Leaf or Corbett Canyon to ruin a wine selection.
My delicious dining companion and I split an order of boneless chicken in sweet chili sauce which was nice and spiky hot/sweet and sticky. I would say this is a top-choice for bar-top dining and we were happy to sip our wine and snack the appetizer as the Bruins jumped out to a 3 - 0 lead.
Dinner - well - I think we should have ordered better. It was going to be a home run (or maybe a bases-loaded double) for the Paella but instead, it fell pretty flat.. It barely qualified for the Paella Hall of Shame since it was really mussels, small strips of sausage and few slices of chicken in a saffron creme sauce over rice. We were REALLY hungry so we commented 'this is not really Paella...but...but...it is not all that bad". Well, it was. There were no clams, no peas, no spanish rice, no hint of any lobster - no nothing that would even make it close. And a saffron creme sauce???? Which culinary genius came up with THAT? It did not even LOOK like Paella. There are no short cuts for this dish so shame on me for not holding off until I got to an authentic Portuguese or Spanish eatery!
It made me wish I had ordered a Blue Cheese Burger, which is served with a crispy mound of thin french fries - one of those plates went by my table while waiting for the Main Event - and that is what I will order next time I am there. No more playing "stump the chef" in what is essentially a pretty up-market pub. OK, maybe the Roasted Duck or the Lobster/Shrimp Fettucine.... Unlike the Bruins, Tom Shea's gets another chance this season. Next time tho, I just may stick with the basics. And get there early to sit at the bar.
Tom Shea's Seafood Restaurant
122 Main St, Essex, MA 01929
Oh gosh what a shame. We haven't been to Tom Shea's for about 3, maybe more?, years now...has it changed hands since? Anyway, when we did our monthly Rocky Neck - Rockport summer gallery crawl Tom Shea's was one of our lunch spots. I remember a not too bad lobster salad with choice of dressings, satisfactory bloody marys and the great estuary view. That salad isn't on the menu now...I had to look...DH can't even remember what he would order,I guess it was that forgetable. But it was an easy stop for us with me needing accessibility. Frankly, given the on-line menu I just read we wouldn't stop there now before checking here first.
We ate at Tom Shea's last summer, after having sworn them off about ten years earlier. We ate in one of the dining rooms facing the water. We might have been able to see the water better were the windows not so dirty. I don't remember what we had, only that it was mediocre and overpriced.
It really is a great location - which reminds me how much I wish someone would do something with the old Conomo Cafe next door. It's been vacant for about three years now, I think.
Back when Derek Ellerkamp owned Conomo Cafe, it was one of my favorite restaurants. Oh, to have a restaurant with that great view and great food again...sigh.
I miss the the Conomo Cafe - too bad no one made a go of it but when it came on the market, the economy was wobbling badly. Its a huge nut to cover....I think now they are looking for about $880K or so - not sure they will even lease it. I believe there is room for good food in Essex. As a 'dining destination' for Those Other People, I honestly can say there is nothing here in Essex that is consistently Chowhound-worthy, other than perhaps Farnham's. I mean tho how many fried clams can one eat???? Someone who came in and made a contemporary pan-style seafood house with a brick oven and a killer wine list too would clean up. There is so much you can do with simple fresh & local ingredients and no one is doing it. Certainly not Tom Sheas anyway.