Hoist anchor and head to the Anchor Mystic
For two-and-a-half decades in this paper, I’ve written arts and culture features, columns and dining reviews in an area almost criminally rich in maritime history.
New London scored a “whaling port” mention in “Moby Dick.” We have a submarine base with the Nautilus, no less — not to mention an industry devoted to designing and building the vessels. There’s Mystic Seaport — once awkwardly but accurately subtitled “the museum of America and the sea.” We have a healthy sea chantey community. There are even enough lobster/clam/fish and chips shacks to rotate amongst them daily for a month without a repeat visit.
Frankly, with all that, I’ve run out of seafarin’ puns and witty asides, and can no longer borrow lush evocations about the beauty or power of the ocean from literature.
And yet I’ll summon all my energies in homage to the Anchor Mystic Café & Sweets, serving breakfast and lunch and located adjacent to the Mystic Seaport giftshop. The space used to be a snackery of sorts, but this refined and more expansive concept serves as a stand-alone dining destination as well as a convenient stop for museum visitors.
The fare is simple enough — soups, sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, baked goods and ice cream — but it’s all crafted on-site and it’s very good. The servers/cooks, who seem to each navigate between posts efficiently, are all cheerful and very friendly.
Oh, if you’re wondering at what point in the lengthy expanse of Seaport they’ve located the Anchor Mystic, well, look for the anchor. The substantially LARGE anchor. Like, “Well, the Titanic wasn’t using this anymore…”
Next to the anchor, on a shared grassy space, are a few picnic tables for when the weather cooperates. The café itself is in a larger building on the Seaport property, which is freshly painted in a pale yellow/aqua theme with a wooden porch and hanging planters.
Inside, a staircase breaks the Anchor dining area into an L-shape. The base extends to a fireplace in the right wall, while straight ahead is a smaller section cordoned off from the gift shop by a rope. Right now, a Christmas tree provides merriment.
To the left as you walk in is the serving counter and display cases for baked goods and ice cream. Oh, and on one wall is a large flatscreen TV that shows exotic and brilliantly colored undersea video footage on a continual loop and taken from various ships in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet. You can watch weird ichthyological creatures swim and float and, occasionally, devour one another. The latter images can either increase your appetite or make you order the deluxe DVD of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Anyway: Remember that scene in “Moby Dick” where famished Queequeg and Ishmael eat and discuss the chowder at Try Pots? I suspect that, if they’d selected the Anchor instead of Try Pots, they’d have invested in at least some of the baked goods — which include muffins, scones, croissants, cookies, cinnamon rolls, bagels, turnovers, brownies, cakes…
…as my wife Eileen and I did. A giant oatmeal raisin cookie ($3.25) was sweet, chewy and buttery. The cinnamon muffin ($3.50 each) was fresh and extraordinary; the former split, served warm and coated with melted butter. Bury me at sea with one of these to weigh down my coffin!
A chocolate croissant ($3.50) offered beguiling textural interplay between delicately flaked dough and honeycombed air pockets. The chocolate flavor never overpowered but was lovingly present.
I tried an SS Sausage ($5.50) and Eileen a Conrad ($5.30) from the breakfast sandwich offerings. On mine, a large, decidedly not greasy patty and a rich slab of cheddar were fine components for the host Kaiser roll. (This normally comes with shirred eggs; I asked they be left off.) Eileen’s featured egg, roasted tomato, basil and Provolone, also on a Kaiser. Everything about the ingredients shone with freshness and flavor contrast.
Over two lunch visits, I tried a Mayflower ($9.50, with roasted turkey breast, tart green apple slices, cheddar and brown mustard) and was at once delighted and dismayed. It was delicious and filling — but it also made me realize my own impending Thanksgiving menu couldn’t measure up.
The Railway ($9.50) was also enjoyable. Plenty of lean, grilled ham and provolone on a giant, toasted Brioche roll. Simple, and the sort of sandwich that can be taken for granted by diners and preparers — but this was filling and enjoyable.
There are also vegan options including a black bean burger (Dory, $12), which delighted Eileen with its flavor. The black bean patty was better than average, sayeth E, and served on a on vegan brioche with red onion, lettuce, tomato and salsa. The bun was good, but needed heating .
She also tried and enjoyed the Captain’s Choice Soup of the Day ($8.50) , which was vegetable and included toothy chunks of corn, carrots, green beans, red peppers, potato, onion and cabbage in a pleasant, piquant broth.
Other sandwiches and wraps include chicken salad, hot and cold lobster rolls, BBQ pulled pork and meatballs. I’m looking forward to sampling many of them. Ditto for an array of flatbreads, one of which, we noticed, was being taken to go by no less than jocular Mystic Seaport executive director Peter Armstrong.
Also worth noting: quality teas, coffee and specialty (non alcoholic) beverages.
All in all, our experiences at Anchor Mystic reminded us of that immortal final passage from “Moby Dick,” where Melville wrote of Ishmael, buoyed by Queequeg’s coffin and the sole survivor of the Pequod: “On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last — and dropped me off at the Anchor Mystic. I ordered chowder.”
Anchor Mystic Cafe & Sweets
45 Greenmnaville Avenue, Mystic
www.anchormystic.com, (860) 245-5236
Cuisine: Casual breakfast and lunch with sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods and more
Atmosphere: Very comfortable with sight lines to the Seaport gift shop and Greenmanville Ave.
Service: Excellent and friendly
Prices: Cheap to moderate
Winter hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicap access: Three steps up to porch and into restaurant; very roomy inside.