There's much to admire about the Ancient Mariner
When I was younger, my siblings and I used to taunt our parents for repeating a rather generic superlative every time they had a meal they liked at a restaurant they liked.
“They just do a nice job,” my mother and father would say.
To do “a nice job” meant to have all elements of the dining experience fall into place just right: stellar service, enjoyable atmosphere, great ingredients, and well-paired meals.
After visiting the Ancient Mariner at 21 West Main Street in downtown Mystic for the first time recently, I feel compelled to borrow my parents’ saying: the Ancient Mariner does a truly nice job.
On the whole, the prices are a little bit higher than the types of places I typically go to — $6 to $16 for appetizers; $18 to $34 for entrees — but not excessively so, and the meals are certainly worth it.
The ambience at the Ancient Mariner is part of the charm. The space is dimly lit at night by mood-setting, nautical-themed light fixtures. There are blown up and framed historic photos and artwork tastefully hung on the walls. Rowing paddles ornament the ceiling in the dining area as well as the dividers between booths along an aisle of seating next to an upbeat bar, where you’ll see a chalkboard list of pub fare.
The starters aren’t completely novel for a local seafood-oriented restaurant, but there are some unique items here, or unique twists on familiar dishes.
For example: stuffed Portobello mushrooms with shrimp and scallop stuffing, Swiss cheese, and balsamic reduction ($13), steak frites with flap steak, hand-cut fries, fresh greens, and lemon vinaigrette ($14), and a creole seafood chowder ($6 for a cup; $8 for a bowl).
I sampled two of my favorite appetizers I get wherever I go: New England style clam chowder, priced the same as the creole chowder, and crab cakes ($14).
The chowder was excellent, with a traditional, black peppery taste to it, a slightly thick base, and nice chunks of potatoes and chopped clams.
The crab cakes were a mix of panko breadcrumbs, shredded crabmeat, seasonings, and bits of pepper, formed into medium-sized, tight patties and deep-fried to make a very crispy — and deliciously crunchy — exterior. They came on a small bed of greens and were topped with a savory, not-so-spicy chipotle mayo.
For dinner, I sampled a truly excellent item from the specials list: shrimp carbonara with jumbo shrimp, bacon, andouille sausage, mushrooms, and peas tossed with small, pipe-shaped pipette pasta in a creamy alfredo sauce ($26).
Like the clam chowder, the sauce on this dish was on the thick side but not overly so. One was inclined to get a little piece of everything in each bite, because the ingredients — all exceptionally fresh — went so well together.
It’s worth mentioning that, for the most part, the portion sizes strike a good balance. There’s enough there to satisfy a healthy appetite and get your money’s worth, but nothing so big as to be gratuitous and unmanageable.
The baked sea scallops from the permanent menu were also quite good: large and fresh scallops prepared in a buttery garlic parsley sauce and served with cooked greens and savory mashed potatoes ($24).
The menu includes an “on and off the boned and from the sea” section, “New England favorites,” flatbreads, seven different salads, and a list of sides.
Some other dishes that stood out to me browsing the lists were the blackened shrimp and rice with andouille sausage, black beans, and roasted red peppers with cajun rice ($25), Faroe Island salmon with sun-dried tomato cream sauce ($25), and roasted free-range half chicken with rosemary-garlic au jus ($22).
The Ancient Mariner also had an impressive kids menu, some might be happy to learn. The items were pretty standard and included macaroni and cheese, a cheeseburger, grilled cheese, and chicken fingers. Each item is priced at $10, which seemed a little high to me, but the portions were very generous.
I sampled my younger son’s grilled cheese, which was buttery, cheesy, and came with a heaping pile of thickly cut fries. My older son’s fish and chips was prepared the same way as the adult option, with a nice thick batter fried to a delicious crunch. The plate came with two pieces of fish. I was told the adult version is twice the size.
The service during my visit was excellent: prompt, friendly, accommodating, and kid-friendly. Parking options are what you’d expect in Mystic. There’s some on street spaces depending on when you get there, and there’s a public lot directly behind the Ancient Mariner.
If you go
21 West Main St., Mystic
Food type: Seafood, American
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Price: Moderate to expensive
Hours: Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily; bar closes between 11 p.m. and midnight depending on crowd.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, and Discover
Handicapped access: Front entrance is at sidewalk level; floor plan is open and navigable by wheelchair.
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