A True Find ABBY’S PLACE… Essex

by RONA MANN /Photos by Stephanie Sittnick

“I’m a great believer in luck; and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”            …Thomas Jefferson

“I have a work ethic that’s insane.  I inherited it from my parents, but I still don’t know how I got so lucky with this restaurant, my staff of over-achievers, and the very best customers in the world      …Abby Miner                                                                             

See the parallel?

If you don’t, you just haven’t found Abby’s Place yet, because once you find it, you’ll be returning again and again because it is, to put it simply, the real deal.

Abby’s Place is located at the Brewer Dauntless Marina in Essex; and quite frankly, it’s a bit hidden from the road.  But turn in where you see the sign for the boatyard, and you’ll also see the sign for Abby’s with the distinctive blue hummingbird logo.

Abby Miner did not fall into the restaurant business.  Like everything else in her life she did it with a goodly amount of preparation, research, study, and total commitment.  Abby grew up with parents who were atypical, to say the least.  Calling her chemist mother a “true genius,” Miner relates being raised in a kind of nature preserve where her mother taught her offspring to identify trees by the different kinds of bark each had, and at an early age Abby also learned to dissect.  This led to studying biology, histology, and anatomy in school; although while enrolled at Smith College, she changed her major to Art History.  But a love of food and the restaurant business was also there from an early age.

While still in high school Minor walked into a local restaurant, and within a short time became its hostess.  Eager to learn the business soup to nuts, it was not long before she waited tables, bartended, worked in the kitchen, and went on to manage a few additional restaurants throughout New England.  Next up on Abby’s plate was continuing education at the famed bastion of culinary arts, Johnson & Wales University.  “I believe you have to learn everything about the business front to back to have a successful restaurant.”

Not only did Abby Miner absorb book and practical knowledge, but she did quite a lot of listening at the restaurants at which she worked.  “I learned so much from the backstories of the people I worked with.  I was just fascinated with them all.”

After several years in Maine, Abby returned to the home of her beloved grandmother and opened a catering business, working out of the Essex Corinthian Yacht Club.  In addition to providing food services for the club, she managed to build both a loyal following and excellent reputation throughout the area.  One day one of the “locals” came to her and said,  “Sweetheart, The Crow’s Nest (a former restaurant in town) has been gutted.  Go talk to the landlord.  I think you should take it.”

Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore, research, and consider new ventures, Miner went right over to the space and spoke with the landlord.  Before long she was designing the interior, buying equipment, and Abby’s Place was officially born in August of 2011. “It was an incredible labor of love and a helluva lot of work!” Miner laughs, but in her characteristic way, it’s the only way she’s ever known.

Everything about this “find” of a restaurant reflects who Abby Miner has become as a human being.  It was designed and laid out thoughtfully, the menu reflecting the tastes of the local community, rather than an opportunity for a chef to merely flex her muscles.  She opens early to serve breakfast to those who work at the marina, are going out on the water, are in town to shop, or for visitors who are enjoying the leisurely place of exploring one of America’s best hometowns.

“I come out of the kitchen as much as I can to introduce myself, to meet the people, to see if they like our food, and what more we can do to make their experience enjoyable.  You absolutely need to know your clientele to succeed,” Abby says resolutely.

“For example, if I see a table of older people at breakfast and they’re ordering pancakes, I will always suggest that unless they have a very big appetite, just order one.  Our pancakes are huge.”

That kind of caring attitude extends to all her customers as she adds, “Unless we’re absolutely slammed, I will always try to accommodate people with special requests, whether it’s on the menu or not.  If we’ve got it in the kitchen, I’ll make it for them.”

Some of the more popular and oft-requested items for breakfast are the orange-infused French toast, bagel and Scottish smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, red onion, and tomato, and the house omelette with herb marinated tomatoes, basil pesto, and feta cheese; the lunch bunch can’t stay away from Abby’s Signature New England Clam Chowder, Galicky Mussels featuring broiled native blue-lipped mussels topped with buttery garlic shallot butter breadcrumbs, the pecan and goat cheese salad, and the ever-popular lobster roll packed with one quarter pound of claw and knuckle meat sauteed in clarified butter and stuffed into a toasted brioche roll.  The dinner menu is the lunch menu with entree additions like fresh beer-battered fish and chips, a Portuguese inspired Seafood Stew of littleneck clams, mussels, and chorizo in a white wine scallion tomato broth, pan-seared salmon filet with mango pineapple relish, and homemade desserts like ice box lemon pie, Mom’s New York style creamy cheesecake with fruit, and their “Almost Famous” Brownie Sundae.  Abby’s is a happy place, so they even have “Happy Hour” 4-6PM every Tuesday through Thursday featuring antipasto platters, grilled mussels, and other “goodies of the day.”

Abby’s Place may be a small restaurant, but they have made wonderful use of the space.  The main dining room is bright and cheery with plenty of room between tables.  They never crowd people in just to make more money; they never compromise the dining experience.  Just off the dining room is a well appointed covered deck overlooking the marina.  It’s a perfect place to share a meal, to have a private party, or to just celebrate the goodness of fresh food made to order any old day of the week!  And should the weather turn a bit cool, Abby’s thought of everything with heater lamps to keep her clients warm and happy.

A full bar featuring top shelf liquor, wine, beer, and even gluten free beer once again tells the clientele that this owner/chef is always thinking, thinking, thinking.  “Sometimes I think I overthink situations,” Abby says with a smile, “but it’s who I am.”

And who she is, is a first rate, highly intelligent restaurant owner who does absolutely nothing without a plan. Once again she attributes that to her upbringing. “My dad wouldn’t even let me drive until I could change a tire and clean the carburetor.  So I learned!”

Her menus reflect the changing seasons, the freshness of the local fish, meat, and vegetables, and her willingness to bring the best she can directly to the table. In addition to a good chef and manager’s head, Abby Miner has a good heart.  You see it when she frolics early in the morning with her labradoodle, Roxy.  You can sense it when she talks about the close relationship she shares with her mother.  And you know it first-hand when you’re her customer.

Legend says that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration.  The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning, and laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

Thus the hummingbird is the perfect symbol to represent Abby’s Place…a place that bespeaks love of food, the joy of eating that food in a beautiful setting, and a celebration of being able to do it all with good friends.

Abby’s Place…go find it.

Find it at Brewer Dauntless Marina, 37 Pratt Street, Essex (860)767-0560  www.abbysplacect.com

Summer Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 8AM-6PM, Thursday: 8AM-8PM, Friday/Saturday: 7AM-8:30PM, Sunday: 7AM-7PM

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