I have an imaginary history in Tenants Harbor, a tiny, pretty town that inspires quasi-mythic reverie in me and many others, I would guess. I almost remember jumping into the bracing sea from a swing hanging by the edge of the pier and scrambling around the rocks to poke at small crabs and other sea life. I feel like a kid, free of worries, consumed with snail shell treasures and other sensory adventures. Some of this fiction comes from memory, superimposed on this picturesque place. My first ever high school boyfriend worked at the gas dock at the marina in my hometown, so I spent every day of that Summer we dated, hanging out in my bikini and jean shorts, getting thrown into the oily water. Small boats bob in the mid-distance and the foreground is a pile of line, traps and the other odds and ends of a working harbor. Here, there is a restaurant you really should visit.
Cod End is a fish market serving super fresh seafood. You walk through the store/seating area, around the lobster tanks, and pull the knotted door handle that takes you back outside to the Cookhouse, where you order through the window a round of the usual suspects of fried goodness and plastic cups of Geary’s cold ale on tap. In warmer weather, we have sat outside and watched the water lap against the rocky shore. But it was too cold for that this day.
Malcolm: I have an actual history with Cod End, that is very similar to what Jillian imagines growing up in Tenants Harbor to be. Located in my hometown, Cod End is a place that’s tough for me to be truly objective about, so entwined is it with memories of my childhood; my older sister spent a Summer as a teenager behind the counter there, and the place serves as the backdrop for an awful lot of these memories. Like the time I was climbing on the pilings at around eight years old, before the tide went out and I sat trapped a few feet in the air, before someone from the shop had to come out in a rowboat and rescue me. Or that time in third grade, when I jumped off the dock into the freezing water in late November, on a dare and in exchange for half of a Twix candy bar, before walking home shivering to get scolded by my parents, who just didn’t understand the importance of a free candy bar (not to mention neighborhood glory). Or in the Summer, the way my older friend Jake, who ran a grocery delivery service for the Harbor’s maritime population using his very own dinghy, would clear a path in the sheen of floating maggots that were sometimes rinsed out of the bait holds of arriving lobster boats, so that I could go swimming. It’s a place as familiar to me as anyplace in the world; it just never dawned on me to actually eat there until now.
We were with friends visiting from out of town. Friends who needed fried fish and beautiful views. It was late June and sixty-one degrees on the peninsulas. We’d done the obligatory stroll around Marshall Point Lighthouse and sniffed the sweet salt air. We filled up glass bottles and jars with Wiley Water. We drove down to the quarry, past belted cows laying down under trees with views of the St. George River. It’s becoming a familiar tour, something to do on funny weather days with family and guests. At this point, we were all starving.
We ordered a fried trifecta for the table: haddock, clams, and oysters, plus a small container of mussels and steamers. It was all very good, if not outstanding food, with a few excellent touches. Number one, the cole slaw. I am not usually inclined to have more than a polite bite of slaw, which I typically find either unremarkable or somewhat gross, like wet yarn. This particular little plastic cup of cabbage was perky, very finely shredded with a pepperiness I could not quite name. It complemented the fried fare nicely. I also enjoyed that two cups of drawn butter were served with the steamed bivalves, one plain and the other jammed up with lots of chopped garlic. Totally brilliant.
Malcolm: The fried oyster and fried clam rolls were outstanding, with ample amounts of expertly-fried golden, fresh seafood nestled into butter-griddled split top hot dog rolls. The huge haddock filet shared the same excellent batter and crisp exterior, with a few handfuls of (frozen) french fries. I also really enjoyed my split order of steamers and mussels, a lunchtime portion served with both plain and garlic-infused clarified butter. The clams were meaty and sweet, without a hint of mud, and the mussels were perfectly plump, briney vehicles for repeated dunks in garlic butter.
There’s lot to like about Cod End. Getting there on the winding woodsy roads leading back from a visit to Port Clyde is the prologue to its charms. Then descending into the parking lot and crossing your fingers that it will be open. Their season seems short: Mid June through early September, but I’ve been there and cold at both ends, so it makes sense to keep it brief and sweet. It is a little pricey, especially if you live here. But I haven’t had seafood fresher or sweeter than the stuff I ate here. In fact, I think I enjoyed the plump, light sienna colored mussels and the very clean clams that undulate obscenely from their springy black necks as you let them linger in liquid butter the most. This is my recommendation, if you end up all the way out here.
Malcolm: Locals may balk a little bit at some of the prices, but for anyone visiting the St. George peninsula, Cod End is worth a stop. They’re open well into the evening, and coupled with a cold Geary’s and a basket of fried clams, it’s hard to imagine a more perfectly picturesque place to slow down and watch the sun set over the harbor, the ocean lapping against the hulls of the numerous fishing boats moored there. (It’s the Lobster Shack at Two Lights conundrum: Does a lobster roll taste better when the scenery is straight out of a postcard? Yes. Yes it does.) Cod End is also a full-service fish market with reasonable prices (about $3.80/pound for softshell quarters, as of this writing), making it a fine choice for picking up a few (dozen) lobsters to bring back home.
But there’s almost no reason to end up there, which is what’s so cool about it. There are no ferris wheels, funnel cakes, or spray painted booty shorts inline skating toward the sunset. There’s no sand for spreading out your sunning towel, and it’s practically never warm enough to swim. You can kayak or paint with watercolors, go out on a puffin watch, or eat the most amazing fruits of the sea. That’s about it, from what I can tell so far. A contemplative spot for quieter tourists, who aren’t seeking thrills or the exotic. It’s simply a nice piece of America, and I feel so lucky to live a short drive away.
Update! Unfortunately, Cod End has permanently closed its doors.