Tucked-away Gloucester spot worth the effort to find

Restaurant offers varied, affordable dinners in cozy setting

February 10, 2008

65 Main and Dog Bar

65 Main St., Gloucester
978-281-6565 whiterainbowrestaurant.com
Dining room open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; bar open to 1 a.m.; closed Monday
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped through bar from Rogers Street

The front entrance of 65 Main, a casually elegant restaurant that opened in downtown Gloucester last October, feels like a secret. A small sign over the sidewalk reading "65 Main" doesn't suggest there's food inside, and behind the door is nothing but a flight of stairs leading downward. During Prohibition, there were speakeasies more conspicuous than this place.

The spot is easy to miss, but it's worth finding. It has an authentically historic setting, an eclectic, affordable menu, and a cozily romantic vibe.

The restaurant (formerly White Rainbow) is in the grotto-like basement of the old West End block of Main Street, Gloucester's restaurant row. Massive granite blocks serve as one wall, old brick as another. A fireplace - the real kind, with burning wood - warms the space.

The tables are small enough that you don't have to raise your voices to hear one another - a good thing, as the dining room itself is small enough that loud voices might overwhelm.

The rear entrance to 65 Main is through the tavern, known as the Dog Bar, which faces Rogers Street on the waterfront. The bar's name is not an obscure in-joke of some kind; it refers to the Eastern Point breakwater at the entrance to Gloucester Harbor.

The name might not mean much to tourists, says owner Andy Mulholland, but locals catch the reference. "The name is appropriate, because this is a welcoming, neighborhood kind of place."

To avoid scaring off townies who might not want to pay for a three-course gourmet meal, 65 Main offers nearly as many sandwiches (seven) as entrees (eight) - unusual for a restaurant that, for now, is open only for dinner.

The priciest item on the menu - duck breast with a raspberry cassis compote, a chewy polenta cake, and a small herb salad - was only $20, which these days isn't pricey at all. The dish was perfectly prepared, the duck seared but not overcooked. And like other items on the menu, the portions were about what a medium-sized adult can polish off without discomfort.

An order of roasted pork tenderloin ($17) arrived as an array of small slices that were still pinkish, and so tender. It was set off with two unusual side dishes: gingery mashed sweet potatoes and a tasty fennel-spiced slaw made of julienned apple instead of cabbage. Together, the dish was a great dance of flavors, each flavor distinct.

Also novel, to us, was a spinach salad with sun-dried cranberries and cinnamoned pecans, lightly dressed with a poppyseed vinaigrette ($8).

In general, the spices, dressings, and sauces at 65 Main are applied with a refreshingly light touch, so the food underneath isn't overwhelmed.

A favorite we shared was a generous appetizer of smoked bluefish pâté ($8), served with toasted pita triangles. It was rich and flavorful without being too assertively fishy.

For educational purposes, we ordered an appetizer of "pork sliders 3 ways" ($9), which was three mini-sandwiches of barbecued pork done Kansas City-, Carolina-, and Memphis-style. We enjoyed the spicy tang of all three, even if the subtlety of how they differ was a little beyond us.

65 Main may have a low profile in winter, but it will surely draw more attention in summer, when diners can eat alfresco in a private, fenced-in patio. We plan to be back.

COCO McCABE AND DOUG STEWART