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Italian Fishing Tradition Lives on at Peter Zappa’s The Causeway in Gloucester

Peter Zappa

Peter Zappa

Discussing Italian food always proves to be quite a curious concept, as conversations tend to invariably focus on what Americans would refer to as “Italian classics,” such as chicken parmigiana, pizza, and tiramisù. But what many fail to recognize is that these foods and fine pastas are not the only rudimentary dishes that encapsulate the Italian diet, but only represent merely a fraction of it. In fact, spanning across the twenty regions that make up the Italian boot and its islands, dishes found in each respectively can be very different. But for most Italians, the Mediterranean isn’t very far away.

With five thousand miles of coastline, many Italians share a common basic ingredient in many of their dishes: fresh seafood. The frutti di mare, or “fruits of the sea,” are incorporated into the Italian kitchen in more ways than one could think of, ranging from pasta and seafood pairings, to baccala, branzino, or a good frittura di pesce — fried fish.

It’s no wonder that Peter Zappa, born in the Tuscan coastal town of Viareggio to Sicilian parents, would be drawn to the staple ingredient that was so abundant around him while growing up. His love for fish and food in general landed him in the kitchen as a child, preparing meals with his mother. His father, who was a fisherman in Sicily, told stories of the sea, and taught Peter how to best prepare the catch he brought home.

Upon moving to the United States at age five, the family settled in Gloucester, which is hailed as one of the most important fishing villages in Massachusetts. Peter Zappa’s connection to the sea was never broken and roughly fifteen years ago he decided to open his own restaurant, The Causeway, in this very fishing village.

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No matter what the season, scores of seafood lovers line up outside The Causeway, waiting for a seat in this shanty type setting. There are no frills here; diners arrive without concern for their attire, ready to feast on local catch. For patrons and newcomers, the freshness and portion size of meals offered is what makes this spot so unique. The fish doesn’t travel very far from ocean to table, as the majority of seafood served comes directly from Gloucester fishermen, with the rest coming straight from Boston.

Although everything on the menu is soulfully pleasing, many folks return for a few meals in particular. Peter Zappa’s signature fish chowder is, perhaps, one of the most popular items on the list. The chowder arrives piping hot in an oversized bowl, filled to the brim with mountains of haddock and potatoes, in a light broth that does not smother the taste of the fish. His clam chowder is also properly thick, with clams at the forefront of every bite. Appetizer portions of mussels steeped in white wine and garlic or mussels provençale arrive at the table in a wok-sized bowl that could easily feed five! Fried seafood, such as clams and calamari are prepared as they are in Italy, coated in a weightless batter that has the perfect balance of saltiness. And for diners that are not craving fish, dishes such as Chicken Abruzzi, Chicken and Broccoli, and Spaghetti and Meatballs also appear on the menu and are prepared with the same delicacy.

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Native Italians flock to The Causeway from across the state for a special that rarely appears on menus in the United States but is offered each Thursday during the wintertime until the month of June: tripe. Trippa, which is pedaled even by street vendors all over Italy, is a slow cooked, pleasantly mild, but distinctly flavored traditional meal that is often the forgotten item in many Italian-American locales. In recognizing its absence, Peter Zappa proudly serves it for all those willing to deviate from the largely seafood based menu.

Customers needn’t worry about the cost of their meals. The already low-priced fare is dished out in such large portions that it is almost guaranteed customers will head home with leftovers. The restaurant’s bring-your-own-booze policy is also favorable for those looking to save. Guests can enjoy fine wines and such, purchased at retail prices rather than inflated restaurant costs.

Peter Zappa’s success, in his own words, is founded upon the quality and freshness of his food, as well as his friendly, accommodating staff. He states, “People come here to relax, and I want people to smile when they leave!” So come on down to The Causeway for your next best meal!

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About Elise Balzotti