The Line on Hooked

Posted: May 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Hooked, Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

When the eye-catching blue and yellow Coming Soon signs appeared in the windows of 114 Pleasant St. in Marblehead last week, locals were impressed. Although the new restaurant, Hooked, won’t open until June, it’s already got a website with a sample menu and a twitter feed to boot.

“Oh,” you might say, “A seafood restaurant in a shore town, how (yawn) exciting.” But the truth is, with its family-friendly combination of casual restaurant and take-out, Hooked’s unique approach may just be what some are looking for, especially as it will be open for lunch.

I stopped by today and chatted with partners Ben Rhodes and Rafe Hershfield about their new venture. Rhodes, a well-known Marblehead native, owns the building and for many years ran the Super Sub that Hooked is replacing. He was ready for something new, and long discussions with the enthusiastic Hirschfield gave birth to this concept.

The space will feature about 32 seats in a combination of counter, high-top tables, and regular tables. Diners will order at the counter, their meals will be brought to them, and they’ll bus their own tables as they depart. A step above the familiar red-and-white checked paper baskets, the food will be served on china with flatware, and a selection of beer and wine will be served.

Hershfield promises the fried offerings will be fresh, not frozen, with generous portions at highly competitive prices. Clam strip fans will be intrigued—the jumbo refers not to the portion but to the size of the clams.

Unlike the standard clam shack, Hooked’s menu will include plenty of fresh fish (locally sourced when possible) as grilled and baked options, with items like swordfish kabobs over salad for healthy or gluten-free choices. Less-common sandwiches like crab cake sliders and fish tacos will also make an appearance, and the guys hinted at a few more menu surprises they have up their sleeves.

Everything will be available for take-out, which is sure to please summer beachgoers and boaters. The interior is getting a complete overhaul, including a brand-new kitchen, and they plan to open in mid to late June. Rhodes says farther down the line, they are looking at turning the adjacent driveway into a patio with outdoor seating, something of which Marblehead has surprisingly little.

The restaurant’s website quips “Once you try it you’ll be ‘Hooked’!” and after my visit today, I’m looking forward to returning to see if it’s true.

Edit 7.20.10: You can read about our first visit to Hooked here: A First Look at Hooked, Marblehead’s Newest Seafood Eatery

Hooked Seafood & Grill
114 Pleasant St., Marblehead
781-631-8200
www.hookedmarblehead.com

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Marblehead’s Ataraxis Tavern Brings New Energy to the Avenue

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Ataraxis Tavern, Casual/Pub Food, Marblehead | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Edit 12/29/10: We are sorry to report that Ataraxis Tavern has closed it’s doors.

Marblehead’s got a new bar and grill in town, though you likely haven’t heard of it yet. Ataraxis Tavern has quickly and quietly filled the space left by Flynnie’s and in the month since their soft opening, has been generating great buzz.

Jeff Flynn and his family are well regarded by Marbleheaders and both Flynnie’s on the Avenue and at Devereux Beach were favorites of many, so while it may not be fair, comparisons by locals will be inevitable.

We stopped by last night to take a look for ourselves and had the opportunity to chat with owner Dean Santamaria-Capetanelis. Dean grew up in Marblehead and when he and friend Paul Riccardi, previously the executive chef at Jack Tar, were looking to open a restaurant and saw the space for sale, they jumped at the chance to return to town. Dean and Paul’s shared vision is that of a relaxing family-friendly tavern atmosphere serving quality comfort food. The name, Ataraxis, is actually an English word meaning “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.”

On first glance, the interior feels darker, warmer and indeed quieter for such a small space. The paneling on the walls, which was originally reclaimed wood from a tannery in Peabody, has been stained a dark walnut. The other big change is the black tablecloths and linen napkins at each table.  Dean explains that not only does this help in baffling noise, but using linens is also more cost effective and creates less waste than paper. The new chairs and fresh coat of paint add to the revived atmosphere. And families with children shouldn’t be put off by the new look—our junior Dish member was delighted at the offer of an Etch-A-Sketch from the stash at the hostess stand to occupy kids waiting on their food.

332010aThere are a couple of changes that haven’t happened yet, but are in the works. The floor needs refinishing, but instead of fighting the salt, sand and snow of winter, that will wait till warmer months. Also, the custom painted glass between the restaurant area and bar is in the process of being replaced.

Much of the transformation, Santamaria-Capetanelis tells us, will never be seen by the public. The kitchen has gotten a facelift, as well as new chef (Riccardi) and sous-chef (Jake Soucy), and a new computer system installed. There are some familiar faces, though, because he hired back the former Flynnie’s wait and bar staff which made the transition smoother than most.

The menu, as promised, centers on hearty and comfort food favorites. The big difference here is that everything is prepared to order from scratch, using fresh ingredients. Dean already uses local suppliers like Patriot Lobster for seafood and Atomic Café for coffee, and is interested in locally sourcing as much as he can as the seasons change.

332010bWhile we didn’t get to explore much of the menu, we did try the ribs ($14.50 for half rack, $21 for full) which were terrific. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and had great flavor. The grilled farmhouse burger ($8.75) was fresh, juicy and generous, and the fries plentiful and tasty.

Santamaria-Capetanelis is pleased with the initial public reaction, and said that business for February, (a difficult month to open anything) exceeded their expectations. Visitors have warmed to the new place, and with so many storefronts still vacant from economic upheaval, we’re thinking Atlantic Avenue can only benefit from the energy generated by Dean and his crew.

If you are interested in checking out the AT for yourself, think about heading over tomorrow night, Thursday March 4th, for their grand opening celebration. They will be serving up samples of their signature dishes as well as handing out fun freebies from Cape Ann Brewing Company from 5-7 pm.

Ataraxis Tavern
28 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead
781-639-2100
ataraxistavern.com (the menu is up, but the site is still under construction)
Ataraxis Tavern Facebook Page
Ataraxis Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Newburyport’s Port Tavern Aims for Comfort

Posted: September 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Newburyport, Port Tavern | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

On our recent trip to Newburyport to visit the farmer’s market, we decided to stop at Port Tavern for a late lunch. This is just our kind of place—lots of comfort food selections, an excellent burger, and a comfortable atmosphere. Our visit was marred by poor service, but we’ll assume that’s not the norm, as others in the restaurant appeared well tended to.

We thoroughly enjoyed the fish and chips ($13), which had a generous portion of fish and steak fries that were crisp on the outside and creamy inside. We also liked the shepard’s pie ($12), which had robust beef flavor and a creamy potato topping.

The aforementioned burger ($9) was juicy and had great charred flavor, a good bun, and fresh lettuce/tomato on the side. Sandwich orders come with a choice of 10 sides, including garlic mashed potatoes and onion rings. We went with the baked potato, but it came completely plain, which was odd. (We weren’t asked about toppings when we ordered, and none came on the side).

We also ordered the white truffle mac and cheese, which turned out to be gemelli in a terrific, cheesy/earthy sauce. But the parmesan breadcrumb crust on the menu description somehow turned into a few crushed crackers sprinkled on top.

We liked the fact that diners are given lots of choices, including those sides (which you can order on their own for $3) and four types of bread for panini sandwiches like the grilled chicken and pear ($8). We didn’t like paying $2.50 for coffee or waiting more than 45 minutes for our food.

We’re guessing our waitress forgot to put in our order since nearby diners received their food in reasonable time and she ignored us the entire time we waited, refusing to meet our hungry gazes. All that was needed was an apology and a basket of bread, but neither were forthcoming.

We recommend giving this place a try when you’re in the area, just be aware that service may be spotty, so if you find yourself neglected, don’t hesitate to ask for the manager. (We chose not to since we keep a low profile when eating at a restaurant we plan to blog about.)

Port Tavern
84 State St, Newburyport
(978) 465-1006
www.theporttavern.com

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Lunch With a View at Madfish Grille

Posted: September 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Gloucester, Madfish Grille, Seafood | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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We were in the mood for a relaxing lunch by the water, and Madfish Grille offered both a stunning view and an interesting menu. We found a lot to like at this Rocky Neck spot, including a funky seaside décor, delicious sweet potato fries, and a variety of sandwiches to choose from. There were a few drawbacks, but on a sunny day overlooking Gloucester Harbor, we’re willing to forgive quite a bit.

A large step up from many seafood restaurants in the area, Madfish’s appetizer menu includes PEI mussels, potstickers, and a braised short-rib quesadilla. We decided to share one of the day’s specials, iron seared U-10 scallops with roasted cipollini onions, rendered bacon, and a maple butter sauce ($12).

They were perfectly cooked with that great balance of savory bacon and sweet sauce, making us wish there were more than two on the plate. To be fair, our waitress told us there were only two or three per plate, but four scallops for a $12 shared appetizer is really not too much to ask.

The lunch menu runs the gamut from pizza to burgers, cuban sandwich to fish and chips ($8 to $19). We went with the crab and avocado BLT ($10), which was good but not great; could have used more avocado and a better roll. The grilled eggplant sandwich with spinach, tomato, fresh, mozzarella, and balsamic spread ($8) was delicious except for the roll, which again was too sweet and too soft. As mentioned, the sweet potato fries were hot, crispy, and plentiful.

Service was a mixed bag: friendly and never rushed but lacking some basic niceties like plates for our appetizer and an offer to wrap the remains of our sandwich. All in all, Madfish is a spot worth knowing about, and we’re thinking of returning to sample a few of the more pub-like items, maybe on a night when a band is playing in the outdoor bar.

Madfish Grille
77 Rocky Neck Avenue, Gloucester
(978) 281-4554
www.madfishgrille.com

Madfish Grille on Urbanspoon

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Sonoma Misses the Mark

Posted: August 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Casual/Pub Food, Salem | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »

82509s

On the recommendation of some folks on Chowhound, we had dinner last weekend at Sonoma, a gastropub that opened at the beginning of the summer on Congress Street in Salem, about six blocks from Pickering Wharf.

The place looks terrific, with an attractive bar and a freshly painted interior. The menu looked good, too, with many tapas selections and some interesting sounding entrees. Unfortunately, our meal did not match the surroundings.

The flatbread pizza ($10) was the only good selection of the night: crisp and flavorful with shrimp and pesto. They were out of the shrimp and avocado salad, the chorizo was fine but nothing special, and the torta espanola had no flavor at all. Appetizers run $8 to $10; hot and cold tapas are $6. We sampled a cosmopolitan and a drink special with vodka, chambord, and pineapple ($10); both could have used more booze and less mixers.

Neither of our entrees was a success. The thick-cut pork chop was tender but the sauce and everything else on the plate was bland ($19). The duck pasta in wine sauce was worse, with stringy, flavorless meat and pasta cooked to mush ($18).

With only eight tables, Sonoma is quite small, but it’s still more than one waitperson can cover. Although our waitress was nice, she was completely overwhelmed. Water glasses stayed unfilled, and used dishes sat on our table for most of the evening. Judging by how long we waited for our main meal, the small kitchen was also struggling to handle the Friday night crowd.

We give the folks at Sonoma credit for opening a restaurant in this economy and for getting creative with the menu. Hopefully, the kitchen will begin focusing more on quality than variety and the front of the house will solve its staffing issues.

Sonoma
75 Congress Street, Salem
(978) 607-0140
www.sonomasalem.com

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Mandrake Does Bar Food Right

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Casual/Pub Food, Mandrake | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

We’d been by Mandrake in Beverly many times but had never ventured in. To be honest, we were a bit put off by Mandrake’s curtained windows and dark exterior. Don’t make the mistake we did—Mandrake’s interior is warmly lit and welcoming, the service is outstanding, and the bar food is reasonable and delicious.

Sitting down at the bar last weekend, we were immediately served glasses of water (we love when that happens) and a large paper cone of house-made spicy potato chips and asked if we wanted to see menus. After a long day of yard work, we did.

Between the appetizers and sandwiches, Mandrake has a great selection for those in the mood to snack rather than dine. (There are plenty of entrees we may return for, along with several specials that looked good, all in the $20 to $25 range.)

We almost went for the nachos grande ($11) and later wished we had, as it looked great. We tried the olive/hummus plate ($7) along with a couple of sandwiches. The large portion of hummus had good texture, the olives were plentiful, and the pita was warm and crispy.

The surf and turf sliders—one crabcake, one petit filet—are a good dinner value at $14, served with a mound of crispy sweet potato fries. Both sliders were excellent; the crabcake was tender inside and crispy outside, and the perfectly cooked beef was topped with béarnaise aioli. The generous, crispy Gloucester fish sandwich, also with sweet potato fries, was only $10.

We were well attended by the bar staff all evening, starting with an immediate offer of a taste when we asked about one of the white wines (followed by a full pour of our selection). The sidecar we ordered came with an assurance it would be remade if unacceptable, since it’s not a popular request. Although it wasn’t right (on the rocks rather than straight up), we somehow managed. We were pleased at the price of the 40 cl Stella Artois ordered later: only $3.50.

A couple of final notes. Mandrake offers select menu items for half price every day except Saturday from 5:00 to 7:00. Also, the Web site seems to be under construction, and the menus aren’t available at the moment.

Mandrake Bar Bistro
252 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-0663
www.mandrakebeverly.com

Mandrake Bar Bistro on Urbanspoon

P.S. If you’re walking along Cabot Street after dinner and are tempted by the authentic-looking gelato at Trevi Coffee & Tea, don’t be fooled. For $2.75, we received a small cup of what tasted like ice milk.

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Lime Rickey’s: Mom Would Never Approve

Posted: July 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Lime Rickey's, Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

When I was a kid, my mother would herd my siblings and all our friends to the beach on many a summer’s day, but plead as we might, she would never let us buy lunch there. Instead, we would grudgingly eat our limp tuna sandwiches, into which grains of sand invariably found their way, adding grit to every bite. The reason for this torture? Mom would repeat it like a mantra, “Buying food at the beach is too expensive. What do you think I am, made of money?”

Not surprisingly, all these years later, beach food is still expensive. Most beach shacks have a captive audience—unless you bring your own food, they’re the only game around, so their prices don’t have to be competitive.

We accept this; we only wish that Lime Rickey’s at Devereux Beach made us feel better about it. Unfortunately, the quality of the food that we have tasted is less than stellar, and the service, by what appears to be bored college kids, is lackluster at best.

The fried foods are priced similarly to those at the clam shacks in Essex and Ipswich, (clam plate is $18, shrimp plate is $16), but the quality doesn’t come close. The breading is heavy and over-fried, and the only selection that it doesn’t overpower is the scrod, making the fish and chips ($12) a reasonable choice.

The lobster roll is decent, if a bit frou-frou. (Call us purists, but tarragon doesn’t belong in lobster salad.) And at $16 each, these guys clearly haven’t heard that the boat prices have plummeted lately.

The burger is a smallish, previously frozen, overcooked patty, ($5) but the fries (small $3.25, large $4.75) are the coated-to-be-crispy kind and are tasty. For the same money, you could have stopped at Five Guys in Vinnin Square on your way to the beach and gotten a larger, much better tasting burger and much larger fries.

The ice cream, however, is excellent. It’s Richardson’s and is priced similarly to the other places you’ll find it in town, from $1.90 for a single scoop up to $3.90 for a triple.

Aside from the location, which can’t be beat, Lime Rickey’s does have two things going for it. The first is variety; they offer salads, wraps, hummus plates, and a few specialty sandwiches ($5 to $8) in addition to the more traditional beach fare. The second is free live music Friday and Saturday nights in August, and live music at the beach anywhere on the North Shore is pretty hard to come by.

Yes, we’re a bit nostalgic for the days when a hot dog and a Hoodsie could be had for a dollar and a quarter, but the truth is, there are so many excellent North Shore eateries to patronize, the next time we hit Devereux, we’re packing lunch.

Lime Rickey’s
Devereux Beach
105 Ocean Ave, Marblehead
(781) 631-6700
www.limerickeys.com

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The Gulu-Gulu: Not Your Average Café

Posted: June 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Gulu-Gulu Cafe, Salem | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I’ll be honest with you, when I first drove by Gulu-Gulu Café in Salem, I imagined it to be a coffee house hipster hangout populated entirely by the under-30 set. But the more I heard about it, the more I was intrigued, and looking at the events calendar made me realize this was more than just another trendy café. Any restaurant that shows the silent films of Buster Keaton during its weekly movie night is okay in my book.

So when I had a recent opportunity to meet up for a drink with local Salem blogger, Sarah Landry of Hot Pants for Shuffleboard, Gulu-Gulu was the spot. Despite the large room and high ceilings, there was a warm, almost cozy feeling, and the waitstaff, while definitely young and hip, were happy and helpful.

The room is casual and fun with funky furniture, a revolving showcase of local artists’ work on the walls, and a stage for live events. A long bar along one wall features towering blackboards listing drinks and specials. The patrons range from young to old and include individuals, families, and groups of friends.

We sat at the bar, and the luminous Ms. Landry ordered a sauvignon blanc ($6) and the JackMax’n Cheese, which is baked with cheddar, goat cheese, and roasted peppers and comes with a side salad ($7). I ordered the Argentinean malbec ($6) and the Cheese and Meat Coalition, your choice of any three served with toasted ciabatta bread ($8).

The cheese choices were fairly standard, lacking any blues or stinky cheeses, but there were a few interesting tastes, most notably the Czech-style marinated brie, which was delicious. The generous quantity of toasts accompanying the plate was a welcome sight, as restaurant cheese plates are notorious for skimping on the crackers or bread. The mac and cheese looked terrific, and Ms. Landry reported it was tasty, savory, and just a bit chewy around the edges.

Our small tastes were only the tip of the iceberg where the menu is concerned. It includes everything from snacks to meals, breakfast to dinner, coffee to cocktails. And the beer menu, for which Gulu Gulu is well known, is truly impressive. Inspired by the Prague café of the same name where the owners (Steve Feldmann and Marie Vaskova) met, there are plenty of Czech specialties on offer as well.

One begins to understand that Gulu-Gulu is more than a restaurant, serving as a meeting spot, entertainment venue, strong supporter of local arts, and the perfect place to interact with your community. Hearty food, live music, movies, and art are all good reasons to check it out. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get to hear someone play the didgeridoo—we did!

Gulu-Gulu Cafe
247 Essex St., Salem
(978) 740-8882
www.gulu-gulu.com

Gulu Gulu Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Summer Lovin’: Outdoor Dining Season Begins

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

outdoor

The weather may not be cooperating just yet, but we’ve pulled out our tank tops and beach cover-ups and officially declared the start of the no-socks season.

To that end, we’ve got a round-up of the best al fresco dining we’ve found on the North Shore, followed by a list of several more we’re hoping to get to before Labor Day.

We’ve just begun compiling this list, so feel free to vote for your favorites from below or add any we might have overlooked. Please note that we’ve purposely left out clam shacks and beach-food places like Lime Rickey’s in Marblehead (we’ll have more coverage of lobster rolls, fried clams, and ice cream as the temperature rises) and a few places that have outdoor seating but may not meet our criteria for good food.

The Barnacle, Marblehead
It’s lunchtime on a sunny day, you’re sipping a bloody mary on the deck of the Barnacle and waiting for your fried clams—you’ve officially hit the seaside dining jackpot. The food at this unassuming pub is good, not great (stick with the chowder, the fried seafood, and the bloodys), but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer view than Marblehead harbor in the summer, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.

Jack-Tar, Marblehead
The patio outside one of our favorite pubs is small but charming, and the food is both comforting and reasonably priced. We’re fond of the generous drinks, the $3 to $5 tapas, and the pizza with pancetta and blue cheese (a selection of pizzas is $5 from 5:00 to 7:00 every night).

The Landing at 7 Central, Manchester
The pubby front rooms at the Landing are great for cozying up in cold weather, but make your way all the way to the back, and you’ll be seated on the comfortable second-story porch. The menu is large and varied, featuring everything from burgers and caesar salad with salmon or steak tips to pepper encrusted duck. We recommend the lobster omelet for brunch.

The Landing, Marblehead
This Marblehead institution is right in the thick of the summer action at the town landing on Front Street. Sitting out on the deck overlooking the harbor you’re likely to see anything from lobster boats unloading their catch to campers returning on the ferry from Children’s Island. As you’d expect the menu offers many summer seafood favorites; ours are the lobster roll and the baked scrod.

Rockafellas, Salem
The place to see and be seen in Salem in the summer, Rockafellas’ entrees are reasonable (honey glazed salmon is $16, bourbon turkey tips are $15), and there are plenty of tapas for those just needing a little something with their cocktails, including quesadillas and catfish fingers. If the wait at Rockafellas is long, there are several options for outdoor dining nearby, including Gulu Gulu Café, Fresh Taste of Asia (best dumplings on the North Shore), and the Lobster Shanty.

The Farm, Essex
Whether you are heading back from the beach hungry or just looking to savor a cold brew on a summer night, a brand new patio with live music and weekly specials like their 35-cent wing night make this new addition to the Essex restaurant scene fun central.

Grapevine, Salem
Sumptuous food is the attraction at this Italian gem, starting with tuna carpaccio over crispy flatbread and proceeding to rigatoni with braised veal or perhaps oven roasted swordfish with lemon-caper sauce. With only eight tables in the outside garden, the atmosphere is romantic and the service is top-notch.

Can’t Wait to Try:

The Lobster Pool, Rockport
This seems to the favorite among foodies for casual outside dining in Rockport. The straightforward menu of seafood (and homemade pie) implies a no-fuss-no-muss attitude, and we’re looking forward to trying the lobster roll this summer.

My Place By the Sea, Rockport
We’ve been hearing good things about the food at this upscale restaurant for years. From the pictures we’ve seen of the outside deck, this is the place to be on a summer night with your sweetheart.

Madfish Grille, Gloucester
Rocky Neck is one of those places that always makes us feel happy, and the Madfish Grille looks like just what we’re in the mood for when eating outside in the summer. Margarita shrimp, crab BLT, panzanella salad, grilled lamb, scampi pizza—need we say more? (Ed. Our review 9/3/09)

Plum Island Grille, Newbury
Creative cuisine and a fabulous sunset: sign us up. This island retreat is at the top of our list to try—if anyone has been recently, please leave your menu recommendations in the comments. (Ed. Our review 11/13/09)

Michael’s Harborside, Newburyport
The Newburyport waterfront is always hopping in the summer, and Michael’s is right in the thick of things. The menu says their lobster roll is famous, we hear good things about their burgers, and the balsamic brown sugar short ribs sound intriguing.

Danversport Grille and Bistro, Danvers
Quite a few North Shore residents have pointed us toward this restaurant, part of the Danversport Yacht Club but open to the public. The menu tends to classic dishes like chicken oscar and prime rib, and the view overlooking the inlet’s docked boats looks spectacular.

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Salem’s Lobster Shanty Is More Than Meets the Eye

Posted: May 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Lobster Shanty, Salem, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

shanty21

After running some early evening errands in Salem on Friday, we passed the Lobster Shanty and decided to stop for a bite. A local dive bar lauded by Yelp-ers as the best place around to get drunk with your dog, the Shanty advertises “warm beer, lousy food, surly waitresses, rude bartenders and cranky cooks.” How could we not investigate?

The place is one of the tiny buildings in Artist’s Row, so the actual bar is relatively small, but what draws locals on summer nights is the good-sized patio area with free live music on weekends. We opted to sit outside and perused the very reasonable drinks menu, choosing a Belfast Bay Lobster Ale ($4.25) and a specialty cocktail, The Perfect Storm ($7.50), that turned out to be a tasty rum punch with a nice kick.

Along with the requisite boiled lobster and fried seafood offerings, the menu provides a wide range of choices, including grilled pizzas ($7-$9), gourmet burgers ($7-$10), and entrees ($13-$20) We got a chance to chat with executive chef Diane Wolf, who co-owns the Shanty with her husband, Lee. When they bought the place two years ago from the previous owner, she told us the menu was very limited, and she couldn’t resist having a little fun with it.

So while it boasts about limp salads and the tepid sodas, The Shanty’s menu actually reflects creativity and quality not found in your standard pub food; a burger dredged in sesame seeds and cracked black pepper and topped with gorgonzola, grass-fed Guinness-soaked steak tips, and side dishes like wilted spinach and bacon and grilled seasonal veggies. All of the seafood is bought from local fishermen, and Wolf said they make their own mozzarella.

We ordered the calamari ($10) to start, the lobster roll ($17) with a side of the spinach and bacon, and a fishwich ($7) with sweet potato fries and an extra side of pickled beets. The teenaged member of our party ordered the chicken tenders and fries basket.

The calamari was terrific, lightly breaded and very tender. Our only disappointment was that it wasn’t a larger portion—we inhaled it in short order. The chicken basket was pub standard, but the fries were salted with what looked like sea salt, a nice touch.

fishfriesThe lobster roll was what a lobster roll should be: chock full of meat, not overly dressed or seasoned, served on a toasted hot dog bun (we’re sticklers on that point). The piece of fish in the sandwich was good-sized, lightly breaded, and crisp. Our server, a smiling young man who answered to the name of Betty (!?), forgot the tartar sauce but was highly apologetic about it. The spinach and bacon was lovely, and the sweet potato fries were divine. Delicious and crispy with large flakes of salt, we would return on their merit alone.

In truth, there are many reasons to return to The Shanty. Yes, it’s a small unassuming place with some surly looking characters haunting the kitchen, but we found the staff genial, the food tasty, and the prices excellent. (Wolf told us that with an eye to the current economy, they’re staying with last year’s prices). With outdoor seating, music on weekends, inexpensive drinks and snacks as well as the more gourmet options, we’re thinking it’s a great place to chill on a summer night. Whether or not you bring your dog is up to you.

The Lobster Shanty
25 Front St. (At Artist’s Row) Salem
(978) 754-5449
http://lobstershantysalem.com

Lobster Shanty on Urbanspoon

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