North Shore Noshing with Alex and Luke

Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Engine House Pizza, In a Pig's Eye, Marblehead, News, Salem, The Driftwood | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Who the heck are Alex and Luke? That’s what I wanted to know. Better known in their native Canada, these adventurous pals from Toronto have embarked on a whirlwind road trip/social media experiment.

Recently featured in the Toronto news, Alex Sabine and Luke Vigeant set a goal to visit every state and province in North America, guided by suggestions given to them on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Where to drive next? They put it up for a vote and let the public decide. Where to eat, where to sleep? You tell them.

Having made their way through the Maritimes into New England, they hit Boston and continued on to Salem earlier this week. Apparently, when it comes to road trip destinations, witch history is a big draw. “When we said we were coming to Massachusetts, Salem was the place people wanted us to visit, even more than Boston. People from all over, some who had never even been to the state, suggested Salem.”

That’s what is fascinating about the social media driven model; the quirky randomness of the experience. You’re not going to a restaurant touted by Fodor’s or lauded on Trip Advisor; you’re having a burger at a place some tweeter’s cousin thought was awesome.

“Most of the suggestions that come our way are food related. Everyone wants us to try their favorite restaurants, but there are so many suggestions, and you can’t use every one. We’ve both already gained weight,” Alex grinned. They claim that so far, they haven’t been given a bum steer yet—they’ve enjoyed every place suggested.

While in Salem, they stayed in one of the purportedly haunted rooms in the Hawthorne Hotel. Exhausted from traveling, then ended up having pizza delivered from Engine House , which they gave two thumbs up. Their Salem stay also included a visit to A&J King, where they enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere along with the delicious macaroons and cookies. Taking a suggestion from a follower, they had a meal at In A Pig’s Eye, about which they later tweeted “It’s a cool place—neat building, food is pretty good— great nachos!”

I caught up with them for breakfast at the Driftwood in Marblehead. “This is the kind of place we love,” said Alex, “and Marblehead is beautiful. That’s what is so great about this—we never would have known to come here.” While Alex enjoyed her poached eggs and “brown toast” (Canadian for wheat), Luke dove into a plate of chocolate chip pancakes, which he declared among the best he’s eaten.

The two are now off in Rhode Island, and who knows where after that. If you’d like to follow their progress and make suggestions, you’ll find them at, where you’ll also find links to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. And the next time you’re thinking about where to eat, why not try asking the social media world for a suggestion?


Celebrating Spring With Restaurant Deals

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Salem’s spring restaurant week will run from Sunday April 11 to Thursday April 15. Below is a preliminary list of participating restaurants, all offering a prix-fixe three-course dinner for $25 (beverage, tax, and gratuity not included). We’ll update this list as more participants are announced. We’ve included a link to our post for restaurants we’ve visited.

Sixty2 on Wharf
62 Wharf St, (978) 744-0062

The Lobster Shanty
25 Front St, (978) 745-5449

Lyceum Bar & Grill
43 Church St, (978) 745-7665

76 Wharf St, (978) 744-0000

Capt’s Waterfront Grill & Club
94 Wharf Street, (978) 741-0555

The Grapevine Restaurant
26 Congress St, (978) 745-9335

Nathaniel’s at the Hawthorne Hotel
18 Washington Square, (978) 825-4311

The Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel
18 Washington Square, (978) 825-4311

Regatta Pub at Salem Waterfront Hotel
225 Derby St, (978) 740-8788

231 Essex St, (978) 745-2411

Upper Crust
118 Washington St, (978) 741-2787

Additional, April 6, 2010:

Passage to India
157 washington St., (978) 832-2200

Victoria Station
86 Wharf St., (978) 745-3400

282 Derby St., (978) 745-9436

Thai Place
Church St., Museum Place Mall, (978) 741-8008


The Lyceum: A New Twist in Old Salem

Posted: December 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Lyceum, Mediterranean, Salem, Seafood | Tags: , | No Comments »

A newly renovated Lyceum opened to much fanfare in November, and we were eager to investigate. The original restaurant, opened in 1989, featured mainly American fare and was a long-time favorite of ours for burgers at the bar and Sunday brunch.

There were a few missteps during our dinner, but overall, we’d call the changeover a success. The new interior is particularly well thought-out—rich woods and neutral tones make for a cozy, elegant feeling while the high ceilings and brick walls evoke Old Salem at its historic best. A fire crackling on one side of the dining room adds to the ambiance.

We chose the crab cake appetizer to start our meal. The cakes had a crispy exterior and very little filler, and the accompanying corn salad was tasty. Still, at $13 for two small cakes, the value is questionable. There’s an emphasis on seafood for appetizers, including raw bar items, shrimp cocktail, steamed cockles, and tuna tartare.

Under new chef de cuisine Dan Friley, the menu is Mediterranean influenced, and there are several interesting-sounding pasta dishes available in small or full portions, including pumpkin ravioli with sage brown butter and gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce. We tried the diver scallop entrée, also available in two sizes ($14 for half portion, $26 for full). There were four large scallops with a flavorful sear outside and tender middle along with a tasty mushroom risotto.

The duck l’orange entrée ($25) was good but not great, with lentils that were less done than we’re used to. The filet with potatoes au gratin ($31) was served medium rather than the requested medium rare, and the potatoes were a bit dry.

The most successful dish, and it’s a must-try, was the pork osso buco with gnocchi and sautéed apples ($23). The meat had a delicious savory sauce and fall-off-the-bones texture. The gnocchi were large and unusually creamy.

We sampled the chocolate mint bread pudding for dessert. It was comforting, with the mint adding a nice side-note to the chocolate and custard-soaked bread.

We were very pleased with the service, which was friendly and highly professional. We had an early reservation and appreciated the fact that we were never rushed. We anticipate that the kitchen will smooth out its rough spots, and we’re interested in checking out several items on the revamped brunch menu.

The Lyceum
43 Church Street, Salem

Lyceum Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


Maria’s is the Place for a Hearty Breakfast

Posted: October 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Maria's Place, Salem | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

There is no shortage of great places to grab breakfast on the North Shore, and we’ve got another one to add to your list.

On Sunday morning, we stopped by Maria’s Place in Salem for carbs and caffeine to jumpstart our day. Set at the end of a strip of storefronts on Jefferson Ave., the dining room is large and open, giving it a sort-of cafeteria feel, with a counter and grill along one wall. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, with locals chatting up the kitchen staff and waitresses calling out “See you next week” to regulars. We were greeted and seated right away, our helpful server promptly filling our coffee cups.

The menu featured all the usual suspects, and we had a hard time choosing, so we decided to order several things to share. The first was the popular hungry man breakfast, which includes two eggs, sausage, bacon, homefries, toast, two pancakes, and a glass of juice for $9. The menu warns there are no substitutions, but for a $1 more we had the blueberry pancakes in lieu of plain. It turned out to be a huge amount of food, and while the homefries were ordinary, the blueberry pancakes were excellent: large, nicely browned, and full of flavor.

We also ordered the Belgian waffle ($6), along with sides of corned beef hash and grilled kielbasa, an unusual addition to the menu ($3.75 each), While it tasted fine, the corned beef hash was too finely ground; we prefer larger chunks of meat and potatoes. The waffle was quite respectable, and one taste of the kielbasa made us glad we had ordered it. Salty and savory, it was a welcome change from the usual side dishes.

Although Maria’s Place is bright and clean with terrific service, it somehow lacks the charm of local diners or places like Red’s and The Driftwood. Still, if charm’s not your thing and you’re looking for a no-nonsense friendly place for a solid breakfast, look no further. Maria’s is open 6:00-3:00 Monday through Saturday and 7:00-2:00 on Sunday. It also features an extensive lunch menu.

Maria’s Place
10 Jefferson Ave, Salem
(978) 744-1817

Maria's Place on Urbanspoon


Salem Restaurant Week Fall 2009

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Salem Chamber of Commerce has announced the list of restaurants participating in their upcoming Restaurant Week. From Sunday, September 13th to Thursday, September 17th participating restaurants will offer a three-course prix-fixe dinner menu for $25 per person. (The price does not include drinks, taxes or tip.)

Salem is rapidly becoming well known throughout the north shore for it’s a vibrant and varied dining scene and this is a terrific opportunity to experience great food at bargain prices. It’s well worth taking advantage of Restaurant Week to try that place you’ve been meaning to, or to stray outside your comfort zone and explore new foods.

Here is the list (so far) of restaurants that are offering the special:

Capt’s Waterfront Grill & Club
94 Wharf Street, 978-741-0555

282 Derby Street, 978-745-9436

Finz Seafood Restaurant
76 Wharf Street, 978-744-0000

Grapevine Restaurant
26 Congress Street, 978-745-9335

The Lobster Shanty
25 Front Street, 978-745-5449

Lyceum Bar & Grill (Pending Construction)
43 Church Street, 978-745-7665

Nathaniel’s at the Hawthorne Hotel
18 Washington Square West, 978-825-4311

Passage to India
157 Washington Street, 978-832-2200

Regatta Pub at the Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites
225 Derby Street, 978-740-8788

231 Essex Street, 978-745-2411

Sixty2 on Wharf
62 Wharf Street, 978-744-0062

Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel
18 Washington Square West, 978-825-4342

Tavern in the Square
189 Washington Street, 978-740-2337

Thai Place
Museum Place Mall, 978-741-8008

Victoria Station
86 Wharf Street, 978-745-3400


Sonoma Misses the Mark

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


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.

75 Congress Street, Salem
(978) 607-0140


Conquering Curry Cravings at Passage to India

Posted: August 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Indian, Passage to India, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After returning from a week’s vacation and a long drive, there was no way we were interested in actually cooking dinner, let alone something exotic, but the idea of Indian food had been kicked around. Before long, our curry cravings had us heading in the direction of Passage to India.

Tucked into a row of storefronts on Washington Street in Salem, Passage is one of five sister restaurants, including one by the same name in Porter Square, Cambridge. Five locations smacks of a chain, something we would generally steer clear of, but several friends had recommended the eatery.

Upon entering, it was impossible not to notice both the fully stocked bar and the fact that the place smelled divine. We were seated immediately by courteous and friendly staff and left to peruse the good-sized menu featuring standard options as well as nightly specials, Southern Indian dishes (we love dosas), and seafood specialties not commonly seen in Indian restaurants.

We started with cocktails ($8-$9), which were well poured and generous, and ordered the fish pakora, partly because it seemed like a novelty, and the vegetable samosas. The pakora ($7) was haddock, so it had a fish-and-chips feel, but was light and served with marvelous mint chutney. The veggie samosas ($3.25) were well beyond standard: very fresh and crispy with a savory and slightly garlicky filling.

Speaking of garlic, along with our entrees we absolutely had to try the garlic naan, ($3.25) which was excellent— piping hot, with a crusty bottom, fluffy top, and tons of flavor. (Beware, they don’t skimp on the garlic, and I think even the next day my breath was suffering.)

When taking our order, not only did our server ask what level of spice we wanted, he used one of the chutneys on the table as an example, so we could understand just how hot “hot” really was, which was quite helpful.

For one main dish we opted for the tandoori chicken tikka ($13), which was standard tandoori style chicken, served sizzling fajita style with a tikka sauce on the side. The meat was tender and nicely grilled, and the combination was tasty.

Our second entrée, goa shrimp curry ($15), was fabulous in the extreme. It was a yellow curry base with ground coconut, but a complex blend of spices tamed any sweetness and created a rich hot and savory sauce we couldn’t get enough of.

Sadly, we were too full for dessert, but we were pleasantly surprised when the waiter offered  steamed towels at the end of the meal. (Really, when was the last time you had that sort of service in a restaurant in this price range?)

By the time we left, every table was full, and it’s easy to see why: terrific food, reasonable prices, and great service. The next time your curry craving sends you on a trip, consider booking this Passage.

Passage to India
157 Washington Street, Salem
(978) 832-2200
Passage to India on Urbanspoon


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

Gulu Gulu Cafe on Urbanspoon


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 »


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

Lobster Shanty on Urbanspoon


Bella Verona: A True Trattoria

Posted: May 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bella Verona, Italian, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

interior3If we were going to open an Italian restaurant, we’d want it to be cozy and softly lit, have great food at reasonable prices, and be staffed by handsome waiters with appealing accents. Fortunately for us (and our credit scores), this restaurant already exists, tucked away on a side street in Salem near the Hawthorne Hotel.

We’ve been fans of Bella Verona for quite a while, and our meal there Sunday night bolstered our view that the food and the atmosphere at this tiny trattoria are as genuine as it gets.

After reciting the night’s specials to us and leaving a hand-written blackboard as a reminder, our waiter left to secure the carafe of house chianti we ordered ($25). Several of the selections sounded interesting, and we ended up with two starters and two entrees from the board.

The baked eggplant and baked artichokes (both $10) were a huge hit—moist, tender, and flavorful. We did wish for a slightly larger serving of the eggplant for the price, though. The veal saltimbocca special was to-die-for delicious—tender cutlets in a salty, savory sauce ($20). The chicken almalfi ($18) was also full of flavor, this time lemon, accompanied by mushrooms and olives.

The pasta dishes we ordered from the main menu were expertly prepared and very reasonable: spaghetti bolognese ($12) had a generous portion of meat sauce, and the tagliatelle alla puttanesca ($13) was a spicy mix of capers, olives, and anchovies.

The atmosphere definitely put us in a North End mood because we felt the need for some Italian pastries before we left. We sampled the tiramisu ($5.50), crème caramel ($4.50), and cannoli ($5.50). The cannoli shells were crisp, but the ricotta cream lacked richness, so the tiramisu was the clear winner. Cake drenched in espresso and topped with sumptuous cream—we couldn’t have designed a better ending.


Bella Verona
107 Essex St, Salem
(978) 825-9911

Bella Verona on Urbanspoon