Did you think the Breakfast Connoisseur only reviewed breakfast? Well think again.
by Laura Owens
I know I titled myself as the “Breakfast Connoisseur,” and I know the article titles explicitly states this will be about not breakfast foods, but just go with it. Breakfast is food, and food is good, and I can’t help but eat all of it and enjoy every bite.
This article will go through seven places throughout the downtown Salem area, with all different specialties and food genres. These places are all over downtown: Opus, Flying Saucer Pizza Company, and Blue Fez are on Washington Street; Flatbread Company is on Derby Street, a hip side street off Washington; Howling Wolf Taqueria is on Lafayette Street; Front Street Coffeehouse is, obviously, on Front Street, a small street with cute boutiques and eateries; and the Lobster Shanty, per Google Maps on Front Street, but in reality, it’s a part of Artists’ Row, a fun little alley packed with all kinds of artists and craftspeople.
Opus offers a fusion of Asian and American food in a funky bar area with an event space in the basement called Opus Underground. Their lunch menu offers a range of snacks, appetizers, sushi rolls, and sandwiches, all a mix of Asian and American food cultures.
As for appetizers, the Pupu Platter is a good first taste of what opus has to offer. With wings, dumplings, tempura yam, sweet chili pork belly skewers, and crab Rangoon with sauces, it’s a great starter and extremely delicious. The wings are perfectly cooked and a nice accent to the juicy dumplings and the crab Rangoon. A note on the crab Rangoon: they’re served warm, which is a first for me. I don’t like crab Rangoon because of the giant blob of cold cream cheese, but served warm at Opus? Delicious. And the tempura yam is like an Asian French fry!
Sushi is classic. The Cali Roll is a staple, you can’t go wrong. Another aside: I hate avocado. I know, I know! It’s blasphemy to dislike avocado is this day and age, even worse since I’m a Millennial! But I loved the Cali Roll, with the avocado. Another sushi beauty is the Siberian Tiger Roll, which looks outrageous! It’s shrimp tempura with spicy crab all wrapped up nori and rice, topped with salmon and avocado. It’s a lot to take in, but worth it. I did peel the avocado off the outside, but it was really good!
For those who want more American, there’s the Pork Belly Tacos and the Nashville Chicken Sandwich. Now, if you haven’t had Nashville Hot Chicken, be prepared, it’s hot. Like super-hot, like slow-burn-around-the-mouth-and-down-the-throat hot, like needing-two-slices-of-white-bread-to-sop-up-the-sauce hot. The tacos are deliciously juicy and pork belly is amazing! I need say no more.
On to dessert, you always need dessert. Opus has a new dessert item, the Nutella Beignets. They’re big fluffy pieces of fried dough filled with Nutella goodness with a scoop of ice cream. Enough said, order it.
Mainly pizzas and flatbreads, Flatbread Company is a nice place to go for some basic Italian pizza. This place is better as a sit-in than a takeaway. I’ve heard rumors that the flatbread goes cold real fast when taken away. As a test, I got the classic cheese pizza, and I must say, it performed well! It stayed warm, while outside in the wind, until the last slice! They also have a Mexican-inspired pizza with chicken, black beans, tomatoes, corn, and optional jalapenos.
Flatbread Company is a classic spot for pizza lovers, as well for those who want to try some flatbreads with a twist. Their menu also has pizzas that are vegan and gluten-free.
A cute little hole-in-the-wall next to Gulu Gulu Café, the Flying Saucer Pizza Company is a comfy sit-in restaurant, and also a quick takeaway spot. They have specialty pizzas, as well as vegan and gluten-free pizzas, and an option to split the pizza and get two halves of two different pizzas. As a control, the cheese pizza, fondly called the Solaris following the out-of-this-world theme of the pizza parlor, is a solid cheese pizza. It’s a good option and there’s no way it could be messed up.
If you want to be a little more adventurous, try the Picard, topped with cheese, potato, and Canadian ham, it’s an interesting take on a sauce-less pizza. The flavors mix well together, and the ham is a salty little addition that makes this stellar pizza even better. I’ve had other pizzas with potato; the potato was raw, and I’ve grown to love raw potato on pizza, which is just as outrageous as my hatred of avocado. So, when I ordered the Picard, I was expecting raw potato, yet I got thickly cut cooked potato. It was still good and I would get it again, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.
The Howling Wolf Taqueria location on Lafayette Street is the restaurant’s only full-service location, the others are counter service, with no bar. The restaurant certainly resembles that counter service vibe with a takeaway station to the side. Along with a bar and lots of outdoor seating, this place is perfect for fast and delicious Mexican-inspired food.
Chips and salsa are provided once you sit, always a plus, and appetizers are a plenty. For those who love cheese and cheesy dips, the curly fires and queso is for you. With a huge plate of curly fries and a big bowl of chili con queso dip, there’s nothing better. This appetizer is like those nasty cheese fries you get at that rinky-dinky place, you know the one, that you know you shouldn’t get but just love, except better.
Following the cheese theme is the chicken chimichanga, which is filled with grilled chicken and cheese and then topped with more chili con queso with rice and beans on the side. I do not like beans of any kind in any form, so I got mine sans beans. The queso dripped onto the rice, and I never knew that I needed cheesy rice until then. For more cheese, the chicken quesadilla is perfect with a good long classic cheese pull. The quesadilla is a classic dish and delicious in all forms.
The Howling Wolf has some favorites, and the Howling Wolf Burrito might be the best. With the option to have these favorite “on greens,” you could get the whole burrito without the tortilla and get it instead on a bed of greens, as a sort of pseudo taco/burrito salad. Of course, it has more melted cheese on top, and with carne deshebrada and a whole bunch of other delicious things, its perfect for those who want a burrito without the extra carbs. All of the burrito insides mix together and it’s just a creamy, cheesy, meaty mess, in the best way.
I’ve been inside Front Street Coffeehouse and it’s a cute café with breakfast and lunch options, as well a myriad of drinks and smoothies. Now, I love a good smoothie, and I must say that Front Street Coffeehouse has some good smoothies. And their bagel options are a good fit for both breakfast and lunch; get them toasted or any way you want them with any type of topping or plain. It’s a quick place to drop in for something like that. There are also muffins and other pastries available daily.
As for salads and sandwiches, you can choose from their menu, which has many, many different types of sandwiches, or you can customize your sandwich and make it perfect for you. Salads are similar, and the Apple Strawberry Salad is perfect for a refreshing midday meal on a hot day. The salad is delicious, however, the one I received had some spinach that had gone slimy and was essentially rotting. This was a little upsetting because it was about half of the salad and no one should get rotting food. I’m not trying to claim that all salads will look like mine, I’m only putting this out into the universe. I love Front Street Coffeehouse, but I probably would not get a salad from them again.
Now the Blue Fez is a relatively new restaurant to the Salem downtown area, opening at the beginning of this year. It’s has a Moroccan-inspired menu with meat dishes and vegetarian dishes. It’s has a clean and simplistic style and great food. One of the more authentic dishes is the Moroccan Meshoui. It has grilled and spiced lamb and chicken with couscous and a side salad. This dish is like taking a bite of home, something about it gave me that warm, homey feeling.
Dessert, needed after every meal, was some pancakes, rolled and drizzled with honey and chocolate sauce. It was just something really simple to end an awesome meal, as well as being super delicious and well-rounded.
The name says it all. It’s a literal shanty that serves seafood and classic American dishes. And that’s ok, it’s all part of the charm of The Lobster Shanty. Their menu changes and fluctuates regularly based on the season. When I went, I got the fried shrimp with fries, which was amazing. It was the perfect greasy comfort food after a long and exhausting day of work.
I had originally wanted fried clam strips; I’m a New Englander, I love fried seafood and fried clam strips are primo in my book. A huge paper plate piled high with those crispy little strips, fries hidden underneath with tartar sauce and Ranch dressing, literally drooling. Sadly, the only fried clams they had were bellies, which I find a bit nasty. So, I settled for the fried shrimp, which was just as good.
I just love walking through a city and exploring the food scene and all of the different options available. Salem is just one of those unique little towns with fabulous restaurants; and whether it’s because of the history or the location or the people, people are drawn here. But for me, one of the main perks is the food, and there’s nothing more I can say about that.
Laura Owens is a senior at Endicott College studying English Language and Literature. She is a self-taught baker and loves to read, with a collection of over 740 books!