by Jacqueline Cain | February 12, 2018 1:05 pm
The Chubby Chickpea chef Avi Shemtov is officially returning to the community that first supported him. Shemtov has teamed up with the owner of the Canton Junction Sports Pub to open Salt & Sickle, an upscale, but still casual bar and restaurant in that suburban space.
The new menu and renovated space will debut early this summer. Separately, Shemtov’s modern Israeli pop-up, Simcha, takes up Wednesday night residency later this month at the Trillium Garden at the Roslindale Substation.
Shemtov, who also launched the Tapped Beer Truck this past summer, is “casually” looking for spaces in the city to open Simcha. But the opportunity to take over the kitchen at Canton Junction Sports Pub “just fell into [his] lap,” he says.
“I’ve always wanted to own a bar. The fact that right now, a partner is giving me the opportunity of putting out the menu that I dream of cooking for people has me super excited,” he says.
Shemtov, a Sharon native, launched the Chubby Chickpea as a quick-service shop in downtown Canton eight years ago. He also had a full-service Chubby Chickpea restaurant in town for a while, but as the food truck side of the business grew, he closed both bricks-and-mortar. Now, the team around him is so strong that the 33-year-old is basically out of day-to-day Chickpea operations, he says, and he can focus on new projects.
The sports pub building has two kitchens, so Shemtov can move Chubby Chickpea and Tapped operations there. In addition to the bar and lounge area that current Canton Junction patrons are familiar with, there’s a 60-seat dining room, and an adjacent, 100-seat function room with its own entrance. Salt & Sickle is “not looking to change the vibe,” of the bar area, Shemtov says. The dining room, dubbed the Cellar, with be a “quieter, upscale bistro. Not an anniversary spot, but a nice spot to have a meal. Some people don’t want to eat with TVs on,” he says.
The function room will be able to host seated rehearsal dinners, showers, corporate events, and more, for Salt & Sickle and Chubby Chickpea clients.
Shemtov has already started working with the Canton Station kitchen team, and is developing from-scratch recipes for bar pizza and wings, the current best-sellers. Shemtov’s father, and Israeli immigrant, owned dozens of restaurants after he moved here as a 22-year-old. Shemtov’s first job was in one of his pizzerias, and he loves the South Shore bar pizza style.
“Approaching it as a chef is exciting to me,” Shemtov says. “I’ve got a great butcher who does whole lamb and goat for Chickpea. Now I can do beef and pork because we’ll have the volume to move those different animals.”
Produce from Sharon’s Ward’s Berry Farm, and even local grains are part of his menu planning, he adds. Salt & Sickle will still offer “bar food,” but with better quality ingredients, and creative leeway. He’s thinking about snacks like pimiento cheese fried in the style of mozzarella sticks, for example.
The bar menu will comprise an “appetizers” section for the dining room menu, which will expand with things like fresh pasta, and entrées like seared duck breast Wellington in puff pastry with whipped feta.
Shemtov is assuring regulars it won’t be too fancy, though. After all, he’s one of them—the Junction is the Chubby Chickpea staff’s regular post-work hangout. Shemtov is working with general manager Casey Waite, who runs the beverage program. Shemtov wants to leverage the relationships with local breweries that he’s developed through his mobile businesses, but “You can still come in drink your Miller Lite,” he says of Salt & Sickle.
He’s basically creating the bar and restaurant he wants to see in the area. “For now, Canton’s a suburb. It doesn’t really have anything going on food-wise. I need a place my wife and I can hang out at and eat dinner,” Shemtov says. “When I opened the Chickpea, we wanted to popularize Israeli food through a fast service experience. [We] and others did that. Then we moved onto Simcha,” which is bringing trendy interpretations of Middle Eastern cuisine to Boston. The ’burbs, on the other hand, are ready for a quality, American bistro and bar. “Who knows? Maybe five years from now, there will be a home for Simcha in Canton,” Shemtov says.
Renovations to the function room at Canton Junction Sports pub are ongoing. The main bar and dining area will close for a short time in May, and Shemtov hopes to debut Salt & Sickle by mid-July (hopefully earlier). Follow along with the progress @saltsickle on Instagram.
Simcha, meanwhile, will bring a la carte dishes like dukkah beets, Yemenite fried chicken sandwiches, house-made hummus, and more to Trillium’s Roslindale beer hall Wednesdays, Feb. 28, March 7, 14, and 28, from 5-9 p.m. Shemtov is also popping up with his famous shakshuka on Sunday afternoons this month at Dorchester Brewing Co.
Salt & Sickle, taking over the Canton Junction Sports Pub in 2018, 399 Neponset St., Canton, 781-828-7878, junctionsportspub.com.
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