Ask the Editor: Which Salem Restaurants Won’t Be Scary around Halloween?
This reader is planning some October visits to the Witch City and is seeking the best restaurants for breakfast and dinner.
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My partner and I are heading to Salem a few times this fall. I know it’s crazy this time of year, so wondering if you have any recommendations on where to start for restaurants. Any favorite places for a nice, not-too-touristy dinner and brunch? Thank you!
I’m not as shocked as, say, a suburban babysitter about to get slashed, but I’m pleasantly surprised to receive this request. Like South Boston bars on St. Paddy’s Day or Route 1 on a Patriots home game Sunday, some Bostonians think that Salem in October is something to avoid if they’re not up for throngs of revelers. But this time of year is a great time to visit the Witch City—not just for haunted happenings, but for the crisp autumn sea breeze, New England landmarks and home tours, and of course, locally made fall beverages.
More on the latter in a minute. First, brunch. The Ugly Mug is a beloved diner with updated classics, like a Belgian waffles with duck confit and candied pecans; deluxe egg sandwiches and Benedicts; and more, plus specialty drinks including egg creams and beer cocktails. The Brew Box is where to go for counter-service breakfast of avocado toast, biscuit egg sandwiches, and pastries (and sandwiches at lunchtime), plus Tandem Coffee. For a full-on boozy Sunday brunch, Ledger is a great choice. Chef Matt O’Neil’s (The Blue Ox) latest slings daily doughnuts, a smoked salmon board, maple-glazed pork belly with creamy grits, and more hearty fare inside of an old bank; while the bar shakes seasonal sangrias (apple cider, anyone?) and more festive cocktails, including a 22-ounce Bloody Mary.
Dinner can happen at Ledger, too; reservations are a good idea no matter the timeframe. Bambolina is another evening-meal favorite, with its crispy Neapolitan-style pizza and small plates like Italian street corn with Caesar aioli in a cozy, wood-oven-warmed room. Mercy Tavern is a casual gastropub with crocks of warming soups, crunchy Cobb salads, double-patty burgers, and baked mac and cheese. If you’re seeking seafood, Turners at Lyceum Hall is a nice-but-non-pretentious brick beauty, located right downtown in a supposedly haunted building. At its second restaurant location, the Boston wholesale fishery cooks up classics like lobster pie, fried seafood, and roasted Gloucester sole, and it has a raw bar.
I typically snack and drink my way through Salem, though. Bit Bar would be a fun spot to visit this season for bites like “Tetris Tots,” chicken wings, and mac and cheese “bytes,” paired with vintage arcade games that are sure to inspire a last-minute Halloween costume. The Roof opened this summer at Salem’s boutique hotel; the city’s first rooftop bar has oysters, guacamole flights, and tacos, plus rotating cocktails on draft and made to order—not to mention its unmatched views of Salem Harbor and bustling Essex Street.
I would be absolutely remiss not to guide you to Salem’s trifecta of superior craft beverages. Here’s hoping you visit on a nice fall day to fully enjoy the riverfront beer garden at Notch, and the Adirondack chair-furnished patio at Far From the Tree Cider. Deacon Giles Distillery runs formal tours of its rum, vodka, and gin-making facilities on the weekends, but its Speakeasy Lab is also open Thursday and Friday for craft cocktails made with house potions.
Honestly, I could go on. This is making me want to fly up to Salem stat. Which brings me to another autumnal word of wisdom: The really scary thing about Salem in October is traffic, so take public transit to get there (bonus: no drinking and driving). Boston Harbor Cruises does four round-trips daily from Long Wharf to the Salem Ferry Center, which is a short walk from downtown. It’s less than an hour on the water, but while you’re cruising, you can start the celebration with cans of Notch from the on-board bar. The good ol’ MBTA Commuter Rail does not have a bar, alas, but it’s an easy train ride to Salem from North Station, and a 10-minute walk into town. The MBTA is extending this summer’s $10 roundtrip weekend deal through early December, too, so there’s really nothing to be afraid of.