SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Ipswich gets a gastropub

Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar picks up on British trend

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — Dave Gillis spent 11 years as general manager of Finz Seafood & Grill on Salem’s Pickering Wharf. Now he’s opened his own business in Ipswich, Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar, picking up on a trendy concept in Great Britain — the gastropub.

“Gastropub” is a British term for a pub, bar or tavern that serves high-quality comfort food, Gillis said.

The trend jumped the pond several years ago and is catching on in cities and towns from Boston to Los Angeles. The term was coined in the 1990s as a combination of the words pub and gastronomy, the art of eating good food.

“Looking at the town and what it had to offer, I felt my concept would fill a niche,” Gillis said. “There is nothing like what I do.”

The menu, developed with head chef Chris Tighe, features everything from a meatloaf sandwich to Himalayan roasted scallops, a homemade pub pretzel with ale and cheese fondue, and fried chicken and bacon waffles with a chipotle maple drizzle.

“It is those comfort foods,” Gillis said, “but we are taking it to a different level.”

Gillis, 40, has been in the industry for 25 years, starting as a 14-year-old dishwasher in East Boston.

“Being in the business your whole life, it’s a dream to open your own restaurant,” he said.

The restaurant has 49 seats, including 13 at the bar. It features a semi-open kitchen, which is separated by old wooden pallets.

“I always liked the urban farmhouse look,” Gillis said. “It is definitely in the vein of many gastropubs.”

The bar offers handcrafted cocktails, craft beers — Ipswich Ale on tap, of course — and 30 rums, including those from the Turkey Shore and Privateer distilleries in town.

“The history of rum in the area is not what a lot of people know about,” Gillis said. “In the Colonial days, rum production (in the Boston/New England region) was the largest in the world.”

The restaurant will also use local produce and other products when available.

“We are going to try to do as much local sourcing as possible,” he said.

The name of the restaurant is inspired by the term “salt of the earth,” which speaks about the true character of people, Gillis said.

“If you surround yourself with good people and good food, that’s what it’s all about,” Gillis said. “And everything tastes better with a little bit of salt.”

But you won’t find salt shakers on the tables.

The chefs use a number of different salts in their cooking, Gillis explained — including on a jumbo buttercream cupcake with a touch of sea salt on top.

Gillis said response so far has been positive, noting that there was a 45-minute wait for a seat on opening night (Feb. 23). Salt opens its doors at 4 p.m.

“Most people who are walking here haven’t seen anything like this,” he said.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.