, Salem, MA

October 7, 2013

A culinary capital

Downtown Salem relishes its growing food scene


---- — SALEM — The tourist from Cleveland walked through the door of Melita Fiore Patisserie on Washington Street, went straight to a glass case filled with macaroons, cupcakes, tortes and croissants, and took out his smartphone.

“I’d like to eat it all, but I can’t, so I take pictures,” said Dan Drescher, 63.

His wife, Sharilene, didn’t show the same restraint, ordering raspberry white chocolate mousse.

The French bakery, which opened last month a few doors down from City Hall, is the latest happening in a downtown fast becoming the culinary capital of the North Shore.

A lot of eyes are peeking around the corner to Church Street, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Turner’s Seafood, which will open this fall where the Lyceum restaurant used to be.

“We’re getting close,” said Jim Turner. “For business reasons, we thought it was best to kind of let October pass, do our training and try to open around the middle of November.”

Aware that their 43 Church St. building is steeped in history, the family will pay homage to the site by calling itself Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall.

Turner’s will have more than 150 seats, a fish market and an oyster bar. The popular bar from the Lyceum restaurant days is being restored.

Across Washington Street, a new Italian restaurant, Firenze Trattoria, opened a few weeks ago at 2 Lynde St.

“When people come and dine, it’s just like in Italy but without paying for the flight,” said Zamir Kociaj, owner-chef of the 30-seat restaurant.

A native of Albania, Kociaj grew up in Tuscany, where he learned the restaurant trade. He ran his own restaurant in Boston for several years before moving to Salem. Firenze Trattoria has several specialties, including gnocchi gorgonzola and toasted walnuts, and rigatoni with homemade sausage.

This summer, the Matera brothers made the official transition from the Hungry Whale, their sandwich shop on Wharf Street, to a full-scale restaurant, Longboards.

Longboards is actually the best of both worlds on Pickering Wharf, Matt Matera said, with a front section serving take-out items and the rear bar and restaurant featuring flatbread pizza, lobster rolls and sandwiches, including some named after local beaches — like The Collins Cove (roasted turkey, bacon and chipotle lime aioli).

Athanasios “Sakis” Lengas and his wife, Maria Veres, a Salem native, opened the Red Line Cafe a few months ago on the Essex Street pedestrian mall. It serves American and Mediterranean cuisine and is modeled on a cafe Lengas had in Athens.

The Red Line has an extensive list of coffees, including freddo cappuccino, a cold version of cappuccino that is popular in Greece and Italy, and crepes for main courses and dessert. The Bistro, one of the “savory crepes,” is made of roasted turkey, arugula, Brie cheese and fig marmalade.

In other developments, a Japanese restaurant, Koto, will open on Washington Street where Bangkok Paradise was for several decades; and Red Lulu on Lafayette Street will move downtown after Halloween and reopen as Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar at 118 Washington St., the current home of Fresh Taste of Asia.

Of all these new openings, the most anticipated had to be Melita Fiore, the French bakery, which had so much business it had to close after a few days to train more staff. It has since reopened and plans to stay open late Friday and Saturday nights for the dessert crowd in search of decadent offerings like Delice, which has layers of cake and mousse topped with a dark chocolate glaze.

The owner, Melita Fiore, trained under master French pastry chef Delphin Gomes of Marblehead and also worked with the executive pastry chef in the Imperial Palace Hotel in Tokyo.

“It’s very much a French pastry shop,” she said, “but we pick out our favorite things from other parts of the world. (My sister) wouldn’t let the shop open up without cupcakes.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at