Saturday, April 26, 2008

Taste of the Town: A trip around the world, without leaving downtown Salem

Salem - Salem is a cultural melting pot. It attracts students and residents that hail from across Massachusetts, the United States and the world.

This broad spectrum of cultures and backgrounds creates the need for a culinary diversity that is usually reserved for major metropolises. Residents of the city of Salem, though, only have to travel down Washington Street to experience the tastes of nearly every region on earth.

The first stop on this culinary expedition is a local spot with national flavors, “Where Hot Dog is King.”

Boston Hot Dog Company (60 Washington St.; 978-744-2320) serves natural casing or kosher beef dogs on grilled buttered rolls in more than 20 different varieties. From the Texas Dog (chili, sautéed onions, cheese sauce, real bacon bits and sliced jalapeno peppers for $3.50) to the New York City Dog (sauerkraut, Grey Poupon mustard, chopped onion, sweet red pepper relish and celery salt for $2.85), this is truly a hot dog-lover’s heaven.

All the dogs are prepared right in front of the customers and can be enjoyed on the 10 barstools, overlooking either the kitchen or Washington Street, or taken to go. Adding Homemade Boston Baked Beans ($2.50) or Black Angus Chili ($3.95) makes this a perfect spot for lunch or dinner.

If the Thai Dog (spicy peanut sauce and caramelized onions for $3.25) isn’t what you are looking for; you don’t have to go far for more authentic Thai cuisine.

Bangkok Paradise (90 Washington St.; 978-825-9202) has been voted “Best Thai Food of the North Shore” by Community Newspaper Company readers, including Salem Gazette readers, for four years running.

One taste of the house specialty Seafood Madness (sautéed shrimps, scallops, and squid mixed with scallions, onions, beans, baby corns and mushrooms in the house’s spicy sauce for $15) and you’ll know why.

The authentic décor and full service sushi bar greatly complement the Thai curry (chicken, beef, pork or tofu for $10; shrimp, scallop or squid for $12.50; and duck for $16.00 with your choice of sauce and rice or noodle) or vegetarian dishes ($8-10).

This comfortable restaurant also hosts live entertainment every Thursday night through Monday night, with no cover charge.

Not far from this oriental hot spot, diners can experience tastes that are a world away.

O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant (120 Washington St.; 978-740-8811) serves up Celtic, as well as American, classics in a relaxed atmosphere.

The Appetizer Sampler Platter (potato skins, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers and “ESPN” wings for $8.99) goes great with any of the full service bar’s draught or bottled beers. The Country Style Shepherd’s Pie (ground beef in a savory sauce, topped with cheddar cheese then baked until golden brown for $9.99) tastes as good as it does back on the Emerald Isle.

DJs playing the hottest in new-age dance music every weekend, make O’Neill’s a location that can be enjoyed well after the kitchen has closed for the evening. For diners seeking spicier menu options, all one needs to do is walk across the street.

Edgewater Café (155 Washington St.; 978-740-4669) says it is “committed to using on the freshest ingredients available,” as Dennis Moustakis brings his authentic Mexican recipes to downtown Salem.

Appetizers like Red Hot Boneless Buffalo wings (tossed with a cayenne and jalapeno pepper sauce, served with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks for $7.25) and Frijole Dip (home-style beans layered with chili con queso and pureed jalapeno peppers for $5.25 a full order/$3.75 a half order) are sure to heat up any meal.

Fajitas (veggie, shrimp, chicken, steak or a combination from $11.25-14.25) that are served with peppers, onions and sides of tortillas, guacamole, sour cream and Mexican rice and beans or burritos (veggie, bean, chicken or beef from $5.50-8.75) that are rolled with 10-inch flour tortillas, melted cheese and sauce are perfectly finished with Chaos Pie (thin layer of cheesecake, topped with chunks of fudge brownie, chocolate sauce and caramel for $4.75) or Moustakis’ Famous Hot Fudge sundae ($4.75).

For a different take on spicy cuisine, this culinary expedition ends just next door, at a restaurant where they say themselves, “It’s not about eating, it’s about eating right.”

Passage to India (157 Washington St.; 978-832-2200) grinds their own spices, and “will be glad to make your food mild, medium or hot, and will be happy to honor any requests.”

Lunch specials, served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., include Baingan Bartha (whole eggplant roasted over charcoal, gently blended and tempered with aromatic herbs and spices for $6.95), Lamb Vindaloo (tender pieces of lamb marinated in fresh tomatoes and lemon, then cooked with potatoes, ginger, hot spices and fresh green herbs for $7.95), and Gao Shrimp Curry (prepared with fresh ground coconut and an array of masterfully blended spices for $8.50).

All luncheon specials are served with Basmati rice and hot onion chutney.

The most original selection on Passage’s menu is the Indian bread known as Naan. This unleavened white flour baked bread can be served plain or stuffed (onion; garlic; raisins, cashews and coconut; or tandoori chicken from $2.25-3.95) and is excellent with the South Indian stuffed crepes known as Dosa (Masala: potatoes and onions; chicken and potatoes; or lamb and potatoes from $9.95-10.95).

Serving tandoori (a 2,000-year-old cooking tradition involving a charcoal oven made from clay), chicken, lamb, beef, seafood and vegetarian specialties (from $10.95-15.95), this inviting spot is both delicious and affordable.

Passage to India marks the end of this around-the-world trip that is sure to please the palates of the many diverse people that populate this wonderful city. There is surely something for everyone here on Washington Street, right in the heart of historic downtown Salem.

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