A Rendezvous at Red's

A jaunt out to Route 1 to see how one of Salem's favorite low-key breakfast spots transitions to a "fancy-shmancy" restaurant.

Our intrepid band of self-proclaimed foodies recently headed out to Peabody to check out the new Red's Kitchen & Tavern.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Red's Sandwich Shop on Central St here in Salem. Probably everyone on the North Shore has slipped into a pancake induced lethargy at least once. My personal kryptonite is the Belgian Waffle with fruit. I'm getting sleepy just thinking about it.

Well, John and Lisa have opened a second location; where the Bel-Air Diner used to be. They still serve the same Red's breakfast and lunch staples, but have included a dinner menu. They also have a bar with full liqueur license.

7 of us met there around 3:30 for dinner. It is a large space, divided into sections. There is a winding diner counter that looks onto the open kitchen up front, a very swanky looking bar to the left, slightly hidden from the dining area, on the right is the main dining room with booths and tables, and finally there is another dining room in the back, that can be closed off for private parties.

We were seated in the back dining room to accommodate our group. The drink choices were plentiful, and although they were out of my preferred Angry Orchard cider, the Sam Adams Alpine Spring was an excellent choice. Other beverages choices in our group included iced tea, Blue Moon draught, Merlot, and root beer.

We were ready with our appetizer choices when she returned with our drinks. We went with the fried calamari, onion rings, and wings.

The fried calamari was a hefty portion of golden rings and spicy aioli dipping sauce. "One of the best calamaris I've had." proclaimed my table mate. Indeed, the squid was tender and the coating crispy and not greasy.

The onion rings are hand breaded and served with house aioli. They were large and the batter has pepper visible in it, lending a slight bit of spice to them. As with the calamari, they were lightly battered and not greasy. The general consensus was they were good, although DH didn't care for them. The aioli was good, although I thought it had a ranch-like flavor to it.

The chicken wings were supposed to be tossed with "Chef's smoked jalapeno sauce and Parmesan". Personally I didn't detect any Parmesan but that in no way detracted from the wings. They were a beautiful pile of golden brown lightly breaded goodness. And they smelled divine. They came with the traditional blue sauce and celery sticks. The wings were juicy with good flavor and just spicy enough to make my lip sweat a bit. They would have done well in our chicken wing fest from last year.

I'd like to go back and try the rest of the starters. I mean, Lollipop Lamb Chops, Short Rib Shumai, and Duck Confit Spanikopitas, which gave us the best quip of the night, "Two words you don't expect to see together; Red's and duck confit." Not to mention the soup and salad menu looked great too. Roasted Beet Salad, Warm Spinach Salad, and Mushroom Chowder sound awesome to me. Shoot. Now I'm hungry.

For entrees we ended up with 2 orders of steak tips, 2 meatloaf dinners, lobster mac-n-cheese, a pasta special of mussels and scallops fra diavlo, and the Chilean sea bass with shrimp.

The meatloaf dinner is under the Red's Classics section of the menu. Same item you'd get at the Salem Red's; a giant portion of gravy covered meatloaf with potato or rice and the daily veg. DH took most of his home and says it was better the next day, as if all the flavor just deepened. He was quite pleased.

We hit a tiny snag with the 2 orders of steak tips. One was "medium" and one was "medium-well" and they got plated wrong. Our server Wendy took the medium ones back to be cooked a bit more (leaving the sides so our diner still had something to eat). When she brought them back, they had re-plated the whole thing with two more sides. So, double sides, great! Both tip eaters said the tips were flavorful and tender with enough for two meals. Creamy mashed potatoes and crisp mixed veg rounded it out.

The lobster mac-n-cheese was a big portion of comfort food. The bread crumb topping was toasted just right, generous amount of lobster but not enough to overwhelm the pasta. Good flavor.

The seafood fra diavlo special looked and smelled delicious. Big mussels and scallops in a huge bowl of pasta. The marinara sauce was nicely spicy with small bits of hot peppers throughout.

At $24 the Chilean sea bass is one of the most expensive menu items. Well worth it, I say. A large piece of fish with a generous handful of large shrimp sat atop two black bean taquitos and tomatillo puree, topped with red onions, and fresh mango and avocado slices. It was fresh and citrusy; made me feel like I was on a cruise ship instead of dreary New England. It was also huge and I ended taking half of it home. Actually, I think 5 of us ended up taking food home. 

One major difference between the two Reds' is dessert. The original doesn't usually offer it, and this one has a ginormous list of cakes, pies, puddings, and cheesecakes, all homemade. Four of us went for it. This is where taking half your meal home helps; room for afters! Two of us chose the apple-walnut bread pudding a la mode (fruit's healthy, right?), one went with a chocolate pudding (served in a Red's coffee mug and topped with whipped cream and crushed Oreos), and DH selected the Chocolate Thunder Pie, a chocolate layer cake with peanut butter filling and peanut butter chips on top. And a tall glass of milk.

As with everything else, the portions were large. The bread pudding was warm, soft, and not too sweet with nice pieces of apples and just the right amount of nuts. Topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, it was lovely. And still big enough that I ended taking half of it home. Which I ate for breakfast the next day. Fruit, right?

The chocolate pudding came in a filled-to-the-brim Red's coffee mug and topped with a cow's worth of whipped cream and crushed Oreos. Rich and chocolaty, mmmmm.

The Chocolate Thunder pie definitely had the best name. Three layers of fudgey chocolate cake with a creamy peanut butter frosting and peanut butter chips. Will absolutely require a glass of milk to wash it down with. DH dove right in, and before we could even ask for a taste it was gone! I think he liked it. He might have licked the plate if I hadn't given him the stink eye.

We chose to try the new dinner menu (available after 3pm), but the new Red's still has their famous breakfast offerings, sandwiches, and lunch plates. They're also open early (5AM Mon-Sat, 6AM Sun) and close late (10PM Sun-Wed, 11PM Thur-Sat). Which is great, because there are times I'd really like corned beef hash for supper. With a beer. Mmm, hash and beer.

The decor is much more upscale than the Salem location, more "restraunt-y" according to 'Mr. Clamdigger'. He said he'd be back with the Missus and sprog. The lighting was near perfect; bright enough to see clearly but not harsh. The dining areas had a nice take on the old Salem decor with black and white photos of local places and people. The front breakfast counter was a definite nod to the Salem Red's; curving and looking into the kitchen. The small bar is tucked discretely to one side and is surprisingly swanky. The back dining room where we were was roomy and comfortable. The music was a pleasant mix of hits from the 70's and 80's and at just the right volume to enjoy both the music and conversation.

I was surprised at how well John and Lisa merged different aspects into a cohesive result. You wouldn't think breakfast counter, swanky bar, and family dining would mesh but it does. I can totally see truckers refueling at the counter, hipsters at the bar, couples on a date in a cozy booth, and grandpa's birthday party in the back room. The menu ranges from the simple to the elegant, home cooking to nouveau, all at good prices and generous portions.

The service, as we would expect from Red's, was excellent. Wendy, our server, was attentive, funny, friendly, and handled our group very well. She was quick and never stopped smiling, which is something considering the characters I hang out with. 'Chuck' was impressed that she "endured my pointed barbs and clever innuendo with good humor". We all are Chuck.

So, we came away with full bellies and doggie bags, content. Take a zip out to Rte 1 and check out Red's Kitchen and Tavern, I don't think you'll be disappointed. Our group all said they'd be back and recommend it to others. And Chuck, well he "fekkin loved it."

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William Legault February 01, 2013 at 06:07 PM
This was a great little foodie adventure for all of us. If you haven't been out to try the new "Red"s" maybe you should schedule dinner and a movie tis weekend. We are planning our february adventure across a certain bridge. Let us know if you want to join us. palfray10@gmail.com.
Stephanie Hagyard February 01, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Thanks for the dinner review. It makes me want to check it out even more
Michele Brown February 02, 2013 at 04:00 PM
We'd love to have some new faces in our informal little group. If you like food, come join us on our next trip.
Lisa Connolly February 05, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Been following these foodie adventures of yours for a while now and would love to join in! They look like fun! I'm going to sign up for the over the bridge one now. Thanks!
William Legault February 05, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Thanks for your interest in our little group Lisa. We will be heading "somewhere over the bridge" on 17 FEB. Email me at palfray10@gmail.com if you would like to join us.


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