Review of The Salt Shaker Deli

June 27, 2007 § 1 Comment

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Could it get any better in Lunenburg?

Just months after Trattoria della Nonna opened its doors to local acclaim, the Salt Shaker Deli quietly slipped into town, and it’s just what this World Heritage Site needed: an inexpensive alternative to the Magnolia Grill.

The Salt Shaker is co-owned by Sylvie MacDonald and Martin Ruiz Salvador, the proprietors of upscale Fleur de Sel, just a few dozen steps down Montague Street. Together with Carolyn Ramsey, a Fleur de Sel veteran, they opened Salt Shaker Deli in May, and although they’re still finding their feet, I have great expectations.

The space is below the Spinnaker Inn, and has a breezy back patio with a waterfront view. The room is pale green and feels modern, but the old building’s traditional look is respected, too. Plants are scattered here and there and Art Deco liquor posters decorate one wall. There are about a dozen tables, and it feels lively and noisy.

The ‘deli’ bit comes in to play as soon as you step inside. Just through the front door is the deli counter, stocked with French and Italian cheese, local charcuterie from Ketch Harbour House, and other treats. On the facing wall sits a cooler with imported soft drinks and mineral waters. Breads from Boulangerie Vendanne and specialty pasta perch on a nearby rack. If you’re planning a day trip to the South Shore, this is the ultimate picnic stop.

But if you stay for your meal, try to get a table in the front vestibule. There are only two high tables, but summer people-watching is a prime Lunenburg pastime. The menu is trendy and surprisingly broad, with unexpected dishes like escargots, bean salad, and a Thai noodle bowl, as well as the more predictable mussels (available four ways for take-out, more in-house) smoked salmon and lasagne. Another menu feature are their platters— Mediterranean, Seafood, and Charcuterie.

We’ve enjoyed several successful appetizers. Margie’s Chicken Stew, served like a soup, is rich and hearty, full of veggies, chicken, and an unexpected kick. Perfect warming food for cool autumn days. And the Panzanella — a traditional Tuscan salad made with stale bread — was brilliant and beautiful, drizzled with an unctuous, vanillin balsamic dressing. A man at a table near us was equally effusive about the mussels Provençale, lifting the bowl to drink the broth when he thought no one was looking.

Main courses are good, although a few have been uneven. The spicy, fresh Pad Thai wasn’t traditional North American-style, but it was full of chicken and vegetables, and we’d gladly order it again. The lasagne is filling and comforting, and an amazing value, but I’d prefer to pay more for a few surprises; perhaps a layer of mushroom béchamel, or even sliced hard-boiled eggs. Most customers will like it fine just as it is.

The sandwiches are imaginative in conception. The curried egg salad is delicious, and the veggie sandwich is tasty, but it would be even better with toasted bread. Mediterranean Tuna with yogurt and dill and the Chicken Club with sun-dried tomato and provolone also look promising.

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Then there’s Greasy Marty’s Gourmet Pizzas, twelve in all. All the standards are here, although they’ve had dramatic facelifts. The Works, for example, features salami and provolone, and the Vegetarian pizzas wear ‘black olive pesto’, among other adornments. Specialty pizzas also find favor, including pies made with Anchovy, Italian Meats, and Thai Chicken. Our favorite so far is the Vegetarian, although it didn’t come with every listed ingredient. A recent Margharita — topped with domestic bocconcini and basil — was fragrant and delicious.

Service at the Salt Shaker Deli has been patchy, but that shouldn’t surprise. Lunenburg is a small town, and with five terrific restaurants nearby, it takes time to attract and train good staff. Several new recruits are quite young— some just out of high school— and they’re still learning. But they couldn’t have a better teacher. MacDonald is a master of the demanding and precise art of Front-of-the-House. Her service sparkles at Fleur de Sel, and when she waited on us at The Salt Shaker, the place was hopping but she didn’t miss a beat.

These are still early days for The Salt Shaker Deli. They’re still working the kinks out and tweaking the details, but I’m sure these things will be ironed out before long. If you include the nearby Old Blackforest Restaurant, Lunenburg has five fine restaurants. The Salt Shaker Deli is most certainly worth a visit— and may be the perfect excuse to stretch your day in Lunenburg to a full weekend.

—for Infomonkey

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