We often drive to Ipswich to visit the Riverview for an old-school pizza or the Choate Bridge Pub for a burger and a beer. A lot of people we know like Ithaki for Greek food. But Ipswich has never been exactly a fine-dining destination for us.
That changed with the arrival of Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar, which opened in February at the busy intersection in the center of town.
Salt calls itself “a relative of the gastro-pub,” the British term for a casual bar with food that’s more ambitious than the norm. Salt certainly hits that target.
Chef Chris Tighe serves up an eclectic menu that’s not really beholden to any particular style. This is the kind of place where you can get pork tacos for an appetizer and follow it with fried chicken and waffles.
Our party of three each consumed one of the tacos ($10), which feature pork belly and a chipotle crema. We all liked them, but the spicing was too mild to make it true love.
The signature Salt block scallops went over better. The menu tilts slightly toward local seafood, which is no surprise as owner Dave Gillis used to manage Finz Seafood & Grill in Salem. The three big, meaty, flavorful scallops ($14) were seared golden but still moist and a bit rare inside, and came with a vanilla brown butter and a sprinkling of candied orange. They were presented on a round, pinkish-orange Himalayan salt block, which was nice to look at, although I couldn’t testify whether it affected the flavor.
Our teenage guest liked her first-ever scallop, but was much more enthusiastic about the chicken with waffles and maple syrup ($16). The batter-fried chicken was a dark, reddish brown instead of golden, but was still moist enough. The waffles had been weaponized with a bacon layer and the maple syrup, with rum.
My wife is one of those folks who wants her burger done the way she wants it, not the way the chef likes to cook it. For some reason, that can be difficult to accomplish. But at Salt, her farmhouse burger ($12) came out the right shade of (light) pink, under an appealing topping combo of caramelized onions, bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg. She didn’t want the pretzel roll, but the proffered marble rye substitute worked fine for her. The thin fries, we all agreed, were OK but not great.
The plate of the night was my Gloucester striped bass special ($24), a thick piece of fish with that classic sweet, mild flavor. The extras made the plate, though, as it came on a drift of mashed potatoes, with a disk of fried eggplant under the fish and one of golden beet on top. Included was a light tomato salad with a vinaigrette. A winner and well worth the price.
We all split the key lime pie ($7) for dessert, the graham cracker crust alone put a smile on our faces. The only problem was that it was served in a jar that was narrower at the neck, which meant a lot of work getting every last bite.
Of course, Salt offers an extensive rum list, favoring but hardly limited to the product of local distillers Turkey Shore and Privateer. The drink special that night was an old-fashioned ($9) made with Privateer Amber Rum that the bartender had been aging with additional flavors, along with cherry bitters and a wedge of orange. Served on the rocks, it was bracing and sweet, refreshing. Nice.
There’s a short menu of rum drinks as well as a full bar, a beer list, and a modest array of wines by the bottle and (sometimes) glass. We liked the Padrillos Malbec ($9) and the Deep Purple Zinfandel ($10).
We could do without the two TVs over the bar, which are visible to the entire dining room, but maybe that’s part of the gastro-pub vibe. And the folks at the two-seat tables along the low partition between the dining area and bar looked less than thrilled as chatty bar patrons loomed over them and leaned on the partition, invading their space. But as with the pie in a jar, that’s easy enough to fix.