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Phantom Gourmet: Turner’s Seafood In Salem, Mass.

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SALEM – Nobody knows seafood quite like the Turner’s, and at the new Turner’s Seafood in Salem, Massachusetts, their experience is on full display.

Like the family’s original eatery in Melrose and their seafood market in Gloucester, the latest and greatest Turner’s sensation is an energetic space housed in Salem’s historic Lyceum Hall: a building that dates back to 1840.

“This is an unbelievably wonderful historic building that we feel very, very blessed to basically become stewards of at this point,” said owner Kathi Turner, going on to describe how the inside of the Hall has been transformed.

“So there’s a really active bar side with community tables, a beautiful fireplace, high tops. It then melds into a little bit more of a comfortable room in the back with lower tables, a little bit more charming, the authentic safe doors there with the old Lyceum.

“When you walk in, you see the fish market. You can either go to the bar or you can go to the other side which is the oyster bar, which is all open. They’ll shuck right in front of you. They cook in front of you. Then surrounding the oyster bar is some more intimate tables around another fireplace.”

Owners Jim and Kathi Turner and their family have created a spirited spot with an energetic feel in every corner of the restaurant.

“We like the activity. We like the movement. We like the hustle and bustle and I think the customers do to,” said Jim.

“We believe that dining is a full body experience. It should engage all of your senses,” Kathi said. “It’s your hearing; it’s your tasting; it’s your sight; it’s your feeling; it’s everything. And we really want people to have a full experience when they’re here.”

And when it comes to fresh fish, no one is more serious than Jim Turner.

“Every morning we are buying seafood in Gloucester and in Boston and we’re on the docks early and I’m on the phone all morning long buying fish,” he said.

“My husband works all day long, every day, trying to bring the best quality, local fresh seafood,” Kathi confirmed. “He knows where your swordfish comes from, who’s pulling your oysters out of the water. I mean the Turner’s, really, they know their seafood and they really care about it.”

Lobster fans will want to get their claws into Turner’s menu. There are overloaded lobster rolls served on buttery house made buns, soul satisfying lobster mac and cheese served in a cast iron skillet and buttery lobster pie can be enjoyed on its own or with teamed up with a tenderloin. But customers who are really crazy for this crustacean must order the luxurious lobster bisque, which can be upgraded with extra lobster on the side – something Jim confirmed plenty of customers do.

“You can add as much lobster meat as you want and we have people that do that. We’ll have lobster bisque with extra, extra, extra lobster.”

“It is so flavorful and rich in and of itself it doesn’t need a ton of lobster meat. We like to garnish with it, but some people like to throw the whole thing in,” Kathi echoed.

Dishes like that lobster bisque and the flavorful Mussels Provencal are all cooked in steam kettles that help lock in flavor.

“They take the mussels. They throw in the white wine, the butter, the garlic, the tomatoes and the basils, and they just put the top on it and let all those flavors mix together,” Kathi described. “Because of those kettles, the way they cook, it’s almost like fusion. They all infuse each other with their flavors.”

Classics like crab cakes are packed with local Jonah Crab while the Fisherman’s platter is truly a feast – with a plate tipping pile of golden scallops, clams, calamari, shrimp and scrod. There are even some old school throwbacks like Nana Turner’s cod cakes with Boston baked beans and a traditional plate of Finnan Haddie.

“Finnan Haddie is a wonderful authentic New England dish,” said Kathi. “We smoke our own haddock and then it is mixed with a light au gratin sauce. It’s really fabulous. So the smoke flavors mix into the cheese sauce, and it has a little pearl onions and for those people that eat Finnan Haddie it is really quite a delicacy.

“The Ritz used to have it; Dinny’s used to have it; Jimmy’s Harborside, but all those places are gone. There are very few places you can find real Finnan Haddie anymore.”

And these days there are very few places that are anything like Turner’s.

“I want you to feel that you are someplace that’s real. That’s local. That’s authentic. When you think of seafood, when you think of special places that you’ve been in your travels, that’s what we want you to think of Turner’s.”

The newest Turner’s Seafood is at 43 Church Street in Salem, Mass. There is also a location on Main Street in Melrose, and you can find them online at turners-seafood.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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