SALEM – Fresh baked Popovers, a thick cut Pork Chop, American Chop Suey gone gourmet, and a blazing hot wood fire. If you are looking to warm up, just sign in at Ledger.
Located in the heart of historic Salem, Massachusetts, Ledger Restaurant and Bar may be brand new, but when it comes to the cooking, Chef-Owner Matt O’Neil is drawing inspiration from the 1800s. Many of the dishes are cooked over a wood fire and everything is made from scratch, just like it would have been two centuries ago.
“Everything is made here in house. Every single bread, every burger bun, the mustards, the pickles, all the pastas, made in house as they would have had to do in the 19th century,” Matt said.
This devotion to the past is for a good reason. Long before Ledger moved into the building, it housed Salem Savings Bank, the second savings bank in the country. As you look around the gorgeous 150-seat dining room, Matt has all of that history on full display.
“Right when you walk in you’re gonna see a teller wall that has bars like you’re in front of a teller. Behind the host stand there’s a uniform from the night watchman that was on duty here. There’s a safety deposit box wall that divides the bar from our dining room, and then we also have the safe itself. The main 7,000 pound safe door is right in the middle of the kitchen, and behind that door is our walk-in refrigerator.”
When it comes to the food in that refrigerator, Executive Chef Daniel Gursha runs the show, overseeing a huge open kitchen that is always buzzing with activity. Much of that production happens on Ledger’s custom built, wood-fired grill.
“That’s what they were cooking with back in the 19th century, and wood imparts a flavor that you can’t get from anything else,” Chef Daniel explained. “You get to see the elevators on the custom-made grill going up and down, cooking all of our meats or our vegetables. You’re getting to see the craft.”
The grill imparts a smokiness to much of the food, like the eight ounce Creekstone Sirloin served with roasted carrots and confit potatoes; or the thick cut, bone-in, Berkshire Pork Chop with cider glazed apples, brussel sprouts, and squash pureé.
If you are in the mood for a burger, Ledger’s is worth the trip. It is ground in house, cooked on the wood grill, topped with cheddar, and served on a brioche bun with charred onion aioli.
Out of everything on the menu, the one dish you simply must order – believe it or not – is the American Chop Suey.
“This is not your mother’s or you grandmother’s American Chop Suey,” Chef Daniel declared. “We use pork, beef, lamb, and we cook it out with tomatoes. Then we’re hitting with some jack, and some panko on the end, with some bell peppers. It’s almost like a bolognaise that’s been cooked out a long time. We’re trying to bring something back that was a very working class meal, and elevate it to a point where it could be in a nice restaurant like this. I think the wow factor is there and people didn’t know that American Chop Suey could taste so good.”
To start your meal, there are all kinds of appetizers, like Fried Brussel Sprouts with Caesar dressing, a carefully curated Charcuterie board, and a hearty, heart-stopping, Chipped Beef Dip.
“It’s almost like a fondue with beef jerky, but we dehydrate it in house,” the chef explained. “We shave it super, super thin, and then we fold it into our fondue. Then we have these oversized English Muffins that we make in house. Then you just kind of dip the English Muffins into this dip.”
For something slightly lighter, and much more airy, Ledger’s Popovers are simply awesome. They are fresh baked all day long, and served with apple butter for spreading, and herbed beef drippings for dipping.
“They’re oversized, and they’re beautifully crisp on the outside, steaming hot in the middle, and they’re a great starter for our menu,” Chef Daniel said.
Of course a great finish is dessert. While many of the choices look gorgeous and taste even better, the Brownie Sundae is a sensationally smoky way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
“We make housemade brownies, and we do a smoked vanilla ice cream here. So all the ice cream is made in house; this one we put in the smoker after we make the base. After you have your appetizer, after you have your entrees, you don’t lose the experience of all that wood fire on your way out,” the chef explained.
As you end you meal, Matt hopes you can appreciate, and taste, all the extra effort he and his team put into the food at Ledger.
“The art of creating from within four walls, as much as you can, takes time. It takes a lot of passion, and I feel like with this restaurant, with the team I have in place, with the dedication, with the hard work, we’ve hit a spot where it really is kind of magical.”
You can find Ledger at 125 Washington Street in Salem, Mass. and online at ledgersalem.com.
Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.