As we enter 2013, things are hopping on the North Shore restaurant scene. Some of the biggest changes are taking place in Beverly, a town often overlooked by local foodies.
Barrel House American Bar (252 Cabot St.) has taken over the former Mandrake space with a terrific mix of craft cocktails and bistro food.
We visited shortly after it opened and can attest to chef Patrick Shea’s creativity and Sean Maher’s deft pouring hand. Shea met Maher (managing partner) at Eastern Standard, and the two have outdone themselves on this venture, which is backed by Soma’s Nik Paras and Anesti Lazarides.
The sidecars are perfectly balanced, the poutine is a must-try, the scallops were perfectly cooked and extremely fresh, the burger was juicy and flavorful, and the “twinkee’’ dessert (a concoction of white cake, Nutella, and ice cream with a pretzel coating) was strange, but satisfying. We loved the attention to detail, from the breadsticks with herbed yogurt dip to the house-made sparkling water and sharp-edged ice cubes.
A few blocks away, EJ Cabots (282 Cabot St.) occupies the former Tryst space, renovated to give it a tavern feel. The décor features local artists, the food is eclectic comfort, the chalkboard specials change nightly, and the Sunday brunch features a Bloody Mary bar with bacon and Slim Jim mix-ins. Co-owners Joe Deisley (formerly of Brodie’s Pub in Peabody) and Emilie Grant tell us the place has been busy since its August opening.
We have not made it there yet, but we are hearing raves about Prides Osteria (240 Rantoul St.), owned by Michael Magner of Prides Pizza in Beverly Farms. The kitchen is run by Paolo Laboa, who spent six years with San Francisco’s Farina Restaurant Group and whose pesto won the World Pesto Championship in Genoa, Italy, in 2008.
The Beverly osteria is in the former Harry’s 240 space and features a farm-to-table approach with a menu that changes nightly and features house-made pasta and desserts, along with creative antipasti, thin-crust pizza, and entrees made from organic meats.
In Newburyport, the popular Ceia Kitchen & Bar (38 State St.) is moving to new digs. Chef Patrick Soucy, who was invited to cook at the James Beard House in December, will prepare his coastal European cuisine in the three-story building recently vacated by Rockfish. Owner Nancy Batista-Caswell tells us the décor in the 144-seat space will include a copper-top bar and dining on the first floor, an open kitchen and 14-person chef’s table on the second floor, and an intimate bar on the third floor, along with lounge seating.
Batista-Caswell is working on a different concept in Ceia’s original space, featuring crudo-style seafood from chef Corey Marcoux, most recently of the Gallows in Boston. After a complete remodel that includes installing a marble bar, Brine Oyster Bar (25 State St.) will open in February with live oyster shucking, prime meats in creative surf-and-turf dishes, Italian and French wines by the glass, and craft beers.
In Salem, we were excited to discover the Jean-Louis Pasta Shop (84 Derby St.), just opened by Jean-Louis Faber and his partner, Connie Rosen, a few blocks from the House of the Seven Gables. Featuring ravioli of unusual size, dried pastas, all-natural wine- flavored sauces from Vino de Milo, and a line of infused oils, this place is worth seeking out. The pasta is handmade by Faber in the shop and can be purchased frozen for $5 to $15 per bag of 10 (each bag easily feeds two people).
We tried the artichoke/provolone and the smoked mozzarella and will be back for more — rich fillings and gorgeous, toothsome pasta in unusual shapes. Faber told us regulars are stopping in for once-a-day fresh pasta (around 5 p.m.), and he plans to sell country bread with roasted garlic and French-style sandwiches within a few months.
We cannot wait to try Gloucester’s newest offering, Ohana (151 Main St.), which opened in May and won North Shore magazine’s award for best new restaurant. Chef/owner Enx Dadulas is cooking up Hawaiian fusion cuisine such as teriyaki-glazed bacon-wrapped duck roulade and misoyaki marinated butterfish.
Dadulas grew up with Hawaii’s Asian-influenced cuisine, but studied French and Italian techniques and cooked for Boston’s Barbara Lynch. He said the restaurant has been very well received, especially with its penchant for treating customers like family (“ohana’’ is Hawaiian for family). Many customers come back for pastry chef Michelle Hughes’s creations, and Dadulas is responding to requests for more sushi by adding another 15 offerings in the new year.
Here are a few of the other venues we’re looking forward to exploring this winter: Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar (1 Market St.) opens in Ipswich in February (an interesting-looking gastropub); Beverly’s Wild Horse (392 Cabot St.) reopens this month, run by two former employees of Hamilton’s 15 Walnut; Marblehead’s 5 Corners Kitchen (2 School St.) is busy every night after its renovation, but may soon have competition from Palmers (a new outpost of the Andover establishment going into the Warwick Place development); Dinis (135 Washington St.) and Scosso (North Shore Mall) are serving up Portuguese and Italian fare, respectively, in Peabody; and Hamilton’s Black Cow (16 Bay Road) has finally reopened after renovations.