Our Gourmet: Too late for lunch, but a fine early dinner

March 07. 2018 12:01AM
Five-Onion Gratinee is a lighter, milder version of a typical French onion soup. 
Copper Door
41 S. Broadway (Route 28), Salem; 458-2033; www.copperdoorrestaurant.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m., seven days.
Cuisine: American.
Pricing: Dinner menu: “Snacks” $8.50-$16; soups & salads, $6.50-$8; “Copper Classics” $16-$33; steak & seafood $28-$39; sides $5.50-$8.
The scores for Copper Door
Atmosphere: 19/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 16/20
TOTAL: 89/100

We planned to have a late lunch, but we were running even later than we had hoped. We knew the Copper Door in Salem serves lunch until 4 p.m., so we figured as long as we got there by 3:30, we’d be OK.

What we weren’t expecting was a 30-minute wait. When we pulled into the new Copper Door, across Route 28 from the construction site that used to be Rockingham Park, the parking lot was full, and people were arriving in groups that made us think there must be some kind of function going on.

There was no function. At 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon, the Copper Door was just packed. We waded through the crowd at the door to the hostess stand, where we were told there were four parties ahead of us. We put our name on the list and received one of those blinking-red-light pagers.

The wait gave us plenty of time to admire the details of the beautiful new restaurant, which has been open since November. From the entrance, it looks Iike one big craftsman-style space, with vaulted timber-framed ceilings and a granite fireplace with a floor-to-ceiling wood-paneled flue. The bar area is to the left, and the dining area is to the right, with the open kitchen area running along the back wall. Big, round chandeliers look like they were salvaged from an old castle, a funky, rustic contrast to the rest of the decor.

After about a half-hour, our pager went off and we were guided to our table, which was in another room — kind of a sunroom space, off the end of the main dining room. Once we got settled, a quick look at the menu we were given told us that the lunch window had closed, and we feared that we’d be spending a lot more than we had anticipated at this upscale restaurant.

But as we looked over the dinner menu, we were happy to see many of the same appetizers and lighter dishes that were on the lunch menu we had previewed. There’s also a list of dinner entrees that range from $25 to $40, but we were able to piece together a great meal for what we judged to be a bargain price.

We started with soup and salad. Mrs. Gourmet chose the Five Onion Gratinee ($7). With a golden sherry-infused broth, this was loaded with caramelized onions and topped with a light layer of Swiss and Provolone cheese. It was more delicate than the French onion soup you’d find on most menus (or that Mrs. G used to make at home), but it was warming, rich and just the right size for a starter course. It might also be enough to inspire Mrs. G to get back in the onion soup habit at home.

I chose the Arugula and Roasted Beet Salad ($8), which also included pickled onions, candied pecans, crumbles of Gorgonzola cheese and honey-shallot vinaigrette dressing. It was a fine salad, though between the pecans and the dressing, I thought it was a little on the sweet side.

Still in lunch mode, Mrs. G opted for the Zesty Sausage Pizza ($16). She was expecting a single-serving “personal” sized pizza, so we were floored when she was served a full-size 14-inch pie.

This one featured an extremely thin crust (the kind that requires you to roll up a slice in order to pick it up by hand), with the meat of one or two sausage links scattered in large chunks around the pie. Caramelized onions and a sprinkling of chopped herbs imparted a slightly sweet, slightly anise flavor, which Mrs. G loved, but she thought the sausage could have been cut smaller and spread more evenly around the pizza.

Curious about how an upscale restaurant would handle a classic diner dish, I ordered the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf ($20.50). I’ll say right here, no diner has anything on the Copper Door’s meatloaf. A big mound of finely ground, moist, gently packed and generously seasoned beef was encircled by a thick slice of bacon, topped with a tomato glaze and a thin layer of creamy garlic mashed potato. No gravy needed here. Fried onion strings, broccolini and sliced roasted potatoes rounded out what was as decadent, luxurious and hearty a meatloaf as you’ll find anywhere.

Having not hoovered her pizza the way I had my meatloaf (she took more than half home), Mrs. G had more room for dessert than I, but I did my best to help her polish off a slice of Chocolate Sin Cake ($8), which was dense and rich, about as close to a slice of fudge as cake can be.

While we ended up having dinner instead of lunch, we were very happy with our experience at the Copper Door. We’ve never visited the original in Bedford, so the menu was as new to us as the building itself — and both building and menu were terrific.

Like its Bedford sister, The Copper Door in Salem may be upscale, but the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The prices aren’t inexpensive, but as we discovered, it’s possible to have an excellent meal for two without dropping $100. (Our two apps, two entrees, one dessert and one beer came to $72.)

And as for our missing the final minutes of lunch service, we learned later that the lunch menu is available until closing in the bar area. So next time we’re running late (hey, it could happen), we’ll know to ask to be seated there.

Our GourmetSalem

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