Chef Joe Raises the Bar at Village Tavern; New Menu Offers More than Just Bar Food

Ingemi and Peterson

“Chef Joe” displays his technique while preparing one of his signature dishes, Beef Strogonoff. PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Joseph Peterson — “Chef Joe” — can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he wanted to be a chef. He was a 12-year-old boy living in Dryden, New York, about an hour south of Syracuse. It was 10 o’clock at night, his mother was at work, and he was hungry. “I made stir fry beef with noodles and it tasted so good,” he said with a broad smile. “I had so much fun making it that the next day I thought, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Right around that time, Dryden got its first cable service. Peterson wasted no time discovering cooking shows and famed chef Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West” program particularly captivated the tween. “He showed people how he cooked inside his restaurant, which was French-American-Asian. As a kid, I watched that show every Saturday and wanted to grow up to be just like him,” Peterson said.

Fast forward to 2009 when Peterson, fresh out of Boston’s Cordon Bleu cooking school, went to work for his idol at Tsai’s acclaimed Wellesley restaurant, Blue Ginger. After training under the celebrity chef, he went on to become executive chef at Jerry Remy’s, the downtown Boston restaurant near Fenway Park.

That’s where “Chef Joe” was working when Andrew Ingemi, who co-owns Village Tavern with his father, Arthur, realized that he would be a perfect fit for their Salem restaurant. “Jerry Remy’s gave him experience with volume,” Ingemi said. “I needed someone who would have no trouble with an October crowd. With Joe’s experience of a busy restaurant with Red Sox games multiple times a week, it was an easy choice.”

Ingemi hired Peterson last fall and the two unveiled an overhauled menu last month.

Peterson in the kitchen

Village Tavern co-owner Andrew Ingemi and Chef Joseph Peterson at a quiet moment in the bar.    PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Part of Ingemi’s dream was to make Village Tavern known for higher end tavern fare rather than just bar food. The new menu features such dishes as Sweet and Sour Duck and 28-day dry-aged grass fed sirloin, which “may be the very best steak you’ll ever have, other than at a fancy steakhouse in Boston,” he said.

Peterson is equally excited about the fusion side of the menu, which mixes traditional appetizers and Asian touches in such inventions as Philly Steak Egg Roll and Buffalo Chicken Ragoon.

Dear to Peterson’s heart is his Beef Strogonoff, which is a hearty and tasty dish his mother used to make once a week. His special secret? He adds sour cream at the end to give it a “zing” (his mom used heavy cream).

“A lot of cooking is about technique,” Peterson said as he prepared this dish for the Salem Gazette. “Stroganoff is simple, but hard to make it taste well.”

Ingemi’s family has been in the restaurant business in Salem since the 1970’s. His great-grandfather is the Steve of Steve’s Market and his father and grandfather have owned many eateries over the years. Ingemi didn’t join them until 2012, when his father and brother were opening the Village Tavern and asked him to help out. At the time, he was working in Boston at State Street Bank. He thought he would stay a year. Five years later, he’s still there.

“I fell in love with working with my family and making the restaurant better. It’s so rewarding,” he said. “It’s kind of fun — we have a big history in Salem.”

He’s also proud of “Chef Joe” and all the staff for “kicking it up a notch” to be up to Joe’s standards in the kitchen. “We’re able to give guests the overall experience we’ve been wanting to give them for the last couple of year,” Ingemi said.

Peterson is delighted to be in Salem after many years in Boston. While he’s looking forward to making an impact with his food, he is just as eager to take a leadership role among his employees in his kitchen. In the six months he has been at Village Tavern, he has already promoted many from within and has built a team spirit and loyalty among his staff.

“Taking a cook and making him sous-chef or taking a peeler and making him a prep chef, that the kind of stuff that excites me. I like growing people. I could do everything myself back there, but that’s not the idea,” he said.

Advertisements

More Than Just Pizza and Spaghetti

 

 

Anyone who has traveled to Italy and had the great fortune to eat even one dinner in Lucca knows that not only is the town a draw in its own right, with its enclosed walls and lovely broad parks, but that its food is also among Italy’s most compelling.

 

If Lucca is not on your 2017 agenda (or within your budget), Salem can dish up the next best thing: Vittorio Ambrogi, Lucca native and executive chef at Trattoria Orsini, located in the previous Grapevine space at 26 Congress Street.

 

The former chef of the Grapevine (where his wife Stacy was one of the owners), Ambrogi has created a modern Italian menu that features dishes ranging from chopped salads to grilled octopus to his special “Orsini Meatballs” (veal, beef and pork meatballs braised in Chianti tomato sauce with Cavatelli pasta).

 

food

Ambrogi’s famous pasta Bolognese

 

Ambrogi’s accent is as deliciously Tuscan as his cuisine, and he peppers the conversation with “pero” (Italian for “but”) and other Italian phrases. When asked what are some of his favorite dishes to cook, he lets loose with a belly laugh and says, “Risotto and sauce. You can’t go too far from the sauce in Italian.”

 

According to Michael Gajewski, a Trattoria Orsini General Manager (“I’m really just a glorified busboy,” he joked), although the chef and space are the same as the Grapevine’s, the new restaurant differs in significant ways. Major renovations included adding expanded patio space and creation of a different “look” with new furniture, a sleek bar, and two rooms with cozy tables where diners can enjoy quiet and intimate conversations as well as terrific food.

 

However, what has remained the same is what makes Trattoria Orsini as special as the Grapevine was. “Having Vittorio and a lot of the old staff back, and of course Vittorio’s food and his nightly specials” are what patrons are happiest about. And of course, everyone is looking forward to spring and summer on our beautiful new patio,” he said.

 

The new restaurant opened last summer with over 4,000 square feet of interior dining and a 2,000+ square foot patio. Completing renovations, equipment procurement, permitting, staffing and menu production were among the biggest challenges, according to Gajewski.

 

Among the menu’s most popular items are the meatballs, risotto, arancini (rice balls), shrimp scampi, octopus, cod and, of course, Ambrogi’s famous Bolognese sauce. The chef added the Grilled Octopus appetizer (accompanied by fried black polenta, olives, capers and fresh tomato sauce) as an item unique to the new restaurant. The dish was not on the Grapevine menu, and has been a huge crowd pleaser.

 

His Pan Roasted Cod dish, while among the most popular entrees, is not really an Italian dish as far as Ambrogi is concerned, because Italians don’t have access to the same kind of fish Americans do. “Cod is not a very popular fish in Italy. It’s not as meaty and juicy as it is here. It’s also a smaller fish,” he said.

 

While Ambrogi loves cooking and creating inventive and delicious nightly specials, he also likes his days off. Last Monday and Tuesday he took advantage of the recent snowfalls and decided to go skiing at his favorite place, Sunapee, which is “always fun”.

 

The Tuscan chef has been cooking for over 27 years, including almost 20 at the Grapevine where he developed quite a loyal following. He reflected on his long career and devoted patrons, and added modestly, “We’ve been putting out pretty decent food for many years and we are still doing that.”

 

Trattoria Orsini is located at 26 Congress Street and is open from 4 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. For reservations, call (978) 594-8048 or visit trattoriaorsini.com.

 

 

Adea’s is a vegetarian Middle Eastern delight

 

David Winer, the 32-year-old owner, chef, manager and server at the recently opened restaurant, Adea’s Mediterranean Kitchen, has been up since before dawn, preparing the day’s homemade menu. At an hour when most people are enjoying their first cup of coffee, he is already busy stirring an enormous pot of Jerusalem Bean Soup that has been bubbling away for four hours.

 

“It’s a very simple recipe with very simple ingredients,” he said, describing the Israeli staple that is made of two kinds of beans, tomato paste, onions, salt pepper, oil and water. “That’s it. Then cook it for eight hours.” He checked to make sure the soup wasn’t burning.

 

bubling-bean-soup

Jerusalem Bean Soup bubbles away.

 

The secret that separates Adea’s’ bean soup from its peers? “We cook it with a lot of love,” he said with a wide grin.

 

Adea’s, located at 90 Lafayette Street in the space previously occupied by Salem Theatre Company, is Salem’s first kosher vegetarian eatery. The 41-seat restaurant is open from 10 a.m. Sunday through Friday, closing at 3 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. the rest of the week.

 

Winer chose Salem for business and lifestyle reasons. He and his family live in an apartment around the corner from the restaurant and he loves how local Salem is. “It’s a city with a small town feel,” he said.

 

It also is a city known for its varied restaurants and excellent food. “They have the basics here, but there is nothing like ours. In Boston, there are hummus places all over the place. In Salem, there is no kosher or falafel restaurant,” he said.

 

Adea’s is under the kosher supervision of Chabad of the North Shore.

img_4772

 

Having a kosher restaurant is important to Winer because he and his family eat only kosher food. However, he points out that being kosher is an add-on value for Adea’s. For him, the larger issue is that he serves only vegetarian food. “It’s an environmentally friendly thing,” he said proudly.

 

The menu is small, featuring a handful of staples, including a hot hummus platter, stuffed grape leaves, Israeli salad, babaghanoush, and the crowd-pleasing bean soup. There are also two or three daily specials, such as roasted Tuscan vegetables with Tuscan beans and black bean and veggie soup with rice. “What we like about our menu is that it’s very small. We have a lot of leeway,” he said, emphasizing that everything is cooked fresh every day.

 

For Winer, returning to the North Shore is returning to his roots. He grew up in Swampscott, where he graduated from Swampscott High School in 2002. After earning a degree from University of Massachusetts in hospitality management, he worked in Florida and New York City. At age 24, he decided to go to Israel, intending to visit for six months. Instead, he stayed for six years, becoming co-partner of Tel Aviv’s Café Kaymak, a coffee shop.

hummus

Adea’s famous hummus with tahini and chickpeas.

 

In Israel, Winer explained, there is a real “coffee shop culture”, which draws people for conversation and camaraderie. “Coffee shops are the real gathering places whereas in America, it’s usually bars and restaurants,” he said.

 

“It was a great learning experience for me,” he said of the “cool, funky, bohemian” place where he fine-tuned his recipes for hummus, falafel, bean soup and other Middle Eastern fare. “There is a lot of influence from there,” he said of Adea’s’ menu. “I wanted to create a place with an Israeli feel.”

 

His Israeli coffee shop provided more than just schooling in authentic Israeli cuisine. It also provided him the opportunity to meet Adena, his Ethopian-born Israeli wife.

 

“Cliché as it is, it was love at first sight,” he said. Adena came to an event at his Café Kaymak shop and one year later, they were married. The couple has two young children and do everything themselves.

 

Word of mouth about the new restaurant is nothing short of raves. Elana Gerson, of Salem, lived in Israel for five years. “The food is fantastic,” she said as she lunched on the Adea’s sampler platter. “I feel like I’m in Israel.”

 

Susan Steigman of Marblehead agreed. “The food is delicious and the service hospitable. The hummus is outstanding,” she said

 

On a recent Monday, the restaurant was nearly full as a steady flow of people ordered lunch. David and Adena were behind the counter, she taking customers’ orders and he wielding a giant spatula.

 

“It’s a real Mom and Pop restaurant. It’s just the two of us. We have no employees. It’s early mornings and late nights,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but we wanted it, we asked for it and we got it.”

 

Although Winer admits there were many unforeseen challenges to taking on an empty space and creating a restaurant from scratch, the man who “loves serving people” has no regrets.

img_4773

 

“The feedback has been unbelievable. My first loves are my daughters and my wife and my family. But when people say, ‘Wow, I love your food’, it makes me feel so good. I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I guess this was my calling.”

 

Judging from their cleaned plates and satisfied smiles, his customers couldn’t agree more.

 

For more information, visit http://adeasmk.com.