Mid-Century Diners Inspire Counter at The Hotel Salem
The Hotel Salem, a former department store transformed into a boutique hotel by Amesbury, Massacusetts-based company Lark Hotels, has opened Counter, "a modern American restaurant," in the heart of Salem on the Essex Street pedestrian walkway (at street level). The modern kitchen and bar is located just over the threshold of hotel. Helmed by Executive Chef Justin Perdue, the menu showcases New England’s seasonality and highlights "the beauty and simplicity of a singular ingredient in each dish," the hotel's announcement states. "Counter takes design inspiration from the sense of community that was fostered within mid-century anchor department stores." The full-service restaurant and bar boasts a 20-seat counter with expansive views of the open kitchen.
At Counter, Perdue was influenced by the prominence of department store lunch counters in the 1950s and 1960s and the communal gathering spaces they created for patrons. Perdue’s regularly-changing menu includes a seasonal selection of elevated salads, vegetable-forward starters, “breads” (toasts and sandwiches), housemade pastas, hearty mains, and casual sides. In developing the menu, Perdue pulled inspiration from his experience at eateries such as Chicago’s NoMi, Topolobampo, and Sixteen.
Highlights from Counter’s opening menu include:
● Roasted Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Capers, Chickpeas, and Parsley
● Anson Mills Polenta with Poached Egg, Mushroom, and Roasted Jus
● Duck Confit Toast and Chestnut Bisque with Pickled Shallot, Local Ricotta, Caramelized Garlic, and Golden Raisin
● Double Beef Burger with Sharp Cheddar, House Ketchup, Onion, Mayo, and House Pickles
● Bucatini with Meyer Lemon, Burrata, Spicy Fermented Carrot, and Crispy Cipollini
● Braised Short Rib with Root Vegetables, Sweet Potato Biscuit, and Rosemary
Prior to joining Lark Hotels as Group Executive Chef in 2016, Chef Justin Perdue held positions at restaurants across the country, including Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, NoMi at the Park Hyatt Chicago, and Topolobampo, where he gained experience under Rick Bayless. Perdue made his way to the restaurant Sixteen, where he held a sous chef position when the restaurant received its coveted Michelin star. Most recently, Justin worked within the Hotel Sofitel group as an executive chef of the group’s Chicago and Philadelphia locations.
Like Chef Perdue’s dinner offerings, Counter’s craft cocktail program highlights local spirits, paired with house infusions and syrups, and bold, seasonal flavors. Standout drinks include the Road to Gehenna with house-infused cinnamon Jim Beam, Aperol, clove-honey syrup, and orange bitters; the Fae’s Fire with Deacon Giles gin, Deacon Giles Absinthe, green chartreuse, ginger syrup, and lemon; and the Lightbringer, a minty spin on an espresso Martini with vanilla vodka, Disaronno, Fernet Vittone, La Colombe peppermint mocha coffee, and Fee’s Orgeat. A curated beer list includes mainly New England-sourced brews, plus Chef Perdue’s go-to, PBR, and select pours from West Coast breweries. White, red and sparkling wines are selected to pair harmoniously with Counter’s hearty, flavorful fare.
Upon entering through a floor-to-ceiling glass entryway on The Hotel Salem’s first level, Counter’s 16-foot ceilings and bright, turquoise subway tile tower draw the eye upward. Below is a 20-seat, counter-style walnut bar with round, leather-bound stool seating reminiscent of diners in the 1950s. Simple, globe-shaped pendant lighting fixtures warm up the modern, 35-seat dining room. Hexagonal tiles in varying shades of grey line the floor, and casual, low-back banquette seating is contrasted by dark metal wired chairs throughout the space. Outside, Counter’s 36-seat seasonal patio will open in the spring, positioned amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Salem.