In Spanish, Alma means “soul,” and that’s just where the ambiance, the hospitality, and the food hit you at Beverly’s new Caribbean fusion spot. Modern but with a Latin flair, walking into Alma feels like you’ve stepped into the cool new spot in Miami’s South Beach. “We want to take people out of Beverly,” says chef Wagner Garcia, who co-owns Alma with Gina Firicano. Together, the pair serves up a contemporary version of soul food that is prepared from the heart, or as they describe it, “Dominican inspired, distinctive effect.”
Garcia, who is Dominican, and Firicano, who is Italian-Dominican, opened Alma last April, and the food, Garcia says, is influenced mostly by the couple’s friends and family and the cultures they bring from all over the world.
“Like most people, the motivation [behind opening Alma] is family and a need to leave something behind that will continue to provide for loved ones,” Garcia says. “But also, we wanted a place to be able to try out our ideas and creativity.”
And that’s just what they did. Alma’s menu, although small in size, offers up some big flavors that take traditional Dominican cuisine and mixes it with other cultures to form such offerings as Pastelitos, described on the menu as “a fried Dominican empanada filled with beef and six cheeses, and served with a tamarind and fig dipping sauce”; Mofongitos, a take on the Puerto Rican dish mofongo, described on the menu as “fried plantains mashed with bacon and shredded pernil, finished with shrimp and avocado”; or the bao, a “Chinese steamed bun filled with your choice of pork, chicken, and veggies.” All three can be found on the menu’s “Small Plates” section (the menu is divided into three parts—Small Plates, Salads, and Sides).
“The pork bao is one of my favorites because it shows off our different style of fusion,” says Garcia, who has no official culinary training but learned how to cook while working in the industry at all types of places—from fast food to privately-owned restaurants in Salem, New Hampshire, to larger restaurant chains and fine dining establishments like Legal C Bar—for 15 years. “We use an Asian steamed bun with Dominican-style roasted pork with yuzu vin tossed mixed greens and Thai-style BBQ. Four countries in one bite. We like to take ingredients and flavors that you wouldn’t normally find together and give you an adventure in every bite,” he adds.
Indeed, the crisp veggies combined with the expertly cooked pork create a perfectly balanced fusion dish.
Another must-try is the buttered shrimp, four jumbo grilled shrimp topped with a garlicky tomato basil compound butter and served over a bed of sautéed spinach, or the tangy jerk wings. Make sure to add the lime on top for the perfect balance of sweet (from the sugar cane glaze) and tart.
Other offerings that combine that same fusion of flavors include the citrus beet salad, “sous vide beets, mixed greens with pistachio vinaigrette, and goat cheese”; the charcuterie plate, filled with blue cheese, figs, aged Parmesan, prosciutto, duck breast, and grilled moscato grapes covered in a sticky but delicious glaze (it’s worth getting the charcuterie plate just for these); and the Dominican-inspired sides Habichuelas Rojas (Dominican-style red beans) and the Caribbean staple, tostones, savory fried plantains served with two dipping sauces: Sriracha aioli and a traditional Dominican sauce made up of olive oil, garlic confit, and lemon. Try them both, but you’re sure to have a favorite.
Pair one of these Dominican-inspired dishes with an Alma specialty cocktail (the restaurant currently serves only beer and wine, but the drinks are so creative, you won’t know you’re not actually drinking liquor), such as the Agave Sunrise—agave wine, orange and pineapple juice, and grenadine—or the Sangria Roja, the perfect balance of wine and fruit, not overly sweet and complemented with citrus rather than berries. Close your eyes and you’ll almost be able to feel that sea breeze.
For those seeking a non-alcoholic alternative, a variety of Mexican bottled sodas are also listed on the menu, or try a Taiwanese-originated Bubble Tea in flavors such as Black Milk, Matcha Milk, or the non-caffeinated avocado, mango passion, and taro coconut shake.
And if you have room for dessert, Alma carries freshly made sweets, such as mango sorbet or salted caramel lava cake, from Beverly-based Crave Café & Bakery, run by a close friend of Garcia. In fact, the two are working on even more dessert items, including a cake that will actually look like a bird of paradise plant, the restaurant’s signature logo. Other future plans, Garcia says, include outdoor seating, a food truck, and a full menu expansion that will stay true to the couple’s fusion philosophy.
“We like to think of it as a modern twist on some classic dishes,” says Garcia of his food, “and we’re also hoping to keep the ‘expect the unexpected’ attitude about the menu as we grow in the future with dishes created from the many beautiful influences of the world.”
Currently open Wednesday through Saturday, Garcia says the restaurant will go back to being open five days a week (closed Sundays for family time, unless someone wants to rent the restaurant out for a private event, and Mondays for inventory purposes) “as business picks up.”
As I was leaving the restaurant, I noticed a sign on the bar that read; “Do more of what makes you happy.” And I couldn’t help but think, as Garcia talked excitedly about the restaurant and its future, that that is just what he’s doing—happily cooking from the soul.
Alma Caribbean Fusion
407 Cabot St., Beverly,