Ledger Brings Reimagined New England Cookery to Downtown Salem
Acclaimed chef Matt O’Neil opens the doors to the North Shore’s newest full-service eatery.
Photo by Michael Diskin
On June 20, Ledger, a 6,000-square-foot and 195-seat progressive New England restaurant by acclaimed chef Matt O’Neil, whose menu is inspired by regional cuisine and colonial cooking techniques, will open its doors to the general public at 125 Washington Street in Salem for dinner service. Housed within one of the city’s grandest buildings, a historical space dating back to 1818 that until recently was home to the second oldest incorporated savings bank in the United States (once frequented by notable customers Thomas Watson and Alexander Graham Bell), Ledger immerses guests in a large and open food-focused space that feels comfortable and inviting, while continuously paying homage to the building’s unique past at every turn.
The vision of chef and owner Matt O’Neil, Ledger’s menu boasts progressive New England fare, where traditional 19th-century dishes and cocktails are elevated with the help of today’s resources and culinary techniques. By integrating ingredients native to the region and those first brought to America by importation through Salem’s harbor (which at one time was widely known as one of the richest ports in the world) Ledger aims to recapture the essence of what it means to “eat local” in New England.
Developed in conjunction with executive chef Daniel Gursha and chef de cuisine Craig White, who together spent countless hours researching the cooking techniques, farming practices, and foraging methods used by early settlers, Ledger’s menu will offer a cornucopia of ingredient-driven dishes influenced by the seasonal availability of New England’s produce, fish, and meat.
“Guests can expect to enjoy items like wood-fired meats, seafood, and poultry from our custom-made, wood-fired grill, as well as house-smoked fish, and accompaniments like preserves, pickles, and cured meats – items someone would have had in their ‘pantry’ hundreds of years ago,” says O’Neil. “Whether guests are seated in the main dining room for one of our shared suppers, taking in an after-work cocktail or light bite at the massive bar, or enjoying fresh local seafood at our 10-seat Oyster Bar, there will always be a gentle reminder about what we’re doing here thanks to our state-of-the-art open kitchen. Whether it’s from the food they order or the design of the restaurant, their experience will always come back to Salem and New England.”
Highlights from Ledger’s impressive Raw Bar include Caviar Service (johnnycake blini, grated egg, cultured cream, onion), Maine Salmon Tartare (yogurt, cucumber, pickled ramp, dill pollen, preserved citrus), Three Fish Crudo (chef’s daily selection), Scallop Crudo (tomato, corn, Urfa, burnt lime), and an impressive Shellfish Tower with three tiers of options (silver, gold, or platinum) boasting local oysters, clams, marinated shrimp, and a house-made smoked seafood salad. Additionally, a Lamb Carpaccio (berbere, preserved lemon, banana pepper relish, olives, and fried garlic) and Beef Tartare (house potato chips, charred onion powder, horseradish cream, scallion, and capers) will be included as carnivorous “raw bar” options.
For those seeking to start their meal off with something to share, Ledger’s house-made meat and seafood charcuterie, a rotating selection of cures, pates, terrines, rillettes, sausages, and accoutrements, are the perfect fit. Keeping those with preferences for sharing in mind, chefs O’Neil and Gursha have created a variety of “snacks” and “smalls,” perfectly proportioned plates that are big on flavor and include dishes such as Chipped Beef (corn English muffins, Vermont Cheddar, dried beef), Pot of Pickles (a rotating selection of pickled vegetables), Pork Rinds (buttermilk and dill), Bluefish Pate Toast (picked red onion, capers, pickled mustard seed, dark rye), Deviled Crab Stuffies (Ipswich clams, Jonah crab, Ritz, Portuguese sausage, peppers, and hot sauce), Summer Sausage Pinwheel (pork sausage, pickled slaw, Plan Bee mustard), Harvard Beet Carpaccio (embered beets, cultured cream, walnut, hard-boiled egg, pickled mustard seed, chestnut honey), and Grilled Carrots (yogurt, pecans, birch syrup, chervil).
Ledger’s custom wood-fired grill, a focal point of the restaurant, will turn out large format meat and whole fish suppers designed for two to three people, along with a “Vegetarian Supper,” featuring cauliflower and farm vegetables – all served with mixed greens and a choice of the following two delicious sides: Grilled Corn, Salt-Baked Fries, Seasonal Succotash, Cold Bean Salad, and Skillet Cornbread. Ledger’s individual “Large” plates offer guests a variety of house-made pastas, local seafood, beef and poultry options, including American Chop Suey, chef’s take on the American comfort food classic, Lobster Spaghetti (local lobster, corn pasta, tomalley butter, basil, mint, chive blossom, fresh tomato, chili), a 12 oz. Wood-Grilled Ribeye Steak, Wood-Roasted Swordfish (roasted tomato on the vine, succotash, preserved lemon seaweed butter, and fresh herbs), Wood-Roasted Pork Chop (sweet potato, fingerlings, charred broccoli, chili, lemon, husk cherry piccalilli), and a Spit-Roasted Half-Chicken (braised beans, greens, jus).
Beer, Wine, and Cocktails
Featuring premium ingredients and out-of-the-box components, Ledger’s cocktail menu is a playful extension of the historical nature of the restaurant, encompassing bold flavors from fresh and floral to smoky and spicy. Guests seeking to sip while they sup will enjoy handcrafted libations like the Salem 1818 (Plymouth gin, prosecco, lemon verbena shrub), Hawthorne’s Endorsement (Old Overholt rye, Antica Carpano, cacao nib), Ledger’s First Light (Bar Hill gin, First Light Farm carrot juice, ginger, peppercorn and honey syrup), Welcome Opulence (Plantation 5-year rum, pineapple sherry, Cruzan Blackstrap rum, charred-pineapple shrub), and Daughters Fyfe (Four Roses bourbon, Lairds Applejack brandy, Green Chartreuse, dry curacao, orange bitters).
For those who prefer to imbibe from the vine, Ledger will deliver an extensive wine list boasting hand-selected varietals sources from both new and old-world regions, all of which align with the core mission of the restaurant and will pay tribute to the past, while encompassing the techniques and products available to today’s top winemakers. Additionally, a carefully curated beer and cider list with a New England focus features an approachable by-the-bottle selection and eight rotating selections available across 24 faucets, and includes options from regional breweries such at Jack’s Abbey, Bent Water, Gneiss Brewing Co., Semblance, Downeast Cider House, and Shaksbury.
Design and Space
Brought to life by Designer Erica Diskin of Boston-based Assembly Design Studio, Ledger’s interior design is a preservation of the past and a nod to both the building and City of Salem’s future. Upon entry, as guests pass through the custom glass vestibule intended to showcase the overall view of the room, they’ll see the beautifully preserved plaster ceiling and custom-built 82” chandelier, before arriving at the host stand where the expansive size of the space and extensive use of charred wood and raw materials are first noticeable. Almost immediately, the over-sized windows framing the exterior walls come into focus, while a slight turn to the right reveals a massive 24’ reclaimed white oak communal table with seats for 22 guests located just beyond a repurposed teller window. The massive bar with seats for up to 30 diners is located in the center of the room below the impressive chandelier, and is topped with leathered white macaubus granite and surrounded by tufted leather barstools. Beyond the bar, a wall built of repurposed safety deposit box doors provides a hint of modern design and privacy from the main entrance for those dining to the right of the main entrance. In the rear of the restaurant, the open kitchen commands guests’ attention and can be viewed comfortably from the six-seat Oyster Bar or oversized ten-seat chef’s table.
Other original elements reincorporated into Ledger’s design include a bank vault that now serves as the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, a vault door that serves as the entryway for the wine room, safety deposit boxes that act as a dividing feature wall, and historic banking ledgers that are safely displayed in an elevated library. Across the hall from Ledger’s main dining room is the Macomber Room, a private dining space that can easily accommodate up to 60 guests for a seated dinner or 85 guests for a reception-style event.
Additionally, three custom pieces by acclaimed Martha’s Vineyard-based artist Traeger DiPietro, a long-time personal friend of O’Neil’s, adorn the restaurant’s walls. Inspired by the building’s previous use as a bank, DiPietro created a triptych which he calls “A Bold Robbery,” explaining the satire of a businessman, who for unknown reasons, decided to steal a book of ledgers and is chased by police. The paintings are covered from actual ledgers from 1929 and are a product of mixed media, specifically charcoal and paint. The thought-provoking series allows the viewer to come to their own conclusion as to whether the police, or the thief, win the race, while leaving the question as to why he is stealing the banking ledgers, unanswered.
Ledger’s bar opens daily at 4 p. m., with dinner service beginning at 5 p.m. Later this summer, the restaurant will debut lunch and weekend brunch