Seared Ahi tuna, served with a subtle house-made sweet pepper relish, a dollop of fresh aioli, and crisp peppery watercress—sounds like something you’d enjoy at an upscale restaurant, right? But slide that onto a grilled ciabatta roll and suddenly it becomes a delicious sandwich, easily enjoyed at a socially distanced spring picnic.
Called La Tu Na, this delightful dish, a complex mixture of flavors, textures, and temperatures, is the brainchild of Keenan Langlois, chef/owner at ChezCasa, a sliver of a sandwich shop in the Bridge Street Neck neighborhood of Salem.
Through a combination of hard work and a bit of luck, Langlois has tapped into the zeitgeist of 2021, offering elevated food that’s easy to enjoy on the go: a mix of classic subs made with top-shelf ingredients and sophisticated takes on sandwiches and salads as well. The Culinary Institute of America-trained chef has worked in the kitchens of some 40 eateries over 30 years, from pizza joints to Michelin-starred restaurants, and he brings it all together here.
ChezCasa’s menu is small—only eight sandwiches and three salads—which helps Langlois ensure he can make everything in-house. He even butchers his own meat for the Captain Meatballs sub, purchasing all-natural beef chuck and pork loins to trim and grind in house. The sub’s hand-formed meatballs are seared on the flat top grill and then simmered in tomatoes. When an order comes in, a ladleful of the tomatoes is quickly reduced on the grill, then smeared on a butter-toasted sub roll from Piantedosi, the hundred-year-old Malden bakery where the chef sources all his sub rolls. Topped with julienned cherry peppers and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese, the sandwich is a little bit spicy, with rich, deeply flavored sauce.
The Jive Turkey is a similarly elevated take on a classic. High-quality turkey meat, with no fillers, is served cool with a thick slice of warm bacon, crispy shredded lettuce, and house-pickled onions. Other sandwiches include a vegetarian portobello confit, and the highly popular Chopper Cheese—a hearty grilled mix of fresh-ground chuck, mushrooms, and onions topped with American cheese.
The eclectic names on the menu are due, in part, to an incentive Langlois offered to investors during his build-out. Anyone who contributed $1,000 or more got to name one of the sandwiches, which all come with a sour pickle and chips—both made in-house as well. The addictive chips offer a textural break from the sandwich—something Langlois has given a lot of thought.
The chef has also given a lot of thought to vegetable options. ChezCasa offers three salads, all made to order, which can be upgraded with protein or mushrooms. While we’re still transitioning seasons, try the hearty Grilled Beets, served warm on a bed of quinoa and pea greens, topped with a house-made sherry vinaigrette.
The name ChezCasa is meant to evoke a variety of cuisines, cooked from the heart, and enables Langlois some freedom to offer dishes not classically found in a sub shop. Specials rotate and can be found in the cooler, but his arepas—thick cornmeal pancakes sandwiching melted cheese—are always on the menu. Made with bacon fat, which adds a smoky richness, the toasty grilled corncakes yield long taffy-like stretches of melted cheese with every bite.
The narrow storefront, which housed Stacia’s Place—a popular sandwich shop over the 35 years prior—offers just four tables, and is decorated with a few shelves full of cookbooks. So you can dine in, but we’d suggest taking advantage of the longer days by strolling over to nearby Collins Cove Park for an alfresco meal, in classic 2021 style.
Sides: Grilled Beets Salad $12.50, Bacon Fat Arepas $3.50
Sandwiches: Captain Meatballs $11, La Tu Na $13, Jive Turkey $10.50
97 Bridge Street, Salem, 978-744-2143, chezcasafood.com