#AceFoodNews – July.18: Phantom Gourmet: Sea Level At Salem’s Pickering Wharf
The two-story, 200 spot boasts gorgeous views from almost every table, whether you’re on the deck, or in the dining room, because Owner George Carey wanted to truly take advantage of the great location.
“When you come to Sea Level, one of the best things is we really celebrate our waterfront, and our location, and being outdoors. We have garage doors that open up to really feel the outside. When you come here, you really are in touch with the harbor; you feel the ocean; you feel the breeze; and it’s done casually. It’s not expensive; it’s not formal. It really is a fun place to have twenty beers on tap, great seafood, and just have a nice, relaxed, casual atmosphere.”
Seafood Tower at Sea Level (Image: Phantom Gourmet)
The menu serves up seafood that’s equal parts fresh and fun, thanks to Executive Chef Jennifer Normant. The first think you see when you step inside is the Raw Bar. To try all it has to offer, a seafood tower is a good choice. It’s stacked with four kinds of oysters, littleneck clams, jumbo shrimp, Jonah crab, and an entire lobster.
If you want to do a little work for your meal, the Peel and Eat Shrimp are steamed in beer and served up hot.
“We add Old Bay seasoning to the pot. We add some shallots, some garlic, some thyme. It’s fun. It’s one of the those down and dirty meals,” Chef Jennifer described.
Another messy masterpiece, and something you’ve probably never seen before, is Sea Level’s Chowder Fries.
Chowder Fries at Sea Level (Image: Phantom Gourmet)
“It’s our version of a poutine,” Jennifer said. “It’s our New England Clam Chowder that we make in house. We add littleneck clams that are steamed. We add some cheddar cheese, and top it with some chives.”
Out of all the appetizers, nothing is more unexpectedly fun than the Popcorn Shrimp, because it really is popcorn and shrimp.
“You’re not getting popcorn shrimp. You’re getting small popcorn shrimp, and you’re getting a bag of popcorn with your popcorn shrimp,” Jennifer explained. “It looks fun. It’s who we are. It’s clever. It’s a play on words. Tastes delicious, because you’re getting Old Bay, and we’re adding it to our popcorn and then you’re eating it with your shrimp.”
‘Popcorn Shrimp’ at Sea Level (Image: Phantom Gourmet)
When it comes to entrees, Sea Level certainly has all the classics covered, like the golden fried Fisherman’s Platter, lightly breaded to let the seafood shine.
“Cod, shrimp, scallops, whole belly clams, onion strings and fries,” Chef Jennifer listed. “It’s definitely enough for two people to share, but you could also be gluttonous and take it and finish it yourself. I guarantee you won’t finish it, because it’s huge, but it’s everything that you would get in New England, all in one bucket.”
Another New England original is the Lobster Bake in a bucket, complete with a pound and a quarter pound lobster, littleneck clams, mussels, chorizo, corn, and grilled potatoes.
Lobster Bake at Sea Level (Image: Phantom Gourmet)
For something a little smaller, there’s a mouthwatering Lobster Roll, served on buttery brioche; Baja Style Fish Tacos with cilantro crema; and a grilled half-pound burger topped with cole slaw and crispy fried clams.
“You’re gonna get the taste of the salty from the ocean from the littleneck clams, and you’re also gonna get a nice juicy burger. Just bite right into it. You want to experience the clams and the burger at the same time. You want to take one big bite,” Jennifer explained.
Burger topped with fried clams at Sea Level (Image: Phantom Gourmet)
It’s no surprise the seafood at Sea Level is top notch, but they also serve some awesome thin crust pizza. You can get it topped with fried calamari or buttery lobster, but Phantom thinks the best bet is the 3-Way Pizza, Chef Jennifer’s twist on a classic North Shore Roast Beef Sandwich.
“We take fresh sliced tenderloin of beef, put it on the pizza. We put James River barbecue sauce, pepper jack cheese, throw it in the oven. When it comes out we add barbecue sauce, habanero aioli, and crispy onion strings. It’s more fun than a roast beef sandwich, because you’re getting it on pizza. It’s more fun to consume a pizza than it is a roast beef sandwich.”
The fun continues right through the end of your meal, with a dessert menu that’s presented in a whole new way. Servers come around and stamp the menu right on your tablecloth. Chef Jennifer described the standout on that menu, the Twinkie Tiramisu.
“We take the Twinkies and then soak them in espresso and a little bit of sugar; layer it with fresh, creamy mascarpone cheese; and then top with cocoa powder.”
With such fun food and beautiful views, it’s probably time you chart a course for Sea Level.
“It’s just great to come down to the water, to really enjoy the water views, smell the ocean, and have some great seafood,” said George.
You can find Sea Level at 94 Wharf Street in Pickering Wharf in Salem, and online at sealeveloysterbar.com.
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