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Salt: A Gastropub
109 Route 206
Byram, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 347-7258

By The Artful Diner
June 23, 2008

During my initial visit to Salt, I freely confess that I was a tad (no pun intended) disappointed on a number of fronts... But the place grows on you. And, after several more sojourns, I really began to tune into Bradley and Laurie Boyle's latest culinary venture.

The former proprietors of the highly-rated BYOB Bula in Newton have switched gastronomic gears, trading in the rigors of "World Cuisine" for the joyous challenges of an unabashedly Americanized version of the British-inspired "Gastropub." And, judging by the crowds, their decision was a wise one.

Just one word of caution: Should you arrive expecting the sophisticated globe-trotting cuisine the couple offered at Bula, you may be in for a slight disillusionment. On the other hand, if you're in the market for reasonably priced, first-rate, innovatively prepared casual cuisine served up in an equally casual, pub-like setting -- the quintessential definition of "gastropub" -- you will surely be quite satisfied.

That's not to say that everything is picture perfect. For one thing, Bradley Boyle is no longer the power behind the stove; the kitchen reins have been fully taken over by Tony Mandeville, the former second-in-command at Bula, while Mr. Bradley, along with his wife, Laurie, concentrates his efforts upon management and front of the house affairs. In any such transition, there are bound to be a number of near misses.

Appetizers, though are very good across the board. The goat croquettes ($6.00), for example, exhibit a marvelously crisp panko crusted exterior, while the rich, creamy core is beautifully counterbalanced by slices of poached pear and the understated acidity of a raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette. The "Blood Mary Shrimp" ($7.00) are also panko crusted, skewered, and delectably crunchy. They arrive at table in the company of fresh celery sticks, and a zippy non-alcoholic bloody Mary shooter.

The olive salad ($5.00) also makes an excellent prelude. A mélange of baby greens provides the foundation, while pitted olives, morsels of olive oil-marinated goat cheese, and whole grain crackers add appropriately rustic notes. Conversely, the roasted vegetable ravioli ($6.00) clearly demonstrates that the kitchen is also capable of a good deal of finesse. The diminutive handmade pockets are ethereal of countenance, filled with perfectly seasoned minced vegetables, and gently caressed by a subtly addictive lemon-thyme cream sauce.

Of the entrées sampled, only the meatloaf ($16.00) failed to hit the mark. It was overly dense, dry, and slightly burned and tough around the edges. Certainly not the kitchen's finest hour.

On the other hand, if you're incurably carnivorous by nature, I strongly recommend the hanger steak ($17.00). Inordinately tender & flavorful slices are arranged around an epicenter of cracked mustard smashed potatoes and crowned with a tiara of Asian-spiced slaw. A first-rate effort...

As is the "Flight of Burgers" ($12.00; there are also abbreviated versions on the lunch and bar menus), three juicy mini burgers on brioche rolls. The presentation also headlines a triptych of cheeses: cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella; and condiments: a slightly watery but undeniably flavorful homemade ketchup, sun-dried tomato aïoli, and spicy remoulade. The accompanying fries are also quite good, albeit rather soggy on several occasions.

I would also highly recommend the fish 'n' chips ($14.00). The specific species changes from time to time, but the African grouper I sampled was superb. The crust was crisp & light, not the least bit greasy, the fish was moist & flaky, and the ramekin of malt vinegar a tangy success.

The kitchen does a credible job with pasta as well. The farfalle ($12.00) is firm to the bite and embellished with tender morsels of sautéed chicken, niçoise olives, chunks of tomato, and crumbles of feta cheese. A relatively simple dish, but the combo of colors, tastes, and textures is just right.

And there are other pluses... Side dishes ($4.00) -- namely sugar snap peas, fabulous Guinness braised onions, and utterly addictive candied bacon -- are certainly worth the additional modest expenditure. And, should you stop by for lunch, the open-faced pulled pork sandwich adorned with a crown of coleslaw ($8.00) is equally difficult to resist.

Desserts ($5.00), however, are very much a mixed bag. Both the flourless chocolate cake and the crème brùlée were outstanding. But the butterscotch raisin bread pudding was soggy and burned around the edges, and the bananas Foster was incredibly cloying, as unattractive to the eye as it was to the palate. No espresso here, which is something of a letdown, and the decaf coffee I tasted was insipid.

The bar area is usually bustling and a good spot to enjoy a brew or glass of wine. The beer list is extensive and runs the gamut from Indian pale ales to German wheat beers to Belgian lambics and just about everything in between. The wine list is compact, marries well with the food, and also offers some good, solid selections by the glass. Especially noteworthy are a crisp, refreshing Hogue Pinot Grigio from Washington State ($6.00) and a heady Rosenblum Zinfandel ($8.00).

The atmosphere is loud, funky, and fun; the décor a mishmash of wood & stone and mismatched tables & chairs; and the service young, energetic, trying hard, and still learning the ropes.

Salt is, given its youthful exuberance, unashamedly a work in progress. But, despite a few culinary missteps, Bradley & Laurie Boyle obviously have a winner on their hands. And I have absolutely no doubt that, as the months pass, both the cuisine and the service will serve its many patrons well.

Cuisine: Innovative Pub Grub
Hours: Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 a.m.; Sat, 2:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m.; Sun, 2:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Bar Menu: Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sat, 2:00 p.m. - 12:00 midnight; Sun, 2:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.; Lunch Menu: Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sat, 2:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 2:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more only
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; extensive beer menu
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.saltgastropub.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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