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About 4,000 people live in Salem, and I think I met most of them on a recent Friday night visit to 2 Brothers Restaurant & Pub.
Before sitting at a booth, however, I had to navigate the confusing roundabout, find a spot in a crowded parking lot, grab one of the busy waitresses to get my name up on the chalkboard and then wait 20 or minutes or so at the overflowing bar. But that's no problem for the locals, who for good reason love this place.
For us, the wait was eased by one of the best beer selections on draught that you'll find in a small restaurant. I first heard about 2 Brothers when Rick Koster wrote a feature about two local guys who won a homebrewing contest. They come to 2 Brothers because of the beer, and that's good enough for me.
BBC Pilsner, Wachusett Blueberry, Anchor Steam, Two Roads, Arrogant Bastard, Narragansett and Heavy Seas Riptide were among the dozen beers on tap, which rotate regularly. The Road 2 Ruin Double IPA from Two Roads, located in Stratford and recently named one of the 25 best new breweries in the country, was worth the trip through that crazy roundabout.
The strip mall exterior belies the neighborhood pub feel inside, where the two Alevras brothers have gained a loyal group of regulars, many of whom drink out of numbered mugs that hang on the wall and others who come for dinner or to grab a pizza to go.
The restaurant has six booths near the kitchen and about another dozen in the main dining room near the bar. Once settled into our booth, we started with an order of chicken nachos ($9.50), a good-sized plate of nachos covered with tomatoes, black olives, jalapenos, chicken and cheese and served with salsa and sour cream on the side. The nachos hit the spot and went nicely with the Double IPA, although they were a little over baked, leaving the chicken a tad dry. They're also available with chili or buffalo chicken.
The menu is heavy on Italian and that's the direction Betty and I went. She settled on the Mediterranean ravioli ($14) and I fought off the urge to order the grilled ribeye ($15.50) off the specials and instead went with the lasagna ($11.50). Our guests, Bruce and Antonia, went the seafood route: fish and chips ($11.50) and fried clam strips ($12).
The Italian dishes came with salads, which were perfectly fresh, and a choice of Italian bread or garlic bread. We chose the latter and the waitress brought what was basically a loaf of bread that kept all four of us happy.
The ravioli stood out in presentation and taste. Cheese ravioli and chicken were served with sauteed spinach and roasted red peppers in an Asiago cream sauce. Highly recommended.
The lasagna was a tasty melding of noodles, cheese and beef served in a casserole. I was glad the cheeses were Parmesan and mozzarella and not ricotta, which I'm not fond of. But the lasagna was swimming in liquid and would've have been better if not served in the casserole dish it was baked in. I enjoyed it more the next day as a leftover for lunch.
Bruce and Antonia were deeply satisfied with their dinners, bountiful plates of fried seafood served with french fries and cole slaw. The slaw was perfect - just enough mayonnaise. The fish and chips are made with fresh scrod. You can also get the scrod baked with bread crumbs and a white wine lemon butter sauce ($13) and sole stuffed with shrimp and crab meat and baked with white wine and butter ($12.50).
On this night we weren't there for the pizzas or the calzones, but they were selling plenty and we'd like to try them on our next visit.
2 Brothers claims to be "more than just pizza," and this is never more true than with their desserts. Our waitress read off a never-ending list of options, and we settled on a lemon-filled cake, chocolate cake, blueberry cream cake and pistachio cheesecake. It was a beautiful sight when the desserts, all made on the premises, were brought to our table. They were so big we should have shared, but what's the fun in that. The cheesecake wasn't the typical dense cream cheese dessert on a graham cracker crust, but a fluffy cake with a pistachio frosting. I was stuffed but ate every crumb. (Check out the drool-inducing pictures on the restaurant's Facebook page.)
We had already placed some leftovers in containers to take home and now had to ask for more for the desserts.
By now it was 8:30, and it didn't seem possible that the place could close by the stated time of 9 p.m. The booths were still full and the entrance crowded. Who wants to go home when you're having this much fun?
In a time when some restaurants are going out of business, or barely hanging on, it's gratifying to see a place combine good food, affordable prices and a friendly atmosphere and draw a crowd. A great beer selection and wonderful desserts don't hurt either.
20 Hartford Road, Salem
(860) 204-9090; 2brotherspizzapub.com
Cuisine: Pizza, calzones, subs, pasta, seafood, desserts to die for.
Atmosphere: A local hangout, where mug club members gather at the bar and couples and families with kids in Little League uniforms sit in the dining area.
Service: Friendly and proficient, from the bartender to the wait staff. Despite it being very busy, each course arrived right on time.
Prices: Affordable, with or without the kids.
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: Yes