When Juli Lederhaus, the manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, asked me to lunch at our museum restaurant, I was excited for a few reasons. The first of which was her timing. The first week of October was unseasonably warm and dry with the kind of sunshine that sparkles clean and full of vitamin D. The Garden Restaurant, operated by the Hawthorne Hotel, is a perfect place to spend such an afternoon with the breeze blowing lazily through stands of bamboo.
I was also excited because Juli is a foodie. I’ve been following her Facebook posts for some time, where her husband Walter posts Dutch-inspired still lifes of their CSA shares and she posts the end result of the local veggies consciously cooked.
Juli, with her signature spiky red hair, has a soft-spoken, calm demeanor for someone who has managed Salem’s bustling boutique hotel for the last 15 years. In addition to good food, she loves social media and today, we would both “document” this tasting of the new fall menu, Juli for the hotel’s blog she faithfully keeps, and me for this one.
My role here was to be the “test dummy” or “silent accomplice.”
We started out sipping black currant iced tea, in a comfortable, unspoken and restful quiet, as I intermittently soaked in the sun and then dodged it for a bit under the umbrella. Juli chose full shade and finished a Vine video about the beginning of Salem’s Haunted Happenings on her red-cased Smartphone.
The restaurant’s delicious lemonade, by the way, was written up in the Kansas City Star earlier this month for the creative use of fresh muddled basil. The writer says she now uses basil from her own garden in lemonade and thinks of PEM’s restaurant.
We started with the Creamy Collard, Tomato and Pepper Dip, which was hearty and a little spicy, on a selection of crackers and baguette.
Of course, our conversation turned to food and Juli’s somewhat recent forays into cooking Indian food and then to good restaurants — Juli’s favorite North Shore sushi place, her favorite vegetarian restaurant in New York, her favorite place in Kennebunkport and the best little hole in the wall pizza place in Beverly, where she and Walter take their own salad, drinks and plates.
Juli wore a button that said, “Ask Me. I’m a Local,” as part of the museum and city’s campaign, chronicled in the Boston Globe, to welcome tourists during the federal government shutdown. Our conversation started, of course, with the weather. Another of her passion’s, golf, occupied her rare afternoon off the day before. Then we exchanged our parade watching locations for that evening’s Haunted Happenings parade. Juli always watches from the doorway of the hotel, in order to keep an eye on the flower beds and such.
Over the years, working in hotels has taken the San Francisco native all over — to New Orleans, Atlanta, Iowa and Alaska, where in summer she could golf until midnight. When I couldn’t remember a certain detail, Juli playfully said I should know these answers, since I interviewed her for a local newspaper years ago.
For an entree, Juli ordered the delicious, fresh Mediterranean-Inspired Salad with chick peas, marjoram-infused roasted vegetables, feta, toasted pine nuts on a bed of spinach with lemon and toasted cumin vinaigrette.
My entree, the Red Wine-Poached Sliced Chicken, was accompanied by braised Swiss chard, herbed barley and crisp, purple caramelized shallots, all in a dark and hearty demi-glace. Squint and it could have been a twist on the Thanksgiving meal. Juli thought the dish’s hearty sauce reminiscent of Boeuf Bourguignon.
A good meal finished and photographed, our appetites sated, we stepped out into the fray of Essex Street and the collective anticipation that builds before a parade. Peace comes at a premium this time of year.
The Garden Restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday (and holiday Mondays), 11:30 am–2:30 pm. The menu changes seasonally, and features entrees, house-made soups, salads and sandwiches. For reservations call 978-745-9500, ext. 3118.