When warm weather hits New England, there’s no better place to be than by the water. At Vasa Waterfront Kitchen & Bar, you’ll get stunning views with a menu to match. Newly established in the former Stripers, everything from the decor to the coastal-inspired dishes has been given a facelift.
For years, the Salisbury location was space coveted by area entrepreneurs, including Vasa owner Sean Toomey. One day, when driving by the restaurant, he was compelled to stop in to see if he could make it his—even though it wasn’t for sale. “It just seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Toomey says. “How many times is there a place this big, with this type of location? It just doesn’t happen. I had to ask.” It paid off. Less than a year later, after upgrades to the interior and exterior, including a complete renovation of the attached inn, run by Toomey’s partner Mark Wojcicki, Vasa opened in December 2016.
Grab a table on the deck if possible. With views of the Merrimack River and historic Newburyport, the 125 seats outside ﬁll up quickly. Inside, you’re surrounded by hues of blue, gray, and purple, like the colors in an oyster shell, and sea creatures that play along the walls. When you’re ready for drinks, head for the rum bar, one of the restaurant’s special features (see “Return to Tiki Time,”). The name Vasa comes from a Swedish ship that sunk in the seventeenth century; after more than 300 years, it was recovered from the ocean’s ﬂoor with a preserved bottle of rum on board. In honor of its namesake and the area’s rum-making past, the restaurant offers some 50 rums to sample. Try them straight up, on the rocks, or in one of 10 signature cocktails like the Mojito. There’s also a variety of unique wine and beer, plus a cocktail menu with seasonal favorites like It’s Always Summer. Made with Effen cucumber vodka, strawberry puree, lemon juice, muddled cucumber, and a splash of soda water, it’s a crisp, cool drink.
Vasa’s other centerpiece is the raw bar. To sample a little of everything, go for the Jumbo Shellﬁsh Tower. It comes with 20 oysters of your choosing, six littleneck clams, six jumbo shrimp cocktail, two snow crab claws, and a half shell lobster that’s cooked and chilled. When picking the oysters, try the exclusively harvested Vasa Pearls, which have a nice briny punch to them. Head Chef TJ Bernard also makes sure to keep more than a dozen varieties on the menu, from New England and the West Coast.
The Fried Calamari is another great choice. Rings and tentacles are coated with a buttermilk egg wash, lightly fried, then layered over a sweet-and-sour chili sauce and ﬁnished with roasted garlicaioli, cilantro, and lime. The Crab Cakes are like none you’ve had before. Just the right amount of breading allows for the ﬂavors of the crab, cilantro, ginger, lemon, and a hint of tobacco to shine. Be sure to add a dollop or two of the jalapeño-tomato jam, a recipe designed by Bernard that wonderfully complements the meat.
Keep the app trail rolling with the Salsa Verde Short Rib Nachos. They’re the perfect indulgence if you’re hanging at the bar or craving something sweet and salty. Each batch is loaded with an eight-ounce short rib that is slow cooked in the salsa, then shredded over a bed of corn chips covered in pico de gallo, black beans, aged cheddar, and cilantro-lime cream.
For a lighter start, try the Vasa Spring Salad, with mixed greens, watermelon radishes, orange segments, and pistachios. The Grilled Wedge Salad features charred, lemon conﬁt-infused little gem lettuce topped with pickled red onion, tomatoes, pecan-wood smoked bacon, and bleu cheese.
Save room for the signature Vasa Burger. An eight-ounce chuck, short rib, and brisket blend patty has a deep ﬂavor that’s accentuated by the nuttiness of pecan bacon, caramelized onion, tomato, and iceberg lettuce. “I really like to use iceberg on my burgers because it’s fresh and crisp and it’s almost a palate cleanser,” Bernard says. “There’s also a little bit of nostalgia—that Fourth of July backyard barbeque. Every time I even smell iceberg that’s exactly where I go.” To complete the dish, Bernard applies a garlic cheese spread—what he says is the secret to making the best burger—on a brioche bun.
Heartier entrees might include a citrus-brined Fried Cornish Game Hen, served with chive mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. Oven Roasted Cod is placed a bed of seasonal vegetables and topped with a mixture of toasted panko bread crumbs, butter, shallots, and lemon zest. The Boston Strip Steak is marinated in a chimichurri sauce and comes with red potatoes and a roasted corn and black bean salad.
To ﬁnish off the night, spoil yourself with the Dark Chocolate and Brown Sugar Pudding Triﬂe. It’s made with chocolate cake layered with butterscotch pudding and a thick swirl of salted caramel, then garnished with whipped cream and toasted cashews.
Vasa Waterfront Kitchen & Bar
175 Bridge Road