Sarma’s Cassie Piuma on her favorite eats in Boston and beyond

Chef Cassie Piuma of Sarma in Somerville, Mass.
Chef Cassie Piuma of Sarma in Somerville, Mass.

Hometown: Duxbury, Massachusetts
Occupation: Executive Chef and Co-owner, Sarma
Years worked as a chef: 15+
Years lived in Boston area: around 15
Awards/Accolades: Nominee, Best Chef: Northeast, James Beard Foundation (2015)
Rising Star Winner, StarChefs.com (2015)
Named in “25 Most Outstanding Restaurants” article, GQ (2015)
Nominee, 50 Best New RestaurantsBon Appetit (2014)

Go to Chef Piuma’s shortlist

What do you love best about the city’s food scene?

The lack of pretension, camaraderie amongst chefs and sheer excitement about regional ingredients and food in general.

Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to Boston should try. 

Myers+Chang: Indonesian fried rice, Mama Chang’s pork dumplings, Hakka eggplant, green papaya salad.

Hungry Mother: pimento cheese, cornmeal crusted catfish, baked grits.
*Editor’s note: Since publication of this interview, Hungry Mother has closed.

o ya: fried Kumamoto oysters, foie gras powder, otoro with green onion and wasabi, suzuki sea bass, hamachi kama.

Toro: paella Valenciana, ensalada cortada, maíz asado, smoked duck drumettes.

Sycamore: snacks, especially the pickles and “boards.”

Commonwealth for brunch: oysters, banana bread, eggs Benedict.

These places are outside the city, but must be recognized for their awesomeness:

Eventide Oyster in Portland, Maine: brown butter lobster roll.

Nautilus in Nantucket: BBQ pork riblets, tempura oyster taco.

Payne’s in Block Island, R.I.: doughnuts.

Market in Gloucester: everything is delicious.

Central Provisions: spicy beef salad, bread and butter, punch bowls.

Imagine you had a limitless appetite and describe your perfect dining out day in Boston.

A fresh vegetable juice to start the day at Life Alive. A morning bun and iced cappuccino at Sofra. Sweet potato pancakes at Deluxe Town Diner. Brunch at State Park, specifically cheese blintzes and an egg sandwich with house-made sausage. A quick lobster roll from Belle Isle on Winthrop Beach. Another midday snack of made-to-order guacamole and a michelada at Olé. Lunch at Mei Mei, specifically a Double Awesome scallion pancake and charred cabbage salad. Cocktails at Drink. Pre-dinner apps of prune stuffed gnocchi and beef tartare at the bar of No. 9 Park. Omakase dinner at o ya. A baked Alaska or whatever seasonal dessert looks good on the patio of Oleana, followed by a burnt sugar ice cream cone for the walk home from Christina’s. And a caramelized white chocolate bar with cocoa nibs from EHChocolatier for a bedtime snack.

It actually sounds pretty manageable, but I have a hearty appetite!

If you had to name one personal favorite from Sarma, what would it be and why? 

Moroccan BBQ duck shish with carrot, orange blossom, and almonds from Sarma
Moroccan BBQ duck shish with carrot, orange blossom, and almonds from Sarma

Moroccan BBQ duck shish with carrot, orange blossom and almonds. It’s one of my signature dishes that never leaves the menu. It’s sweet and spicy, rich and satisfying. I love the texture of the grilled duck fat. It’s lightly charred and melts in your mouth.

Istanbul’lu in Teele Square. Hummus at Cafe Barada. Prepared foods at Sevan Bakery.

What other cuisines do you enjoy eating and cooking? Where do you like going for these cuisines and what do you like to order? 

Love, love, love Asian food. Chef’s choice at Cafe Sushi. Beef and longhorn peppers at Gourmet Dumpling. Hand pulled noodles at Gene’s Flatbread Cafe. Spicy toro gunkan and handmade zaru tofu at Oishii. Pea shoots at Peach Farm.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

Probably the South End. High concentration of neighborhood gems all within walking distance. I wish I could transplant it across the river.

Since it’s Boston, we have to ask: where do you love going for seafood?

Summer Shack for grilled clams. Neptune Oyster for buttermilk Johnnycake. Row 34 for smoked & cured board, fried clams, lobster tacos.

Haven’t been yet, but I’m dying to try my buddy Michael Serpa’s new spot, Select Oyster. He was the chef at Neptune for years and is wildly talented!

What’s one dish that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?

Smoked grilled oysters with trout roe at Spoke in Somerville. I ate two orders by myself. John daSilva has flawless execution and a really clean style.

When you want a cheap and quick meal, where do you like to go?

KO Pies at the Shipyard for Australian hand pies.

Sapporo Ramen in the Lesley University food court for spicy miso ramen.

Olecito in Cambridge for burritos.

Aceituna for a spicy chicken shawarma.

Bagelsaurus in Cambridge for bagels.

Flour Bakery for a BLT.

Regina’s North End for a pepperoni pizza.

Roxy’s Food Truck for a grilled cheese.

The Gallows for a corn dog.

S&S Deli for a Reuben.

Life Alive for the Rebel.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at Logan Airport or the city’s hotels you would recommend?

Henrietta’s Table at the Charles Hotel for breakfast/brunch. Eastern Standard for drinks, Island Creek Oyster Bar for fried oyster sliders (both at the Hotel Commonwealth). The Bristol Lounge in the Four Seasons for a really expensive burger and dirty martini. Scampo in the Liberty Hotel for the mozzarella bar and beautiful breads. Super excited for Hojoko – a new venture from the folks who operate o ya – to open soon in the Verb Hotel near Fenway Park.

Any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?

I’m eight months pregnant so cocktails aren’t really on my radar at the moment, but I do have a lot of respect for the bar manager at Sarma, Vikram Hegde. He creates refreshing, food-friendly cocktails that are inspired by spices and the unique ingredients of the eastern Mediterranean. My favorite is one of his signature items, the Elettaria, flavored with ginger and cardamom.

I’m also a sucker for a good Pimm’s cup. They serve them by the pitcher at State Park. [Other favorites include] the Bees Knees at Drink and the Sister Mary at Brick & Mortar.

What are your guilty pleasures and where in Boston do you go to get them? 

Sweet Cheeks for fried chicken, biscuits and green tomatoes. I throw in a little coleslaw for good measure.The biscuits are the size of your fist and down right decadent. They come warm with whipped honey butter. The chicken is so perfectly seasoned and moist. It’s my happy place.

Are there any foods native to Boston that you particularly like and can’t really be found anywhere else?

I grew up in the town of Duxbury, renowned for their amazing oysters. They are, in my opinion, the best on the planet.

We were also surrounded by cranberry bogs, so I have a taste for the tart little gems and find the most delicious are heirloom varietals from Massachusetts.

The warm Parker house rolls at Puritan & Company are the best I’ve ever had.

Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Boston? 

Hands down, watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park while scarfing down a sausage and a cheap beer from a street vendor. Then walk around the North End and grab an espresso from one of the cafes and a cannoli from Modern Pastry.

Chef Piuma’s Shortlist:

Sarma, 249 Pearl Street, Somerville, MA (Winter Hill); Mediterranean, dinner and late night daily.

Myers+Chang, 1145 Washington Street (South End); Asian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, dim sum brunch Saturday-Sunday.

o ya, 9 East Street (Leather District); Japanese, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Toro, 1704 Washington Street (South End); Spanish tapas, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Sycamore, 755 Beacon Street, Newton, MA; new American, dinner only daily.

Commonwealth, 11 Broad Canal Way, Cambridge, MA (Kendall Square); American, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch only Sunday.

Eventide Oyster Co., 86 Middle Street, Portland, ME; seafood, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday-Monday.

The Nautilus, 12 Cambridge Street, Nantucket, MA; Asian fusion/seafood, dinner only daily during summer months (open hours/days may be limited during other seasons).

Payne’s Donuts, 1 Ocean Avenue, Block Island, RI; doughnuts, open daily.

The Market Restaurant, 33 River Road, Gloucester, MA; new American, dinner only Thursday-Tuesday, closed Wednesday during summer months (open hours/days may be limited during other seasons).

Central Provisions, 414 Fore Street, Portland, ME; small plates, lunch and dinner daily.

Life Alive, 765 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); vegetarian/vegan/juice bar, open daily.

Sofra Bakery and Cafe, 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, MA (West Cambridge); Middle Eastern, open daily.

Deluxe Town Diner, 627 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA; American, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

State Park, 1 Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge, MA (Kendall Square); Southern, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Belle Isle Seafood, 1 Main Street, Winthrop, MA; seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

Olé, 11 Springfield Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); Mexican, lunch Thursday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Mei Mei, 506 Park Drive (Fenway-Kenmore); Chinese-American, lunch daily, dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
Food truck: location varies daily, lunch only Monday-Friday, hours vary Saturday-Sunday.

Drink, 348 Congress Street (Fort Point); cocktail bar, open daily.

No. 9 Park, 9 Park Street (Beacon Hill); Italian and French, dinner only daily.

Oleana, 134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); Mediterranean, dinner only daily.

Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream, 1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); ice cream, open daily.

EHChocolatier, 561 Windsor Street, B-206, Somerville, MA; chocolatier, open Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday (hours can vary, especially in the summer; call ahead).

Istanbul’lu, 237 Holland Street, Somerville, MA (Teele Square); Turkish, lunch Wednesday-Sunday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Cafe Barada, 2269 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (North Cambridge); Lebanese, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Sevan Bakery, 599 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown, MA; Armenian/Mediterranean and food market, open Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Cafe Sushi, 1105 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square); Japanese, lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily.

Gourmet Dumpling House, 52 Beach Street (Chinatown); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily.

Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe, 86 Bedford Street (Financial District); Chinese, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Oishii Boston, 1166 Washington Street (South End); Japanese, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Peach Farm, 4 Tyler Street (Chinatown); Chinese, lunch, dinner and late night daily.

Summer Shack, 50 Dalton Street (Back Bay); seafood, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.
Second location: 149 Alewife Brook Parkway (Alewife, Cambridge); lunch and dinner daily.

Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street (North End); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

Row 34, 383 Congress Street (Fort Point); seafood, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.

Select Oyster Bar, 50 Gloucester Street (Back Bay); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

Spoke Wine Bar, 89 Holland Street, Somerville, MA (Davis Square); new American, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

KO Pimes at the Shipyard, 256 Marginal Street, Building 16 (East Boston); Australian, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.
Second location: 87 A Street (South Boston); lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, closed Saturday-Sunday.

Sapporo Ramen, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Porter Square); Japanese, lunch and dinner daily.

Olecito, 12 Springfield Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.

Aceituna Café, 605 W Kendall Street, Cambridge, MA (East Cambridge); Mediterranean/Lebanese, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Bagelsaurus, 1796 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Porter Square); bagels, breakfast and lunch Tuesday-Sunday (open until sold out), closed Monday.

Flour Bakery + Cafe, 12 Farnsworth Street (Fort Point); bakery/cafe, open daily.
Second location: 1595 Washington Street (South End); open daily.
Third location: 190 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); open daily.
Fourth location: 131 Clarendon Street (Back Bay); open daily.

Original Regina Pizzeria, 11 1/2 Thacher Street (North End); pizza, lunch and dinner daily.

Roxy’s, food truck locations and hours vary daily; American, lunch daily, dinner on certain days and locations.

The Gallows, 1395 Washington Street (South End); new American, lunch Thursday-Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

S&S Deli & Restaurant, 1334 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); deli/American, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Henrietta’s Table, The Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA; New England, breakfast daily, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday.

Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks, Hotel Commonwealth, 528 Commonwealth Avenue (Fenway-Kenmore); new American, breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night daily.

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Avenue (Fenway-Kenmore); seafood, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

The Bristol, Four Seasons Hotel Boston, 200 Boylston Street (Boston Common); new American, breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Scampo, Liberty Hotel, 215 Charles Street (West End); Italian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Hojoko, The Verb Hotel Boston, 1271 Boylston Street (Fenway-Kenmore); Japanese, dinner and late night daily.

Brick & Mortar, 567 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); bar, open daily.

Sweet Cheeks, 1381 Boylston Street (Fenway-Kenmore); Southern/BBQ, lunch and dinner daily.

Puritan & Company, 1166 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); new American, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way (Fenway-Kenmore); tours available year-round.

Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover Street (North End); Italian bakery, open daily.


About the Chef: A night out at Chef Ana Sortun‘s Oleana would end up changing the course of Chef Cassie Piuma’s career and her approach to cooking and food forever. At the time, the extent of Piuma’s exposure to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors was lamb and feta cheese she ate while growing up (she is half Greek) and “crappy” store-bought hummus and tabbouleh.

“I REMEMBER MY FIRST EXPERIENCE AT OLEANA AS A DINER, BEING REALLY EXCITED BY THE COLORS, SHAPES AND TEXTURES OF THE FOOD. EVERYTHING FELT SO LIGHT BUT INCREDIBLY FLAVORFUL AND SATISFYING. IT WAS AN EYE-OPENING MOMENT THAT DEFINITELY FELT LIKE A TURNING POINT. IT RESONATED WITH MY GREEK BACKGROUND BUT STILL FELT LIKE A NEW FRONTIER AND SOMETHING THAT NEEDED TO BE EXPLORED.”

With her culinary education and professional background (including stints at Providence’s Al Forno and Chef Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop), Piuma was ultimately hired as a line cook and spent the next 12 years at Oleana, working her way up the kitchen ranks and in the process, becoming Sortun’s protégé, learning the ins and outs of the cuisine. “[Chef Sortun] rocked my world and helped me realize my passion for Middle Eastern cooking.”

In 2013, Piuma opened Sarma and she’s been attracting national attention for her Mediterranean-influenced dishes ever since. She says opening her dream restaurant has allowed her to find her own point of view while injecting her own personality into her dishes and learning what it means to operate a business.

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