Ranging from ham-and-swiss hand pies, rosemary-and-lemon cookies, all the way to chartreuse cocktails and pomegranate martinis, there is something delicious for just about anyone at Zestfriendz, a bakery/small-bites bar in Swampscott.
Owned and operated by two “zest friendz,” Margie Peterson and Trudi Fagerlund, this bakery by day and small-bites bar by night prides itself on unique flavor pairings and a focus on bringing people together. Zestfriendz coined its name from the pair’s zest for life, powerful flavors in the kitchen, and their 23-year-long friendship.
“She’s (Peterson) had a lifelong dream to have the bakery side, and I always just wanted a bar. So we thought let’s just form the concepts into one business rather than separating them, and let’s leverage the upside of both,” said Fagerlund.
Peterson runs the bakery side, and about 90 percent of the baked goods are from her own recipes. She crafted the idea for the Zestfriendz signature rosemary-lemon cookie during her time running an at-home bakery business, Delicious Designs. Although the rosemary-lemon cookie is a staple for the bakery, Peterson’s scones are pushing for front-runner.
“You’re never going to taste a better scone,” Fagerlund added. “I would throw anyone down on a scone,” said Peterson.
Peterson scratch bakes a batch of citrus scones every morning.
“I always have a citrus scone, and that’s the whole lemon-lime thing; it goes with the zest again,” she said.
Rumor has it, Gov. Charlie Baker is “infatuated” with the scone as well.
“People on social media are like ‘I was fighting over the last citrus scone today,’ or they’re like, ‘am I too late for the citrus scones?” said Peterson.
Her other flavors of scones change daily, ranging from cheddar-scallion, honey-lavender, maple-oatmeal, orange-cranberry and cinnamon raisin.
Another crowd favorite is their hand pies. Due to their small kitchen and inventory space, Peterson didn’t want to have sandwiches on the menu, but needed a savory grab-and-go option — hence the creation of a hand pie, a pastry creatively named because of its pie-dough crust and it’s hand-holdability. These delectable treats have people coming back for more than just one handful.
“People come in and are like ‘oh, can I have five of the ham-and-cheese hand pies?’” Peterson said, and explained they are the most surprising success of the bakery. Along with the ham-and-cheese hand pie, they offer a tomato-and-dill-havarti hand pie as well.
The two friends are really excited for what’s to come in the warmer months — in particular the outdoor dining right on the water which will seat up to 20 customers on a shaded painted patio.
“You can come in in your flip flops and you don’t have to care that you have sand,” said Peterson.
Some menu ideas for the warmer seasons include an outdoor oyster bar, gourmet ice-cream sandwiches with unique flavor pairings, and to-go items for people to pick up and take out onto their boat or to the beach.
“And obviously we want to have some fun, light cocktails,” said Peterson.
Speaking of cocktails, Fagerlund is shaking up some absolutely delicious drinks on the bar side.
Fagerlund recommends trying the “Hair of the Frog” cocktail — a 110-percent proof, green french-liquor gin, and lime.
“It’s (chartreuse) a green, expensive, herbal, high-octane alcohol. None of us had tried it. So I bought a bottle, we sat around and we were like, what do we put with this? We looked up a few recipes that were with chartreuse and we were like OK, let’s do a little of this, a little of this, a little of this, and then we wrote it down somewhere,” said Fagerlund.
Another popular drink the two love is their pomegranate martini.
“We actually started drinking (pomegranate martinis) in Boston, and they have many, many stories, but we’ve brought that with us here,” said Fagerlund. Although many Zestfriendz-goers fear the sweetness of the drink, once they take a sip they’re already ordering the next one.
Along with cocktails, an eclectic small-plates menu is offered, prepared in the kitchen by Chef Ryan McGovern. His favorite menu item to make is the mussels, flavored with a thai green curry for some heat, and garnished with thai basil, cilantro, and grilled bread.
With many gluten-free and vegetarian options, Zestfriendz wants to be inclusive for everyone, and Fagerlund said that if you take the bread out of most dishes, it’ll be gluten free.
McGovern has been working as a chef since the late 1990s, and worked in restaurants in Martha’s Vineyard, Florida and throughout the North Shore.
He is looking forward to the new flavors the warmer seasons bring as well.
“We try to cook and flow with the seasons and what’s available. As spring hopefully comes sooner than later, peas will be around the corner, asparagus, greens hopefully, so you’ll start to see a shift in the menu from heavier comfort food to lighter foods,” McGovern said.
The owners have a few hopes for the future of their restaurant, one of them being for the bakery. Peterson hopes to one day have dessert cakes in the evenings that customers can stop by to pick up on their way to dinner or for someone’s birthday. They also hope to be able to expand their team and bring in more help.
For those of you interested in opening up your own restaurant, these friends have a few words of advice: “Sleep ahead of time. You probably should be prepared to sleep your whole life ahead of doing it.”
Zestfriendz is located at 286 Humphrey St. in Swampscott. For more information, visit their website at https://www.zestfriendz.com/.