Our idea going into this was to make an essential listicle of places where you can find ice cream after dark, and even late at night. But this is Greater Boston, where you’re lucky if you can find a bar—or, god forbid, a place to eat—after midnight. With that said, we still found it important enough to take a snapshot of the cream scene beyond the traditional beloved joints like J.P. Licks in 2019.
Taiyaki NYC, Seaport
You may have heard about this famous NYC-born Japanese ice cream and waffle shop, which recently opened on Seaport Boulevard to much hype. Popular for its colorful soft serve and cones shaped like fish, Taiyaki crosses tradition and innovation with its desserts, bringing sprinkles and souffle pancakes to Boston’s fastest-growing neighborhood, if you can call it that.
Honeycomb Creamery, Porter Square
A stone’s throw from the Porter Square T stop on Mass Ave is Honeycomb, an ice cream shop that boasts its locally sourced ingredients and outlandish flavors (Honey Lavender is actually on its permanent menu). It also celebrates Taco Tuesdays with rotating flavors of Choco Tacos, so yeah, this is something that you’ll want to check out in the next few months.
New City Microcreamery, Central Square
Known for its challenging prices as well as inventive flavors and toppings, New City stocks its cases with some of the most clever cream flavors in the region: Tarragon, Peanut Butter Banana Fluff, and Strawberry Basil are all in its flavor profile. As an added bonus, it has a number of eclectic toppings—scoopers call ’em “Funk”—including must-munch coconut guava clusters.
Lizzy’s Ice Cream, Harvard Square
To go a more classic route, Lizzy’s just outside Harvard Square offers more traditional scoops and swirls with your typical candy bar chunks as toppings. A standout on its menu is its adult flavors like Baileys or Rum Raisin. Lizzy’s is open for the warm season, meant to be a counter where you can take your ice cream into the square.
Gigi Gelateria, North End
At the mouth of the North End on Hanover Street is Boston’s most iconic gelato shop, Gigi Gelateria. You may already know this, but it almost felt wrong to leave this spot out. It’s perfect for a post-dinner walk, and while we don’t want to get too far off topic, it also offers worthwhile cannoli and pastry for anyone who is sick of the standards. Gigi is open until midnight, but if you’re in the area later than that and still hankering for something cold, just head down the block to Caffé Paradiso. It’s open till 2 am, offering a range of drinks and desserts including an extensive list of specialty cocktails.
The Scoop N Scootery, Arlington
Having started as a ragtag ice cream truck startup, Scoop N Scootery has evolved into a premier late-night ice cream option for Arlington residents. You can get a simple scoop or one of its many signature sundaes, and for those still conscious of their figures, it also offers a vast range of frozen yogurt goodies. While the ice cream is good, its homemade whipped cream may be the real star. And there’s more good news—Scoop N Scootery is open until 2 am from Tuesday through Saturday.
Milk Bar, Harvard Square
Have you tasted the hype yet? As foodies know, Milk Bar was founded by celebrity baker Christina Tosi, and her shops boast a creative menu that can only be found in six cities across the globe. The Harvard Square location is the only one in New England, and while it’s mainly known for cake and cookies, we only care about the cream, which doesn’t disappoint. Milk Bar’s two main soft serves, cereal milk and compost cookie, are uniquely tasteful standouts. It also has an even wider selection of brightly flavored milkshakes and is open until 1 am from Thursday through Saturday.
Recommendations from the comics who grub in places week in and week out
Going out for a fun night on the town is a big deal. Anytime you have to leave the house is a big deal. Making plans, finding people to go out with, coordinating schedules, travel, parking, and sitters (if you’re the unfortunate type to have kids, or that weirdo pet parent who doesn’t leave their doggo alone).
If one single thing goes wrong, it runs the risk of ruining the fun night out. And for some, the food’s the most important part. For others, it’s all about just going to a new restaurant. I’m more of the dinner and a show type of guy myself; I want to see a good show and eat a solid meal (unless I am the show, in which case I’m probably shoving down some form of cheap comfort food to make me feel happy before going on stage).
Even for comedians, what we eat is important. Some comedy clubs include a meal in addition to cash payment (some shows pay only in food). Oftentimes, there are restrictions for performers—like only this side of the menu, or they just send deep fried everything your way. Which may leave a comic feeling bloated or sluggish.
I asked a bunch of local comedians who are putting on their own shows in Boston what food they eat when they are out, and what they recommend. The fun of this, at least in part, was watching people skilled in the art of telling dick jokes talk about grub like pretentious Food Network judges.
Everyone hates Mondays. Even after work there’s the traditional task of making drink plans with someone rando from a dating app. Fortunately, Cityside Comedy in Cleveland Circle makes the start of the week a little less bad. This show is becoming one of the best mainstays in the local comedy scene, as well as for rising, soon-to-be-star headliners from across the country (past performers include Jeff Ross, Tim Dillon, Emma Williams, and more).
Everything on Cityside’s menu is excellently done; in fact, its Buffalo chicken dips are the best I’ve ever had. However, producer and co-showrunner Sam Ike tells visiting comedians about a different dish. “We typically recommend the salmon to our headliners. It’s light and citrusy and served with jasmine rice and asparagus that complement it excellently.”
Much like seafood, going to an open mic can be a little tricky. You never know what you’re going to get. It can be something brilliant and original, or something gross. Just like with the performers. Wednesdays at Tavern at the End of the World is one of the longest-running Greater Boston open mics. Here you’ll get every type of comic in a single night, from nervous, sweaty newbs doing their first sets to drop-ins by heritage performers like Jimmy Tingle (who recently was on an episode of HBO’s Veep, by the way). And when it comes to the food at Tavern, Phoebe Angle, the host and queen of eye-rolling misogynistic jokes, goes for the fish and chips. “It’s an Irish place, you gotta!” she says. She also notes that Tavern has plenty of vegan options, like the veggie curry.
This next one is the last seafood item I’m going to mention, promise. On Thursdays, the guys from Comedy Party take over the downstairs dining room of Osaka in Brookline for a comedy experience that rivals most produced shows in the city and beyond. Each week Alex Giampapa, Ben Quick, and Dennis Casey curate a specifically detailed show—from the performers to music to even the lighting. So it is no wonder the dish they would recommend is one of the most expert-necessary dishes to put together, sushi. The Love Boat entree is a 32-piece mini-mountain of food with 12 assorted pieces of sushi and 18 sashimi slices, a California roll, a tuna roll, and miso soup. Bring a friend.
Now for something totally different. Well, there’s nothing different about pizza, but the comedy debate show produced by Unscene Comedy every Friday at Maggy’s Lounge certainly is. Pick a Side Stupid is a live improvised comedy debate show and podcast taping, where comedians are pitted against one another to defend a stance they just found out they’re on. Host Shawn Carter (who is well aware he has the same name as Jay Z, so stop emailing him thinking you’re reaching the Jiggaman), a group of comedians, and regular audience members submit topics and questions for each show. The battles can get heated, much like the Blazing Buffalo Pizza, which comes topped with hot sauce, jalapeno, and blue cheese crumbles. “All week I look forward to Friday, mostly for this pizza,” Carter says.
Of course, some people prefer multiple small dishes. For that crowd, I recommend the White Bull Tavern in Faneuil Hall, where Hideout Comedy pops up on Fridays and Saturdays. Their wings are perfectly crispy thanks to being fried in duck fat. Poultry fried in the fat of more poultry. What a fowl inception. Pure madness to go with so much hilarity.
It can be interesting to track how some restaurants become popular spots while others never become household names. In some cases (such as, say, Hojoko in the Fenway), the places have a ton of anticipation before they even open and they never seem to lose that momentum once they’re up and running, while others start relatively small (think Tatte or Flour) and then start to expand, introducing their outlets to more and more people over time until everyone seems to know about them.
And then there are those like A&B Burgers that have humble beginnings but catch on for any number of reasons, in this case transforming from a little-known restaurant in an obscure location to a big name that’s suddenly located in the heart of Boston. A recent first look at A&B sheds some light into how this may have happened and why the future may continue to be bright for it.
Back in late 2013, a restaurant called Great Escape was leaving its rather unusual home on the ground floor of the Salem Jail complex on the North Shore, being replaced by a brand new quick-service burger and beer place called A&B Salem. Its out-of-the-way location on St. Peter Street made it a bit of a hidden gem, but its days of obscurity appeared to be over when owner Thomas Holland and former co-owner Amy Constant decided to move the business out of the jail, leaving in the summer of 2015 and reopening in a larger and more visible space in Beverly in early 2016—and also becoming more of a full-service restaurant in the process.
A&B quickly started to take off in this location, being known for its inventive takes on burgers and other dishes while also placing a serious focus on service. As its reputation started to grow, there were rumblings about a second location coming—possibly to Boston—and in the spring of 2018 it was announced that a new A&B Burgers would be coming to the North Station/West End area of Boston, ironically in a residential building across from the Garden called the Beverly. The restaurant debuted approximately three months ago, and A&B officially went from being a counter-service spot in a hidden North Shore location to a front-and-center dining and drinking place in one of the hottest parts of the city.
The new location of A&B Burgers is in a part of Boston that seems to be changing by the week; what was once a gritty and at times dangerous area decades ago has now changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable but still with pieces of the “old” Boston in place. And unbeknownst to some, the area around North Station actually has a waterfront, but it wasn’t really being used for much until recently, so the upgrading of the areas along the Charles River (near where it empties into Boston Harbor) combined with the development of Lovejoy Wharf and Portal Park and the opening of such waterfront places as Alcove and Night Shift has turned this into a bit of a destination spot, with A&B right in the heart of it. (By the way, when you drop down from the Zakim Bridge into the O’Neill Tunnel, you can see the restaurant front and center just before going underground.)
The new location of A&B is a mix of rustic and industrial, with high ceilings; lots of exposed brick, pipes, and beams; and a mix of wood and wood-colored vinyl helping give the space an earthy feel. A large bar and lounge area sits off to the right while a dining room can be found to the left. As might be expected with such an open space, the restaurant can be whisper-quiet when few are there but very, very loud when busy—and if you don’t like busy places, it might be best to come here on an afternoon when there aren’t any Celtics or Bruins games taking place, and no special events at the Garden for that matter.
A number of classic comfort food items can be had at A&B Burgers, but perhaps because of its name—or maybe because of the unique way they are made (more on that in a minute)—it seems that the burgers are really the main thing here. The all-natural meat used here comes from a farm up in Maine, though premium Wagyu meat from Colorado is also available for a slightly higher price. The burgers are made using a special kind of oven called a CAVP that allows them to be slow-cooked and have moisture added to the meat while the patties also get finished with a sear on the outside.
Based on a couple of burgers tried here, it seems pretty clear what the fuss is all about, since the two burgers were among the best tried anywhere in the Boston area over the past couple of years at the very least, which is saying a lot considering how many burgers that includes. Beyond the burgers, a number of small plates and entrees are also offered at A&B, including such “elevated comfort food” standbys as scotch eggs, baked brie, cheese and charcuterie boards, fried Brussels sprouts, house-made potato chips, pork chops, and chicken and waffles. The beer, wine, spirits, and cocktail lists are extensive and pretty impressive, especially when a few adult milkshake options are added to the mix. Prices are generally moderate for food and drink, with the burgers mainly being on either side of $15 depending on toppings and whether you go for the Wagyu, which will bring the price up to around $20.
A&B Burgers has come a long way from its rather inauspicious beginnings north of Boston to its star status in the heart of Boston over the course of the past several years. It should be interesting to see what’s next for the place, as it has the feel of a restaurant that could continue to expand to at least one or two other locations (or maybe even more). Time will tell as far as that is concerned, but for now, the brand new A&B by North Station has a pretty special feel to it and will also need to be tried for its other food items at some point, that is if it’s even possible to get beyond its exquisite burgers.
Remembering the Tasty and “bohemian free-for-alls”
Harvard Square has forever been a durable destination with a significant variety of coffee shops, bars, diners, boutiques, and music venues, not to mention some of the best new and used book and record shops in the region. That’s more or less the case these days, even though the area is a mere shadow of itself. Harvard Square, of course, saw its notoriety grow in the late ’60s, as hippies, hustlers, and everyone in between became part of the milieu and common culture.
You could pen a book about the legacy and the importance of this corner of the world, and indeed more than a few people have. One of them, writer Mo Lotman, noted in his 2009 book, Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950, “Beginning in 1968, [Cambridge] Common was transformed every warm Sunday afternoon into a bohemian free-for-all, with drum circles, bead-sellers, tranced-out dancers, and a ton of pot.”
As these things go, through the years old-timers have insisted that the Harvard Square of their day was the way it’s truly meant to be. The Boomer thesis typically goes, You should have seen Harvard Square when it was a square. Or, Today it’s a corporate wasteland. You should have seen it in the ’60s and ’70s, back in my day!
And of course boomers love telling their friends and family members all the tall tales that sprung out of so many legendary Cambridge locales that have left us: the Idler, the Oxford Ale House, the list goes on. There were daily double bills for a dollar at the Harvard Square Theatre, foreign films on JFK Street in another movie house that is no longer, cool used clothes at the Pennsylvania Company, and coffee at the Blue Parrot, where writers filled the tables. Let’s also not forget about Baileys Ice Cream or roast beef at Elsie’s Sandwich Shop. Oh, and of course the venerable Tasty…
Taken from this world in the late ’90s and turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch—a development that till this day peeves many square vets, the loss being one of those perfect early symbols of accelerated gentrification in retrospect—the Tasty was a one-room diner that was about 30 feet long and a quarter that wide. Customers ate burgers and dogs on a yellow linoleum counter that had 16 stools, and somehow busy nights managed to draw 60 to 80 people at a time. On those busy evenings, they could serve anywhere between 300 and 400 patties between midnight and 4 am.
The informal atmosphere and friendly staff at the Tasty drew in longtime residents, college students, and working people. Though it may not seem like such a big deal these days, back then it was one of the few places where locals and visitors from different social and economic classes easily mixed.
Around the mid-’90s, the owner of the building that housed the Tasty, Cambridge Savings Bank, decided to cash in on the chain store boom coming to Harvard Square. Higher rents and changing times forced the owner’s hand, and despite vocal protests from the Harvard Square Defense Fund—as well as from Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi—the joint shut its doors for good in 1997. Gone but always remembered as a spot where you could fill up for cheap around good people.
Today, it’s a row of ATM machines.
Parts of this throwback have been previously published by Dirty Old Boston. This Dirty Old Boston feature is a collaboration between DigBoston, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and Dirty Old Boston. For more local history visit binjonline.org and dirtyoldboston.com.
A tiny restaurant with big (and at times extremely spicy) flavors
You know that famous Mark Twain quote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”? Well, he didn’t exactly say that, but that’s another story for another day. The quote, however, can be used in a slightly different way to characterize the Arlington food scene, as in you don’t (or do) think much of it, but wait a bit and it’ll change.
Over the past several decades, Arlington has gone from being a town of sub shops and pizza joints to a town of interesting restaurants back to a town full of sub shops and pizza joints and back again, and in between, the town has sometimes had the scourge of lots of empty storefronts just waiting to be filled by new dining spots. The restaurant scene in this northwest suburb of Boston continues to change these days, and whether it’s for the better or for the worse pretty much depends on the person you’re talking to at the time. But there are some constants in town, including Jimmy’s Steer House, which has been around forever and which continues to serve up solid old-school dishes at moderate prices, and a handful of other spots that have stood the test of time (and in many cases, increasing rents), with one of the better ones being Thai Moon, an unassuming little eatery that’s virtually unknown outside of the immediate area but which has its fair share of followers who live nearby.
Arlington is one of the few good-sized towns you’ll find that doesn’t have a mall or a shopping center, so as you might expect, most of the businesses are quite small in size, and Thai Moon is about as small as you can get and still be a full-service restaurant. The interior is a bit less bare bones than when it first opened years ago, and with an ownership change earlier in the decade and upgrades to its dining area, the restaurant has while not quite a romantic feel to it, a little more of a cozy charm than before that makes it a fine place for a date. The lack of indoor space and the fact that there’s a municipal parking lot behind it—and 15 minutes of free parking along the street—helps make Thai Moon a popular spot for takeout, and much of its business is indeed of the to-go variety, though in the end, it feels like more of a true sit-down restaurant because of the updates to the space.
For some diners, Thai food begins and ends with pad Thai, and while there is so much more to Thai cuisine than this dish, it’s often what brings people to Thai Moon and other similar spots. You would think that a seemingly simple comfort food dish such as this one would pretty much be the same from place to place, but it isn’t, as some versions can be bland or have an unpleasant taste because the ingredients aren’t balanced correctly, but Thai Moon’s has been—and continues to be—one of the best northwest of Boston. The standard pad Thai has a perfect mix of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, and you can get it with shrimp, chicken, or both, or as a vegetarian version with or without tofu, all of which are solid choices.
There’s plenty more at Thai Moon than just pad Thai, of course, including pork and veggie dumplings that can be ordered steamed or deep-fried (the fried ones can be a little dried out, so steamed may be the route to go); savory Thai pancakes that are made with rice and stuffed with scallions; a mellow tofu soup with chicken; a slightly spicy tom yum soup with lemongrass; a fiery hot chicken basil fried rice dish that can be toned down slightly if you ask in advance; drunken noodles (also known as noodles kee mao), which have the type of heat that can really sneak up on you; a mild massaman curry with sweet potatoes; and a wonderful version of country-style noodles, which is a good option if you love the taste of pad Thai but prefer wide, flat noodles instead.
Some specialty Thai dishes are also offered at Thai Moon, including a chili fish with tamarind sauce, shrimp in a pot with glass noodles, a deep-fried half duck with peanut sauce, and a stir-fried haddock with basil. Prices are pretty moderate, with most dinners costing between $10 and $20, and service is what you’d expect at a tiny family-run spot—low-key and friendly.
It seems like ever since Thai Moon opened more than 15 years ago, there has been chatter among locals that it wasn’t going to make it and that it was always about to close, but the place remains open and appears to be doing pretty well, which can’t be said for some other places in Arlington, as the town’s dining scene seems to be in constant flux. It might not be the biggest or best dining spot in the northwest suburbs, but Thai Moon continues to be a consistently good restaurant that just keeps on puttering along.
Breweries continue to open up all over Greater Boston and elsewhere in New England, and they run the gamut from bare-bones facilities with award-winning beers (think Alchemist in Stowe, VT), to incredibly appealing spaces with beers you might not have heard of (for instance, Stone Corral in Richmond, VT), to sprawling multi-purpose spaces with excellent food to go along with top-quality brews (Jack’s Abby in Framingham).
Then there are breweries that don’t really feel like breweries, instead seeming to be more like cozy beer halls or old-fashioned pubs. Democracy Brewing in Downtown Crossing appears to fall into this category, and if early impressions are any indication, it has the potential to be a classic “old-Boston” spot even though it’s only been around since last July 4.
After more than a year of planning and construction, Democracy Brewing opened last summer in the former Windsor Button building on Temple Place. The space has the exact kind of charm that you would expect from an historic building in the heart of the city (the knitting and craft shop had been in that space for nearly 80 years). The rather anonymous exterior hides a vastly appealing interior that includes a long bar with communal tables running alongside it, a somewhat dramatic mural in the front area where a few tables are set up, more tables along the right wall that have wonderful old lights above them , a tiny “snug” beyond the bar that’s perfect for a small group looking for privacy, another small area at the very back end of the space, and an events/function room back and to the right, with its entrance consisting of an enormous doorway that you might see in an old bank or a theater. Dark woods and exposed brick also add to the charm, with the overall vibe being an interesting mix of German beer hall, Irish pub, and old-Boston watering hole.
If you’re wondering where the brewery part of the place is, just look down as you walk in. You’ll see all the tanks and other equipment on the lower level that becomes (mostly) hidden once you move farther into the main room. But there’s more than simply beer here; Democracy Brewing is one of an increasing number of breweries that focuses on both food and drink, unlike some that only offer snacks and/or have food trucks visit. The beer remains the main reason to come here for many though, and most of the ever-changing brews are quite good, with a couple of the highlights being the 1919 Strike, an outstanding oatmeal stout that’s smooth and with a hint of chocolate, and the Consummate Rioter, an IPA that has both the bitterness you might expect from a West Coast beer, as well as the citrusy tanginess that’s more common in New England.
Other options (that DigBoston missed on earlier visits) include More Than a Feeling, a tart and sour beer with a strong cherry taste; Rising of the Moon, an easy-to-drink Irish red ale; Heartbreak Hill, a Beligan-style ale that has a robust sweetness to it; Fighting 54th, a saison with a surprisingly sharp taste coming from lemongrass and clove; and Cellar Door, an English bitter ale that’s fairly low in alcohol and has hints of pine and black tea (they offer flights if you want to sample).
Food offerings at Democracy include your usual bar snacks like pickled veggies, ranch popcorn, tortilla chips and guacamole, pizza bagels (a popular item here), and fries. You can get entrees as well, including fish and chips, a fisherman’s stew, and shepherd’s pie with lamb. The items tried over the course of a couple of visits were very impressive for a brewery, with the beef barley soup having loads of barley and almost being a meal on its own. The macaroni and cheese, meanwhile, was of the old-school variety, and includes delicious cubes of lardon-style bacon that more places should offer. There’s also an excellent six-ounce burger served with Vermont cheddar and a house-made bun, as well as a breaded and charred chicken schnitzel that practically screams out “beer hall,” just like the massive beer pretzel that comes with ranch dressing, mustard, and onion dip.
Prices for food and drink are mostly reasonable, and servers are both friendly and efficient to a fault. This should come as no surprise, as Democracy Brewing is worker-owned and “democratically governed,” while management is focused on the space itself becoming some type of community center.
The local brewery scene is fascinating, in part because breweries tend to be so different from each other. Among the mix, Democracy Brewing seems to be particularly different—in part because it feels more like a typical historic Boston bar than a place where people make beer. There may be better spots for house-made brew in New England, and better places for food in the city, but there aren’t many places where good food, good beer, and great atmosphere meet, which makes this a place to watch and enjoy as more and more people discover it.
It seems like so many new restaurants that open up these days give off an aura of anticipation, from passing the final inspection to a soft opening for friends and family to a grand opening, which sometimes even has a ribbon cutting. Not all new dining spots are that way, however, as some forgo the endless press releases, the tweets and Facebook posts that give a countdown, and the reaching out to those of us who write about such things to say that opening day is soon arriving. As a result, some restaurants debut and immediately become a spot mainly just for the immediate neighborhood, since no one else ever gets to know about them. This seems to be the case with a relatively new place in Roslindale called 753 South, which is so far under the radar that it is basically invisible to most Bostonians, but based on initial impressions of the eating and drinking spot, we may be looking at something truly special here.
The restaurant sits across the street from the wonderful Delfino, an Italian spot whose team opened this place in the middle of 2017. Being that it is affiliated with Delfino—which rivals some of the best restaurants in the North End, by the way—753 South is in some ways an “overflow”spot where people can grab a drink while waiting for a table. But it’s really more of a standalone restaurant than an extension of its sibling, and much like Delfino, it has a somewhat elegant but unpretentious feel to it.
Inside you will find a gorgeous little bar to the right, another bar area front and center that looks out at an open kitchen, and plenty of high-top and low-top seating throughout along with a small patio out back for during the warmer months. In some ways, the window tables in the very front are the pick of the lot for seating (although both bar areas are great as well), but be forewarned that on particularly cold nights, the curtain that you walk through to get into the place doesn’t keep all of the frigid air out whenever the doors opens.
Inventive comfort food and new American fare are all the rage these days, and as mentioned here before, both terms are used way too much (it is particularly difficult for fish and chips to be inventive, for instance), but 753 South certainly has some interesting twists on comfort food items. One such example may just be one of the most unusual—and one of the most mind-blowingly delicious—items in the entire region, as the polenta goat cheese Twinkie is something that may initially make you say, “Huh?” but after one bite you won’t be saying much of anything until it’s all gone.
Looking almost exactly like a Twinkie but savory rather than sweet, the dense and mild-tasting exterior “cake” balances perfectly with the slight tanginess of the creamy goat cheese, and the marinara and, especially, the pesto served with the dish only add to the goodness. The Twinkie is so over-the-top special that ordering two (or three) and calling it a meal would certainly be acceptable, but a look around the rest of the menu shows some other impressive options, including roasted Brussels sprouts—an item on special that seems to be offered at more and more places, but this version is especially tasty with the addition of pancetta, which adds some salty goodness to the dish.
Chicken under a brick is another item that is everywhere these days, though not all of them are worth getting, but 753 South does a terrific job with this one, as the chicken is firm but not overly dry while the smashed potatoes that come with it seem almost like stuffing with a particularly lumpy texture and some herbs and spices added. The restaurant also offers sandwiches at dinnertime, which more places really should do in case people want a somewhat lighter meal or don’t have money to burn, and a highlight here is the Cuban, which includes delicious slow-roasted pork along with ham, Gruyere cheese, chipotle mayo, and pickles, all of which are stuffed into a delicious flatbread—and while nothing will ever compare to the Cuban sandwiches at the long-closed Chez Henri in Cambridge, this one actually comes pretty close.
Drink choices at 753 South include a limited but solid beer list (Jack’s Abby House Lager, Night Shift Whirlpool, and Maine Beer Peeper Ale are a few options), a decent wine list that focuses in part on West Coast options, and twists on such familiar cocktails as gimlets, daiquiris, and whiskey smashes. Prices for food and drink are plenty reasonable considering that this place has an upscale vibe to it, with small plates being on either side of $10, some of the main courses being under $20, and the beers being as low as $4.
Roslindale continues to be one of the most interesting sections of Boston for dining, but many of the restaurants here remain mostly little known, and in the case of 753 South, nearly completely unknown. Whether it’s the generic name (and please don’t ask for the address for the place), the very quiet opening back in 2017, or the overall lack of marketing, this is certainly no Giacomo’s or Eastern Standard when it comes to name recognition, but it definitely seems to be a restaurant worth seeking out no matter where in the Boston area you live.
753 SOUTH. 753 SOUTH ST., ROSLINDALE. 753SOUTH.COM
Not really a speakeasy, but a great neighborhood bar
Chances are, when a bar calls itself a speakeasy, it’s really not, since not too many bars from the Prohibition era still exist. But it doesn’t really matter that they use this label, as many if not most of them are great places for hanging out simply because of the atmosphere, whether truly authentic or not. One good example of this is a watering hole in North Cambridge called Joe Sent Me, which resides in a charming old space and has the feel of a Prohibition-era bar when in reality, it had once been home to at least one very scary dive. But JSM is anything but scary, and it has the type of old-school atmosphere found at such legendary spots as Doyle’s and J.J. Foley’s. And it also has a decent enough food and drink selection to make all but maybe the pickiest people happy.
Joe Sent Me sits along a mini-restaurant row on Mass Ave a few blocks from the Arlington line, within walking distance of Qingdao Garden, Suvaai, Shega Cafe, Hana Sushi, Greek Corner, Frank’s Steak House, Fiorella’s Express, the Table at Season to Taste, and UpperWest (which is technically on Cedar Street). But oddly enough, this is the only true bar along this stretch of road, which actually used to house several local drinking joints years ago, including the Lion’s Den, the aforementioned scary bar that was once in Joe Sent Me’s space and which was not exactly for the faint of heart.
As mentioned earlier, this isn’t a place to be wary of by any means; instead it’s a simple spot to have a bite to eat and a drink in the dining areas or maybe a round or two at the bar while watching a game or listening to music on the jukebox. The front and rear dining sections (and the short hallway that connects the two) are where the historic-feeling “speakeasy” vibe tend to come through the strongest, with the tin ceiling, exposed brick, dark woods, and various memorabilia, knick-knacks, and pictures—including some great ones of Dean Martin, Mick Jagger, and Paul Newman—adding a ton of character to the space. One thing that is definitely not a feature of a true speakeasy is the large windows in the front dining room, but these are great for doing some always-interesting people-watching along Mass Ave.
When it comes to food, places that go with a speakeasy theme run the gamut from elevated comfort food (like the wonderful Lucky’s Lounge in Boston’s Fort Point) to places with limited food options that instead focus on beverages (the renowned Drink in Fort Point comes to mind) to pub grub and American classics. Joe Sent Me is firmly entrenched in this last category, offering great but simple takes on burgers, steak tips, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese, fajitas, hand-cut fries, and wings.
For standouts, the burgers and wings are especially impressive here, with the wings challenging some of the best found in the Greater Boston area, though perhaps not quite at the level of the legendary Buff’s Pub in Newton Corner. Drinks are similarly simple and straightforward at Joe Sent Me, with the beer list including a mix of mass-market options and craft brews from New England and beyond, while basic cocktails and shots are a good bet (but don’t come here looking for specialty drinks like you might find at Lucky’s or Drink because it’s not that kind of place). Prices are very reasonable for nearly everything, though if you start doing shots of certain whiskeys (and they do have some good whiskeys here), the bill can go up pretty quickly.
Let’s face it—Joe Sent Me didn’t exist in the 1920s and people have never had to give a password out front or go through a curtained door or winding staircase to get in. But when you come right down to it, who cares, really, that the speakeasy theme is just that—a theme—because the bottom line is, this is a cozy and comfortable neighborhood spot that has good food, decent drinks, and the type of atmosphere that’s about as far from the generic chains as you can get. And when you really think about it, what more do you want from a neighborhood bar? For some of us, at least, not a whole lot more than what JSM has to offer. [Ed note: Joe Sent Me can also be found on Main Street in Waltham.]
JOE SENT ME. 2388 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. JOE-SENT-ME.COM/CAMBRIDGE
We still don’t know everything that happened when Olivia Ambrose was abducted after she left Hennessy’s, a bar and live music venue near Faneuil Hall, last month. But what we do know, without a doubt, is this: What happened to her was preventable. There were countless opportunities for someone—a bartender, someone working security, someone who saw her outside, another partier, a friend—to say, Hey, are you ok? Or, Can I help you?
But no one did. I won’t pretend to know why, exactly, no one checked on her between the bar and the walk to the State Street T stop, but I can make a pretty good guess: No one wanted to stick their nose where it didn’t belong.
As humans, as Americans, perhaps most stringently as Bostonians, we are conditioned to leave well enough alone, mind our own business. To not stir the pot. Many of us squirm at the thought of asking a stranger for directions, let alone asking a drunk stranger if they’re comfortable in their surroundings.
This has to stop. Feeling awkward is just not a good excuse for bystander apathy or lack of intervention. It is every single person’s responsibility as a decent human being to check on the well-being of people around you. If you see something, say something, man.
But determining when and how to intervene as a bystander, a witness to a possibly dangerous scenario, can be tough—Does she know him? Is he just kidding? Can I say something if I don’t work here? What the hell do I say? Which is why on Monday, Feb 25, OFFSITE, a local cocktail events/catering/education organization, is bringing Green Dot Bystander Intervention Training to the local restaurant industry.
“Harassment and sexual violence can happen in any space, it’s not something that’s unique to the service industry by any means, but we deal with cultivating spaces,” Nick Korn, OFFSITE co-founder said.
“We’re trying to not just create a good time but a safe space.”
Green Dot Training takes place across the country and across all industries (one of its largest clients is the US Navy), bringing skilled facilitators into the workplace or classroom to lead participants through a series of admittedly difficult conversations and roleplay scenarios.
“This is going to be a well-run program that allows people to talk about important things in a safe and frank way and see the other members of the community as potential collaborators and making changes when needed and talking about identifying situations that are toxic or not safe,” Korn said.
“We care a lot about making spaces safe,” Andrea Pentabona, general manager of Variety Bar, said. “It was important to all of us to train our staff to be open and communicative around these issues. It’s a personal responsibility, not just following the law but a social responsibility.”
“This is hugely important for our industry,” Pentabona said. “I’m passionate about this topic and I know my staff and my friends in the bartending community are passionate about it. This is a chance for us to come together and go about being active bystanders as a united front.”
Predatory behavior is only ever the fault of one person—the predator. Still, a lot of people failed Olivia Ambrose the night she went missing.
Again, if you see something, say something.
And if you work in the restaurant industry, come to Variety Bar on Monday afternoon and sharpen the tools you have for saying that something.
A few years ago, I introduced a list of lesser-known, unpretentious places for couples to go to for Valentine’s Day (and for date nights in general), looking at such cozy and mellow spots as the Ashmont Grill in Dorchester and 75 Chestnut in Beacon Hill.
Well, that special day is once again approaching, so it seems like a good time to identify more restaurants and bars that are particularly good date-night places. As was the case last time, this is not a list for those who want to spend a ton of money, hang with beautiful people, or wait in line for hours; instead, the focus is mainly on quiet, laid-back, and, yes, at least somewhat romantic spots in and around the city.
Bocelli’s, South Medford
There’s always something special about an old-school Italian red-sauce joint that’s tucked away in a lesser-traveled area, and this friendly place in the heart of an old Italian neighborhood is certainly one of those restaurants. And while the upstairs area is kind of a mix where you can hang for coffee, dine in, or do takeout, a better bet is to take the narrow staircase to the right down into the basement where there is a very old-feeling dining area that feels more like a private club than a public dining spot. Here you can enjoy some eggplant parm, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, and more while hearing servers call people “honey,” and there’s a good chance you’ll hear some cheesy lounge music over the speakers.
OK, so when you’re talking about a golf course restaurant, that can often mean that a) it’s overpriced, b) it’s not very good, and c) you might run into a meathead or two, but in the case of this hilltop space literally in the middle of nowhere, it’s a bit different from your typical 19th-hole clubhouse, though no guarantees that you won’t encounter someone bragging about the hole-in-one they just got (Ed. note: They didn’t). And what puts the Tavern at Granite Links—which is also called the Tavern at Quarry Hills—over the top is its location high above Quincy, nearby Milton, and Boston just a few miles to the north, with spectacular views of the city skyline and the ocean from the dining area. Maybe it doesn’t seem so romantic eating at a golf course, but the views alone at this one should add just a bit of romance to the overall dining experience.
Everyone seems to know about the classically elegant Parker’s Restaurant within the Omni Parker House in downtown Boston, and many others (especially lovers of whiskey) know about the Last Hurrah just down the hall from the restaurant, but did you know that there’s a third place in this beautiful old-world hotel? Parker’s Bar doesn’t seem to get much press, but couples looking for a bit of a getaway in the heart of the city might want to consider this spot, which is tucked away off a staircase above both the restaurant and the whiskey bar and offers the option of dining or sipping on alcoholic beverages (or both). Comfort food and upscale pub grub are front and center here, as well as Parker’s legendary Boston cream pie.
A real hidden gem that resides in a rather fascinating building, this casual upscale restaurant has the feel of a destination spot in some ways. It might seem strange dining in a massive old watch factory, but the structure—which sits along a quiet part of the Charles River—has been completely renovated and has tons of character both inside and out, including the space in which Brelundi can be found. Expect to see mostly Italian dishes here, with a focus in part on Sicilian fare and Italian seafood items; the prices are actually quite reasonable with many dishes being around or under $20, so there’s no worries about breaking the bank while on a date at this eatery.
OK, so maybe going to a distillery might not seem like the best plan for a quiet evening with a loved one, but this relatively new spot near Newmarket Square and the Expressway feels slightly more grown-up than some of the other beer, cider, and spirits places in and around Boston. Its rather rough-looking industrial exterior doesn’t really hint as to what’s inside, which is a somewhat upscale and very colorful tasting room that includes funky bench seats, stylish carpeting, hanging lights, and a warm and inviting bar area where patrons can sample whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, and amaro. Bully Boy is a true hideaway that’s a great spot to hit on your way to dinner with that someone special, or just as a standalone spot if you’re both into adult beverages.
What is more romantic than sipping on cappuccino and eating biscotti in an old Italian cafe on a cold winter night? Well, taking a two-week trip to Hawaii might be just a little bit nicer, but it’s somewhat easier and a whole lot cheaper to head over to Hanover Street in the North End instead. And for those who like historic “old Boston” spots, Vittoria is about as good as it gets, with tons of atmosphere thanks to its pressed tin ceiling, murals on the walls, and lots of little nooks and crannies within its several rooms. If you’re on a date and looking for a place to go before dinner—or after dinner, for that matter—there are few choices better than this one.