Panorama surveys Boston’s sizzling summer dining scene—al fresco and otherwise
by Andrew King
|Be our guest—Summer dining hotspots include (from the top) Todd English’s Kingfish Hall at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Jasper White’s Summer Shack near Alewife in Cambridge and East Coast Grill in Inman Square in Cambridge.|
New Englanders have a love-hate relationship with the seasons. Discussing the weather here is not just “small talk”—it directly effects our lives, our temperament, our plans, our businesses. Summertime not only brings warmer weather and longer sunlight—it also awakens something in us that is life-affirming. For local restaurants, this means opening windows, doors and patios in the spirit of Parisienne sidewalk cafes. For the chefs, summer means fresh new ingredients and lively dishes to complement the playfulness of the season. For diners, it means everything from people watching to picnic tables; from fried clams to dandelion greens.
And thanks to a recent city ordinance, nearly every eatery in town can make use of public sidewalks in front of their establishments in the name of summer fun. But this doesn’t mean that as soon as you see an umbrella and some white plastic chairs you’ve found the right place. That’s why Panorama is shining the light on 20 of Beantown’s best bets for those dreamy days of summer dining. Here are our suggestions in alphabetical order.
You could say that 29 Newbury (29 Newbury St., 617-536-0290) is a sort of eat-in art gallery, considering all the works by local artists that adorn the walls, to say nothing of the impeccable New American cuisine. This laid-back but classy Newbury Street fave boasts an outdoor cafe that attracts a gaggle of local glitterati.
At the Barking Crab, (88 Sleeper St., Northern Ave. Bridge, 617-426-CRAB) you’ll feel like you’re at a Route 1 lobster shack on the coast of Maine, what with the overhead tent, picnic tables and barn wood floor. That is, until you catch the full view of downtown Boston and its towering skyscrapers. This is a must-see for visitors, and a favorite among local seafood lovers.
There’s a little piece of Mexico in the Back Bay. At Casa Romero (30 Gloucester St., between Newbury and Commonwealth, 617-536-4341), the bright Talavera tiles come directly from Puebla, Mexico, and the romantic atmosphere would have made Don Quixote proud. Try some of the best Mexican food in Boston in the quaint romance of Romero’s summertime courtyard retreat.
The regional Italian fare that has made the Newbury Street location a local favorite also treats diners along the Charles River to one of the most elegant outdoor cafes in the area. Davio’s (5 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, 617-262-4810) is ideal for romantic summertime dining, with spectacular views of the Boston skyline.
East Coast Grill
The popularity of award-winning chef and cookbook author Chris Schlesinger’s venerable East Coast Grill (1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 491-6568) has never been stronger. And the lines for dinner, never longer. Turning almost everything, especially fish, into a masterpiece on the grill, Schlesinger’s spicy concoctions make for a perfect summertime meal.
|High and Low—The multi-level dining experience at the North End’s latest addition, Fiore (top), offers traditional Italian cuisine in a large, comfortable setting; The Barking Crab is a clam-shack-in-the-city, and a favorite among visitors and locals alike.|
Rooftop dining in the North End? Believe it or not, in the usually cramped confines of Boston’s beloved Little Italy, the recently opened Ristorante Fiore (250 Hanover St., 617-371-1176) offers an open-air roof deck for diners at this new, three-floor bastion of delicious regional Italian flavors. Summer dining in the North End just got a little bit hipper.
Husband and wife team Gordon and Fiona Hamersley put South End dining on the map, inspiring the influx of other bistro-style eateries for years to come when they opened Hamersley’s Bistro (553 Tremont St., 617-423-2700) in the mid-’80s. Award-winning chef Gordon Hamersley’s French-American dishes are regarded as some of the best in the city. Its outdoor patio overlooks the brick facade of the Boston Center for the Arts.
The fresh fruits and vegetables of summer are built right into the theme at Henrietta’s Table (One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5005) with its in-house farm stand. Voted by Food & Wine magazine as “Boston’s Best Comfort Food,” Henrietta’s motto is “Fresh and Honest”—not a bad way to approach a hot summer day.
If summer stirs our desires, then Hungry i (711/2 Charles St., 617-227-3524) provides the perfect setting for romance. Famous for both its French Provencal cuisine and its quixotic ambiance, chef/owner Peter Ballarin’s Charles Street hideaway includes a quaint, outdoor brick courtyard—perfect for popping the big question.
With panoramic views of the harbor, we can’t think of a better seaside setting for summer dining than Intrigue Cafe (Boston Harbor Hotel at Rowes Wharf, 617-856-7744). Casual and glamorous, Intrigue features a global menu (breakfast, lunch and dinner) created by esteemed chef Daniel Bruce of Rowes Wharf Restaurant.
Jasper White’s Summer Shack
Nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant” award, Jasper White’s Summer Shack (149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, 617-520-9500) was an instant success when it opened recently. Don’t let the picnic tables and boisterous crowd fool you—this no-nonsense eatery features serious seafood by its namesake’s legendary chef and cookbook author.
|The Great Outdoors—Alfresco summer hotspots include Hamersley’s Bistro (top), Intrigue, Upstairs at the Pudding and Stephanie’s on Newbury.|
Jimmy’s Harborside (242 Northern Ave., 617-423-1000) is a Boston landmark in itself. For 75 years and over three generations, it has been the guiding light of waterfront dining—a gathering place of statesmen, celebrities and Boston loyalists. The fresh seafood and amazing views are matched only by the old fashioned hospitality. During the summer, head to the porch for appetizers and cocktails.
Joe’s American Bar & Grill
Some people don’t want adventure in a meal—they want predictability. You’ll find that at Joe’s American Bar & Grill (100 Atlantic Ave. and Commercial Wharf, 617-367-8700), where the food is consistently tasty and, during the summer, its outdoor dining area is one of the best along Boston Harbor.
Celebrity chef Todd English’s new Kingfish Hall (Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 617-523-8862) brings life to the dining scene in bustling Faneuil Hall Marketplace. This eclectic, two-floor carnival of food features a rotating grill, a raw bar on ice and an illuminated lobster tank. In summer, the outdoor patio is ideal for people-watching.
This is genuine New England elegance. Maison Robert (45 School St., 617-227-3370), located in the grand Old City Hall building, right off the Freedom Trail, serves traditional French cuisine in the crystal-chandeliered dining room, or in the more relaxed, tree-laden outdoor cafe. Either way, the ambiance is charming and the food is filling.
Chef Ana Sortun’s new, intimate neighborhood restaurant Oleana (134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505) has taken local diners’ taste buds by surprise with its bold blend of Mediterranean flavors drawing from Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Italy and Armenia. With a casual, eclectic decor and a verdant backyard patio, this is a great spot for a cool summer meal.
You might want to freshen up from your day at the beach before heading for this glamorous hotspot. When it’s warm out, the French doors at Sonsie (327 Newbury St., 617-351-2500) open up to the sidewalk for Parisienne cafe-style socializing and fine dining. Chef Bill Poirier’s international menu rivals the best in town.
Stephanie’s on Newbury
The outdoor veranda at Stephanie’s (190 Newbury St., 617-236-0990) may be the top spot for quintessential sidewalk cafe dining in Boston. The fashionable social scene only grows with the warm weather. And chef David Daniels’ American fare is more than just an afterthought—his delicious grilled double-thick pork chops keep discriminating food-lovers coming back all year-round.
Upstairs at the Pudding
Perched atop Harvard’s famous Hasty Pudding Theater, Upstairs at the Pudding (10 Holyoke St., Cambridge, 617-864-1933) has been a Boston-area favorite for more than 20 years, and continues to receive accolades for its alfresco dining experience. The mix of tantalizing Italian, French and American dishes, great wines and desserts, all in a secluded garden terrace setting, will leave you feeling dreamy.
“Speak your voice” on Boylston Street at this posh French bistro across from Prudential Center. Like many Back Bay eateries, style matters at Vox Populi (755 Boylston St., 617-424-8300), where the ambiance is upscale modern and the menu, from chef Michael Burgess, represents classic French comfort.
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Chris Schlesinger is a New England legend and a national authority on the art of grilling and barbecuing. He stoked the fires at over 35 restaurants before opening the prodigiously famous East Coast Grill in Cambridge in 1986. A free-spirited surfer from Virginia, this James Beard Award-winning chef and cookbook author has become the unofficial king of the grill, and an aficionado of hotter-than-hell cuisine. Panorama caught up with Schlesinger from the shores of the Westport River, where he is gearing up for the fishing season at his latest restaurant venture, The Back Eddy. We asked him to share some tips on backyard grilling and barbecuing, just in time for summer.
Q: How did you get into grilling?
A: My dad taught me. He and I would go out back, and he would always say that we overcame the uncertainties of the wilds of the backyard and delivered, yet again, a wonderful grilled meal.
Q: What’s the real difference between
barbecuing and grilling?
A: Barbecue is “slow and low” and grilling is “quick and hot.” So the flavor of barbecuing comes from the smoke, and the flavor of grilling is a reaction of the high heat to the surface of what’s being grilled.
Q: How do you judge the heat or the size of the flame?
A: I put my hand on a can of beer above the fire, and count. Three or less is very hot, 3–5 is medium hot, and 5–7 is medium.
Q: How do you know when the meat is done?
A: Cut it. Give it a nick—look inside. People say, “don’t do that because you’ll let the juices run out,” but the cell structure of meat doesn’t support that—it’s an old wives’ tale.
Q: What are some of your favorite foods for the grill?
A: Seafood. I like to put clams and oysters directly on the grill in their shells—when they open, they’re ready. Scallops, tuna, swordfish, steaks…pretty much anything.
Q: Do you like hot dogs?
A: Hell, yeah! Who doesn’t like hot dogs?
Q: What are your favorite side dishes for barbecue dinners?
A: I like the sauces, relishes, chutneys, pickles—highly spiced fruit or vegetables. Grilled vegetables are great. We do a lot of “hobo” packs. Salads, too—summer’s a great time for fresh produce.
Q: What is a typical amateur mistake?
A: Have one uniform heat on the grill.
Q: What is your ideal setting for a barbecue?
A: On the beach; low 80s; overhead waves.
Q: What inspired you to make your food so damn spicy?
A: Tropical nations—the equatorial peoples who use grills everyday—Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, India.
Q: Any gastrointestinal advice for those who eat your spicy food?
A: Beer. It’s like the yin and the yang.