Peter Ballarin’s romantic restaurant is a Beacon Hill institution
Some people have trouble figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. For Peter Ballarin, that was never an issue. “I was in awe of people who didn’t know what they wanted to do. I always said, ‘Well, I’m probably going to open a restaurant.’ I always had an affection for it.”
Coming from a long line of Venetian bakers—seven generations, to be exact—Ballarin grew up in the kitchen and he had no intentions of leaving. He opened the Hungry i in Beacon Hill in 1978, and he’s been living his dream ever since. “You have to admire this industry to perform in it,” he notes. “It is very difficult and time-consuming and it’s stressful, but that’s part of the allure as well. … Every night when you start to open, you have this tension around 5 o’clock because you don’t know what’s really going to happen. It keeps you on your toes.”
The Hungry i’s menu reflects Ballarin’s French training with dishes such as Frog Legs Provencal and Loin of Lamb Latrec with pan-seared shallots, merlot and Stilton cheese. Though Ballarin updates the menu seasonally, certain dishes—such as the Venison au Poivre Noir and Walnut Pie—have anchored it for decades due to customer demand.
Having been on Charles Street for almost 35 years, Ballarin has watched many businesses come and go, yet he says the vibe of the neighborhood has stayed surprisingly consistent. “Charles Street is a little unchangeable,” he muses. “It keeps me going in that it’s timeless. ... Particularly this time of year, it’s very Dickensian. You have the streetlamps, and the old buildings. If the cars weren’t here, you’d be back in time.”
The restaurant itself, located in a two-story 19th century brownstone with fireplaces in every room, is pretty timeless itself. “It’s very old world. We have linen and china and silverware. We have all original art. I’ve been here so long that I don’t see it the same way as other people do. When people create new restaurants today, they tend to be sleeker. To me they all kind of look the same, and I find that sad. … This is very unique. It’s small, intimate, and charming. You really feel that you’re entering someone’s home.”