Cabby Shack, Plymouth

2016-08-02 14.25.07-1On a typical summer afternoon, a typical waterfront restaurant is jammed with people who are there for the view and the vibe, not the food, which is typically substandard.

There was nothing typical about our recent first visit to Cabby Shack on the bustling Plymouth waterfront. A light drizzle kept the crowds away, and we were treated to some really good fare.

We opted for seats at the third-floor outdoor bar, whose tiki top offered sufficient protection from the mist and whose railing offered a bird’s eye view of the harbor’s construction projects and boating activity.  From our vantage point, we were able to watch cranes attending to a pier reconstruction and boat ramp project.  Bartender Earl poured the Big Dog a 16-ounce Mayflower IPA ($5.75) and Gina a Quara Malbec ($7.50) in plastic cups, and we were content to sit and watch.

The Cabby Shack menu is full of the New England staples that a tourist from America’s Heartland would expect to find in America’s Hometown — let them go back west thinking that a basket of fries doused with chowda ($8.99) is a thing — but there were plenty of options for locals or visitors whose clam-o-meter has been tipped.

We started with chicken wings in a garlic parmesan sauce ($9.99). It was a simple dish, but one tasty enough to make us look forward to the rest of our lunch.

We love short ribs, and the Heartland visitors who skipped the Pratt-Rib Pannini ($13.99) because they can get that at home did themselves a huge disservice.  The Big Dog’s giant triple-decker sandwich came with a layer of portobello and goat cheese on sourdough, all tricked out with some arrugula and carmelized onions. If you like thin, crispy fries, you will enjoy the ones that come with Cabby Shack sandwiches.

Gina chose a special, dubbed Salmon Homard ($22.99), a hunk of salmon topped with one of the restaurant’s signature lobster cakes. The salmon was grilled to crispy-juicy perfection. The lobster cake had a similar texture and color, with some visible chunks of lobster meat.  Alongside was a dollop of delicious mashed potatoes, some asparagus, and a nondescript vegetable medley.

Overall, the food was very good and the view was entertaining: a rare combination.

Cabby Shack
30 Town Wharf, Plymouth

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Saga Steak House, Wareham

Under normal circumstances, we would never consider reviewing a restaurant that had been open for only three days. In the first few months, even restaurants like this, a duplicate of an existing successful operation, typically have a slew of issues to work through, from 2015-12-11 20.16.54personnel conflicts to structural flaws.

This was not the case at Saga Steak House in the new Rosebrook Place complex off I-195/I-495. The decor is snappy, the service attentive, and the food very good.  On Day Three.  We would be doing you a disservice to withhold a review.

We arrived, frankly, thinking that we would just take a look around and have a beverage on our way home. We looked, and were very impressed at the sleek appearance.  The front door opens into a six-seat bar and two high-tops.  Beyond that sits a sushi bar.  To the right, a dining room, and beyond that in the opposite corner, a hibachi grill room.  The dining room and grill were separated by an enormous fish tank wall.

There were patrons in each of these four sections, and most of them were younger than what we’re accustomed to seeing, most heading back to the more raucous scene in the hibachi room. This was with no formal publicity, and at 8 at night.  When word gets out, there will be lines.

The affable host, Peter, brought us two glasses of their one cabernet sauvignon, whose name escapes us. It was good, but not a good value at $9 for what appeared to be a scant 5-ounce pour.

One little snack, we vowed, and ordered a Kani Salad to split. It was a delightful tangle of julienned crab sticks (described as crabmeat on the menu) and cucumber, with a hint of mayonnaise and a scattering of tobiko, or flying fish roe ($6). We were hooked.

The beef asparagus appetizer ($8) also caught our eye.  You’ve seen this dish as asparagus wrapped in proscuitto then roasted.  With a sharp steak knife, these four little rolls would have been outstanding. With chopsticks, they were chewy (they needed tenderizing).

The three dozen or so “specialty rolls” range from $10 to $18 and offer theatrical descriptions for their multitude of ingredients.  The “roll or hand roll” selections come at a lesser price and without the descriptions.  Or, choose “Sushi and Sashimi A La Carte.” Or “Appetizer From Sushi Bar.” Or “Sushi Bar Entrees,” served with miso soup and salad. After one visit, we can be excused for failing to distinguish among these categories.

We skipped the “Hot Babe Roll” and “Sex on the Beach” and settled on the Rainbow Roll ($11) and Ninja Roll ($13). It was a good pairing from a presentation perspective; the Rainbow was beautifully composed, each topped with diagonally arranged layers of white fish, salmon, tuna, and avocado.  The Ninja was more architectural, with spikes of shrimp tempura with a coating of eel emerging from a filling of lobster salad.  The combined dish was delicious and beautiful.

As time goes on, we suspect there will be some tweaking with the volume of the background music. The bright lights up front and beverage cooler lights may be toned down. We would like to believe that the existing wineglasses will be replaced by some that are a bit larger. Some dishes may come with a steak knife, maybe a nice one.

But beyond needing those relatively minor adjustments, Saga Steak House appears to be in Year 2 form.  We recommend going now, because it won’t be long before Saga is one of the region’s most popular dining destinations.

Saga Steak House
20 Rosebrook Place, Wareham

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Hideaway Restaurant

IMG_20150822_145719201 (1)We went to one of the region’s finest Italian-themed white-tablecloth restaurants and ordered chicken parmesan with linguine and we did not like it at all.

The next day, we did something silly but kind of interesting: we ordered the exact same thing at the Hideaway Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall in Middleborough.  And it was delicious.

In fairness to White Tablecloths, we love their food, and they were clearly having an off night, because none of the four of us was happy with our meal. Chicken piccatta was bland, a blackened salmon over ceasar salad was too salty, and pork chops topped with vinegar peppers dish was weird.

The Hideaway is as far from white tablecloths as you can get.  Gina and the Big Dog sat at a corner of a bar which winds around the interior of the room. Its worn formica surface was soon covered with paper placemats advertising, among other things, a gun shop and Big Dog Plumbing (no relation). One of the Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies was playing in our corner, and something funnier was airing on the opposite side of the room, judging by the occasional laughter we heard.

The chicken parm ($9.99) was as far as you could get from the white tablecloths’ version, too.  White Tablecloths featured chicken breasts pounded to paper-thinness, coated in a bland breading, and overcooked, served on mushy room-temperature linguine, with a lifeless tomato sauce and no discernible cheese. Granted, that version came with a house salad (also off) and bread, but for the same amount of chicken and pasta, it cost more than twice the Hideaway price.

By contrast, the Hideaway chicken was fork-tender.  The linguine was cooked al dente and served in a separate hot casserole dish. The breading was slightly crisp and kept the chicken moist.  The tomato sauce was rich, and the dish was bathed in mozzarella. What a treat in an unexpected setting!

That was Gina’s lunch.  The Big Dog ordered a build-your-own burger.  It was very good, and it was a bargain at $6.70, plus 50 cents for the addition of lettuce, onion, and American cheese (and Dog’s usual combination of mayonnaise and mustard, both served in little plastic cups on the side). As they say, it was all that and a bag of Lays chips. He asked for it to be cooked medium and it came out more like well done, but he was happy with it.

He was equally happy with his margarita, a refreshing blend of Cuervo and the usual other ingredients ($7.25). Gina had a forgettable cabernet ($6.50).

At White Tablecloths the four of us split two bottles of good cabernet, and we enjoyed the evening out with friends we don’t see often enough.  At the Hideaway, we got engrossed in the Jason Bourne movie and it was really just a quick pit stop on our way back from an errand.

The two experiences represented an interesting contrast.  White Tablecloths felt like a disappointment, especially unsettling because we’d only gone there because we know it’s so dependable. The Hideaway felt like a great value and a surprisingly good experience. We were delighted and will return with higher expectations.

The Hideaway Restaurant
9 Station Street, Middleborough

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Stomping Grounds, Buzzards Bay

2015-08-08 14.37.49We recently had our first meal, and possibly our last, at Stomping Grounds.  The food was excellent and inventive, and the outside seating atmosphere was as expected when along Main Street in Buzzards Bay, but the service was so flawed that under ordinary circumstances we would not provide a review, especially without a second visit.

However, we concluded that there are so few optimal days, weather-wise, for a restaurant with outdoor seating in our region, so when those optimal days occur, we have every reason to expect the restaurant staff to be on its “A” game. We visited Stomping Grounds on what had to be one of the nicest Saturday afternoons this summer, and we didn’t expect the 150-minute ordeal it became.

First, the good news: the Stomping Greens salad ($12) is hands-down one of the better salads we’ve had this year. It included generous additions of sliced green grapes, toasted pine nuts, chick peas, and roasted brussels sprouts.  We marveled at how much prep time that dish must have taken, and wondered why no one else had come up with this delicious combination.  It’s tossed with a light lemony parmesan dressing that makes all the ingredients sing. Twelve dollars for a salad? When your licked-clean plate is taken away from you, we promise, you will be thinking you got a great deal.

We also ordered an appetizer called “Spuds MacKenzie” ($8), described as “our twist on a classic favorite and a must try.” We did try, and while we have no clue what “classic favorite” this was twisting and found the presentation kind of weird, we liked it. Thin wedges of roasted red bliss potatoes were served with a a little bowl of dipping sauce that included gorgonzola blended with ground walnuts and bacon. Gina initially objected, saying it was too rich, but in no time was slathering it on the end of her salad.

We also enjoyed the Mediterranean Fish Stew ($16), another unexpected bargain. Served in an oversized bowl — too big, really, and it was difficult to get the spoon at the right scooping angle as a result — the soup had a rich tomato broth in which we found giant shrimp, scallops, tuna, mussels, carrots, celery, and potatoes. It came with grilled pita bread with a subtle curry topping, excellent to dip into the soup. This was Gina’s entree, and she took half home after sharing much with the Big Dog.

The Dog’s lunch was a Buzzards Bay Reuben ($10), which seemed like a regular Reuben.  There’s a choice of corned beef or turkey, and it comes with Cape Cod brand potato chips and some crisp, fresh, slaw made of red and green cabbage.

We ordered a bottle of Josh Cellars cabernet ($34), as it’s one of our favorites, and this proved to be a wise move, because we were able to pour ourselves a second glass while we were waiting for our food to arrive.

It took a bit for our waitress to make her way to our table, and she apologized excessively for the delay, and then for the fact that she had not brought menus.  When that finally happened, we selected the Josh from the short but carefully considered list of beer and wine options, plus artisanal spirits. Soon, the wine was delivered, opened, and ceremoniously poured by a young man in a grubby tee-shirt who we assumed to be a bus boy but who we later learned was the chef-owner. Note to chefs everywhere: Call us old fashioned, but we’ve chosen to spend a special occasion with you, and we think you should be dressed as if it’s a special occasion for you too. We want to believe you’re working magic in the kitchen, and if you feel more comfortable wearing a stained hoodie or a flour handprint on your pants, please don’t dash our illusions — stay in the kitchen.

(Rant over.  You know we believe that chefs and other restaurant staff are the hardest-working humans and we hate to criticize them.)

Our appetizers were delivered with another round of apologies, and this time, the Big Dog stepped in and asked the waitress to stop doing that.  We were enjoying a relaxing afternoon on a beautiful patio with a nice glass of wine, and the waitress’ implication that something was going terribly wrong was detracting dramatically from our enjoyment.  The young couple sitting near us snickered audibly, clearly having thought the same thing.

Twenty minutes later, with the sun beating down mercilessly, the wine bottle nearly empty, and our entrees yet to arrive, we regretted saying anything.  The waitress returned again empty handed, said she really needed to apologize now, and blamed someone else for losing our order.

Entrees arrived, we thought they were excellent, packed half for home, and that was that.

We realized, driving away, why this scene seemed not just unpleasant but inappropriate: because in the universal language of restaurants, the second “I’m so sorry” is followed immediately by, “… Save room for one of our outstanding desserts, on the house!” or “… We’ve taken that weird potato thing off your bill.”  None of that here.

Will we return? Too soon to tell. The food was excellent, but the fact remained that we spent $99, with beverage, tax, and tip (yes, 16.5 percent despite the flaws, mostly because Gina is not good at math) on a lunch that consisted of soup and salad, a sandwich, and an appetizer. We thought the food was a great value, but we did not get anything close to hundred-dollar service.

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A Multitude of Mussels

Recently, Gina and the Big Dog went on a mussel-eating binge.  In two weeks or so, we ordered mussel appetizers off five different menus in the northeastern corner of Buzzards Bay and came away with the conclusion that there’s something for everyone here.

We were surprised by the diversity.  The basic strategy, we believe, is to saute fresh and clean mussels, typically from Prince Edward Island, in a tasty sauce just to the point of doneness. Add some bread for dipping in the sauce and you’ve got a hearty and simple appetizer. Each of our local restaurants interpreted all of that differently.

2015-06-22 19.49.04Our first stop was at Mezza Luna in the village of Buzzards Bay.  This institution is a favorite destination of ours when we are looking for consistent, good food in a comfortable yet white-tablecloth atmosphere. The bar is typically packed with people who make for interesting eavesdropping, but on this Tuesday evening, it was unexpectedly quiet.

The mussels appetizer ($13) inspired our little journey with four parenthetical, challenging words on the menu: “We’re famous for them.” So we chose the standard preparation, which the menu describes as being “in our delicious garlic and wine parmesan cream sauce.” Mussels are also available with marinara or fra diavlo sauce.

The generous bowl of fresh mussels arrived topped with slivers of garlic and a delicious, creamy, cheesy sauce.  This was hands-down Gina’s favorite dish of the odyssey, as much for its careful presentation as its flavor. The bread for dipping was served on the side.  The dish came topped with a bowl for shells.  The sauce was delicious and the mussels were fresh.

2015-06-28 20.01.20Heading west (on a different day), we stopped at Lindsey’s Family Restaurant in East Wareham, where “Mussels Sambuca” were available as a special ($14.99). Now, we know that the folks at Lindsey’s are extremely smart and very responsive to their clientele, and this dish is offered as a special relatively frequently, so it must be popular.  But the combination of flavors seemed odd to us.  Sambuca liqueur laced a creamy sauce, served with a hunk of garlic bread on top.

We agreed that the shellfish, also described as hailing from PEI, at Lindsey’s, was the best prepared of the four mussel dishes we enjoyed.  They were clean and fresh and cooked just to the point of doneness.

A bit farther down Route 6/28 is Bailey’s Surf & Turf, another favorite spot where the Big Dog found his preferred mussels dish.

This scampi version, offered as a special that day ($11.95), was the classic preparation that many think of as the way to prepare mussels.  A little white wine, a lot of butter, a healthy toss of fresh garlic, maybe some parsley, and you’ve got yourself a classic. Given the odd adornments we saw during our journey, the simplicity here was welcome.

And the oddest were yet to come.

Venturing to the region’s other end of Route 6, we went to Brew Fish in Marion, another favorite spot with a nice bar and good wine and beer selection. We like the food there.

Not this time.

We saw the word “mussels” ($11) and ordered. Had we continued reading the description, we would have gotten to “fennel.” One thing we agree on is that we don’t like fennel. If you like fennel more than you like shellfish, you would love this dish. If you like fennel at all, you might like this — it’s unusual and creative.

Our last stop (for a while) was another local favorite, the Stonebridge Bistro in Onset. This dish ($11) was dubbed “Pan Roasted Mussels” and described as  PEI mussels sautéed in white wine, garlic, onions, and tomatoes.  It’s on the regular appetizer menu. We don’t know why, but these mussels were in ordinary-sized shells, but the morsels inside were very small. It was a hearty serving, though, and with a Caesar salad and small flatbread pizza, was plenty of food for the two of us.  (And inexpensive too, considering the quality.  We also ordered a bottle of Toasted Head cabernet, and the whole thing came to just 52 bucks.)

The bread served with the mussels was the best of our tour. The bread has to hold its own in the sauce, and can’t arrive soaking in it. The Bistro serves a delicious grilled sourdough with many of their dishes, and it really shines in this one.

The one complaint we had at every stop but the Mezza Luna was that our mussels were not served with a bowl for shells.  At a couple of restaurants we didn’t even get side plates. We assumed that steamed mussels would be served just like steamed clams.  Maybe other folks have a different approach to eating steamed mussels, but we can’t imagine steamers coming without a shell bowl and side plates.  Maybe we should find out, in our next odyssey.

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The Cabin, Middleboro

2015-05-30 19.44.10If you view dining out as entertainment, and also like us feel that a thoughtfully planned meal is like a well directed movie with preparation, setting and service all a part of the exquisite cinematography, then you must dine at the bar at The Cabin.

It has all of those elements, plus the outstanding choreography of a well managed kitchen, all on display.

We were prompted to visit The Cabin by all the positive reviews on a fun, homey Facebook page called Lakeville/Middleboro Dining Out (Gina is a huge fan and encourages you to apply for membership to the group). As the Big Dog has roots in that area, we entertained the possibility that the positive reviews were the result of Lakeville/Middleboro residents being among the nicest people in the world, and never negative.

But they were being totally honest, not just nice, about The Cabin.  The food was very good, the service was attentive and friendly, and the interplay of the kitchen kept us entertained for our entire visit.

It was a warm evening and we were in summer mode, so Gina started with a Mezzacorona pinot grigio ($7) and the Big Dog ordered an Ultimate Margarita featuring Jose Cuervo 1800 ($8.95). Both choices were good.

We like fried oysters and these, a special served with a spicy aoili, were very good ($10.95). Our affable bartender/waitress, Rachael, tracked down their origin and seemed as surprised and disappointed as we that they were not local, but rather from Virginia.  But as much as we like to support our local farmers, we also like clean oysters fried in a light batter, like these were.

We watched dish after dish of the special swordfish ($17.95) flying out of the kitchen towards the small and far less entertaining dining room, so the Big Dog ordered that. Gina chose the menu’s baked seafood trio ($19.95), which Rachael gladly matched with two vegetable sides (broccoli and the evening’s special, green beans).

We suspect that a restaurant owner, especially one present like the Cabin’s, regrets his open kitchen a hundred times on a busy Saturday night.  He’ll see flaws and hear muttered obscenities that the rest of us miss.  In our case, we watched Gina’s distinctive dish simmer under a heat lamp while the Big Dog’s swordfish remained in the queue, and we could sense the stress level elevating.

But not ours.  We remained entertained and distracted by the kitchen — the cool pizza maker to our right, the seasoned fry guy, the line, the efficient expediter, and their interplay with the rest of the staff.

When it arrived, Gina’s delight in finding a restaurant finally having removed the tails from delicious shrimp outweighed the slight delay and any other conceivable flaw we could have found. The fish and scallops were cooked perfectly, as were the beans and broccoli.

The Big Dog knew going into it that he wasn’t going to like the pineapple salsa atop the pan blackened swordfish, so he scooped it off and enjoyed the dish without it. The balance included mashed sweet potatoes and delicious asparagus.

When we first sat, the couple next to us greeted us like regulars; over the course of the evening, another couple took their place and they too acted like they knew us. The Middleboro/Lakeville vibe is part of the entertainment at The Cabin, and really added to our enjoyment of our positive experience there.

The Cabin
114 East Grove Street, Middleboro

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Seafood Shanty, Bournedale

2015-05-11 12.34.22We’re on a quest to find the best lobster roll in the region, and before we even started the quest, a friend told us the best lobster rolls are at the Seafood Shanty, located on the Bourne Scenic Highway opposite the Herring Run on the Cape Cod Canal.

Despite our focus on food, our view of local restaurants is often affected by ambiance, service, and the quality of the beer and wine list.  None of those come into play here — the Seafood Shanty is a walk-up window; grab your tray and soft drink, and do your best finding a suitable picnic table.

To be honest, that setup barely qualifies as a dining experience for us. If we went to the salad bar at the Stop n Shop, we would not trouble you with our commentary about it, and a take-out window on a busy four-lane highway isn’t much better than a grocery lunch.

But the Shanty is a popular spot, and we can imagine that patrons flock there for someone’s proclaimed best lobster salad rolls ($20.50), the best scallop roll ($14.95), the best fish sandwich ($8.95), or any of the other standards they have to offer.

We’re certain all of those items are quite good.  But we’re equally certain that the flocking is caused not by the main course, but by the french fries.

We each ordered lobster rolls, and like many of the sandwiches, they came with fries. Now, we’re the kind of people who see fries as high-calorie superfluousness, and we’ll often ask for a substitute on principle.

At the Seafood Shanty, we were glad we didn’t.  Each fry was the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside ideal, and they were liberally crusted with salt. You can buy them on their own, at $4.95 for a large side, and we could easily imagine doing that. They were outstanding.  We can think of none better in the Southcoast region.

Our thoughts on the lobster rolls were more mixed. They tasted good, with big chunks of lobster tossed with mayonnaise, laid atop some crisp green leaf lettuce and a saucy dollop of mayo inside a buttery bun.

Our issue was with the structure, and this is one time we’re hoping that the ownership will read and heed: We would have been happier with the same generous serving of lobster, or maybe even a little less, spread over two buns. We would cheerfully have paid $14.95 for half the lobster in one bun.

Here’s the thing: It’s not a sandwich if you can’t pick it up to eat it. And we couldn’t with these overstuffed fellas, until we had forked out a healthy serving of overflowing lobster. Many, if not most, of our fellow diners may subscribe to the 16-inch plate of pasta theory of dining value, but we just don’t. A great lobster roll is not one that has lobster on the plate next to it: it’s one that contains bite after bit of bread, sauce, and filling, all working together. The restaurant has been around since the early 1990s and is clearly quite successful, but we’re thinking a slightly different approach might work even better for them.

Seafood Shanty
803 Scenic Highway (Route 6)
Bournedale

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Celebrating Wareham Oysters at Stonebridge Bistro

Stonebridge 061As part of this year’s Wareham Oyster Festival week, we had the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen of the Stonebridge Bar and Grill with chef/owner Justin Hadley.

Hadley, who has run this kitchen for a dozen years, has gained a widespread reputation for creativity, while recognizing that diners value food that is consistent, fresh, and a great value. It’s an unusual combination for a restaurant that also offers an idyllic waterfront view, with a deck perched over the Stonebridge Marina in Onset.

On the night of our visit, Hadley was experimenting with an oyster special that displayed his special twist on the classic Rockefeller treatment.

He opened a pair of oysters and sat them, bowl side down, in a bed of kosher salt.  “It infuses a little flavor, maybe, and keeps them upright,” he noted.

On these, he placed some chunks of bleu cheese, the element which kept this from being a true Rockefeller recipe, but which added a rich earthiness which clearly enhanced the original.

He then added a layer of scallions sautéed with spinach. While we were surprised at the tangle of scallion, Justin said many oysters Rockefeller recipes call for it in lieu of chopped onion or shallot.

Then came a generous, course crumble of cooked bacon.

Finally, Hadley hauled out a tray of a toasted panko concoction and insisted that we sample a pinch, then another. We could imagine eating this stuff by the buttery fistful from a cardboard tub at the movies, it was that good. The crumbs were mixed with butter, parmesan, butter, a hint of red pepper, and butter.  He topped each oyster with the crumbs, then put them in the convection oven for five minutes.

The result was rich, bright, cheesy, salty, and crunchy – all of the characteristics of a perfect bar snack.  He served the pair of oysters on a bed of organic baby spinach with two grilled half lemon quarters

The Stonebridge Bistro’s specials were part of the second annual Wareham Oyster Festival.  A week of culinary and educational offerings centered around the oyster culminate annually in a street fair on the first Sunday in May on Main Street.

For more information about the Wareham Oyster Festival, visit warehamvillage.org.

The Stonebridge Bistro is located at Five East Boulevard in Onset; visit stonebridgebarandgrill.com for information.

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Wareham Oyster Festival

Oyster Festival LogoGina and the Big Dog are pleased to support the second annual Wareham Oyster Festival, which kicks off today in this beautiful seaside town.

Through the next seven days, some of our favorite Wareham restaurants will offer delicious oyster specials.  Several informational talks are planned.  The organizer, Wareham Village Association, will hold a fundraising gala at the new Rosebrook Event Center on Friday evening.  A 5K road race is planned for Sunday morning, and the activities culminate on Sunday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a fun street fair on Main Street.  There will be plenty of oysters, beverages from our friends at Westport Rivers Vineyard and Buzzards Bay Brewery, two dozen crafters and artisans, music by the Southcoast Jazz Orchestra and our friend Mikelyn Roderick, and more!

It’s an event you don’t want to miss, and an example of the local food and shellfish industries coming together to promote several important aspects of the local economy.

Visit the Wareham Village Association website to learn more.

P.S. We kicked off the week with a lunchtime plate of fried oysters at Bailey’s Surf and Turf. Yum!

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Martinis, Plymouth

2015-04-07 21.22.27We went to Martinis because we had one of those Living Social coupons and it was about to expire.  We’d heard that they had pretty good food, and on Tuesday nights, live jazz. But it was really about the $15 coupon value we were soon to lose, so we were delighted when Martinis turned out to be a great dining experience, one chock-full of pleasant surprises.

First surprise: the restaurant was packed on a Tuesday night, with all eyes on a stage at the back of the long, narrow space.  We were led to a high-top near the windows on Main Streeet by the same Jimmy who’d taken our call earlier and told us the kitchen was serving until 10. A young server, who turned out to be his daughter, Meg, brought us menus, then returned promptly to take our drink order. No waiting here, despite the crowd. We were treated like regulars.

Thinking that one should order a martini in an establishment called Martinis, The Big Dog chose a tiramisu concoction ($12) that was very sweet. Surprise Number Two came later, when we learned that the name comes not from the increasingly tarted-up classic beverage, but rather from the name of the restaurant in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Gina selected a Carnivor cabernet ($8).

The menu offers all kinds of interesting items, which can be good and bad. Often, what sounds like a good idea is actually not good at all.  We decided to start with something called a Boursin Cheese Artichoke ($10), described as a “long-stemmed artichoke stuffed with house boursin cheese, baked with panko crumbs and aged balsamic drizzle.” It was heavenly.  A baby artichoke was sliced in half, piled with a delicious boursin, and made crunchy with a layer of crumbs. Yes, it was a small portion for the price, but if that’s your standard for food, may we suggest the whopper junior with fries? We could see Surprise Number Three shaping up: excellent, creative food in a space entirely dominated by a bar.

The Big Dog called for a Sunflower Salad ($8), a fresh little plate of what others might call a Greek salad, whose twist was a sunflower oil vinaigrette and a scattering of sunflower seeds, along with some arugula mixed with the usual Greek components.

Gina ordered the roasted Statler chicken breast ($16), a classic preparation accompanied by a tasty sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and baby carrots (real youngsters, not those giant carrots pared into pellets on a lathe). It was very good.  For that price, one would expect a far more ordinary dish.

The Big Dog’s entree was “bistro meatloaf” ($17). It was ground veal wrapped with bacon and topped with a tomato-y sauce and smoked cheddar. It too was served atop mashed potatoes and carrots.

Surprise Number Four?  Host Jimmy returned a bit later and confided that the very nice jazz music was not your average has-beens, but rather the quartet who ordinarily supports a classic crooner who these days spends his time with a singer named Lady Gaga. Their artistry was an excellent compliment to the outstanding food.

We believe downtown Plymouth is one of the coolest places in southeastern Massachusetts, and once again were not disappointed.

Martinis Bar and Grill
50 Court Street, Plymouth

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