Gina and the Big Dog are notoriously particular. People know that if they recommend to us that we try the chicken wings at some remote location in rural Rochester, those chicken wings had better be outstanding.
In this case, our friend Timmy the plumber was not an entirely trustworthy reference, so we did some additional research before making the journey. And honestly, the awful reviews for this place made us intrigued. “Totally forgettable”? “Portions were a little small”? “Service was terrible”? “Food is meh”???
Having had a week of horrific restaurant experiences, starting with a Saturday night debacle with our friends Mary and Jim at the East Bay Grille in Plymouth that was inexcusably awful, we were kind of psyched up for another train wreck. You, our loyal Chow readers, hear about our good experiences, but to avoid libel and profanity issues, the bad experience stories are related verbally to a small group of insiders. And those are fun too.
We found Matt’s Blackboard in the antique strip mall that constitutes Rochester’s sole commercial activity around 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday. At that hour, we were surprised to find groups of diners already seated, and others arriving shortly after we did. We took seats at the bar, whose elevated height obscures its essential diner vibe, with an expansive view of the kitchen.
They’re not kidding about the blackboard thing. The restaurant has a serviceable menu of pedestrian offerings, but the blackboard offers an intriguing window on a culinary imagination that made us want to sit and sample all afternoon.
We started by sharing a house salad. We believe, as you know, that the quality of the house salad is almost invariably an indication of the quality of the food overall. This salad was extraordinarily good. It consisted of crisp, mild mesculun greens, slices of English cucumbers, sliced red onion, and sliced small cherry tomatoes, with what we guessed were chunks of delicious house-made bread turned into croutons. The salad was good, but the dressings were outstanding. Our server brought out little containers of both the balsamic vinaigrette and the roasted garlic parmesan dressing, to avoid any fisticuffs among us; Gina tucked away her leftover parmesan to bring home, and the Big Dog slid his balsamic across the bar, to make sure it went home too.
We both ordered blackboard specials for lunch.
Gina chose the lobster roll and clam chowder ($15.99). The chowder was good, but the lobster roll was the most delicious non-Connecticut (hot and buttered) version she’d ever had. A light hand with the mayonnaise, a strong knife on the celery, and a good fistful of fresh parsley, tossed with delicious fresh lobster chopped to a manageable size, made a salad stuffed into a buttered and grilled hot dog bun. Textbook — cookbook — perfect. Add your lettuce or capers or tarragon if you want, but this pristine version of the classic can’t be beat.
The Big Dog selected a fried clam plate ($16.99). He said the whole-belly clams were chewy, but interestingly, they all disappeared pretty quickly, and Gina thought they were delicious, especially with the silky house-made tartar sauce. The Big Dog said the cole slaw was too liquidy, but interestingly, Gina didn’t get even a bite. The french fries were okay and there were lots left over.
Seats in the small dining area are likely nice. The half dozen bar seats, as we witnessed, may provide a bit too intimate view of the kitchen.
We thought the food was great, the service was very good, and the atmosphere was very pleasant on a Friday afternoon., We will definitely return to Matt’s Blackboard.
And it’s an important lesson for all of us. Cranky diners are the ones who tend to comment on the internet, and they aren’t always to be believed.
565 Rounsville Road, Rochester, MA