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Sox It to Me

Beantown Tavern offers a refuge for Boston transplants



As most Americans who have flown this summer, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in airports and on waiting on tarmacs. When the airport is well run -- like Dallas Fort Worth -- it's a not exactly a pleasure, but it is rather painless. If you, however, are unfortunate enough to be stuck at the antiquated Boston Logan, good luck -- good luck getting to another terminal on time, finding your bags, or booking a hotel if an overnight is required.

The only redeeming aspect of Logan is the Legal Seafood outlets on some concourses. Devouring their luscious lobster salad on a buttered roll or sipping a densely flavored clam chowder makes this airport almost tolerable.

Boston's comfort food, though, is more about beans and scrod (cod) than lobster rolls. After a few licks of Legal's clam chowder (pronounced without the "r") I miss the foods of New England. I was born there and, like others, was left with the legacy of spelling out M-A-S-S-A-C-H-U-S-E-T-T-S on every "place of birth" form, all the while wishing I was from some four-letter state like Ohio.

Before chefs Julia Child, Jasper White and Todd English took Boston's culinary dimension to another level, this city was traditionally known by its baked beans, Italian and Portuguese sausages, and unsurpassed cold water seafood. The latter is what most former Bay State residents long for when relocating to the inland south, especially wharfless cities like Charlotte.

Donnie Gaskin moved to Charlotte 12 years ago for golf and never intended to open his own tavern. A native of Massachusetts with an accent to prove it, Gaskin worked in area sports bars before taking the plunge and opening the 207-seat Beantown Tavern in January 2006.

Beantown's interior still has the upscale bronze chandeliers and some appointments of Dearstynes (the former occupant of the space), but now big screens tuned to the New England Sports Network or Direct TV baseball scream out from opposing walls. The Sox, the Pats, the Bruins or the Celtics are the full time residents of this tavern. "When the Sox play the Yankees, we give out free hot dogs and have a buffet. Even the Yankee fans come because of the intensity in the room," Gaskin notes.

Yet in keeping with this proclivity to sports, Beantown's interior need not be quite as opulent, nor the décor as studiously neutral. Perhaps the hearty, but unobtrusive fare is a conscious decision not to interfere with the more exciting sports at hand.

Beantown's copious menu offers hybrid dishes, some Southern, such as shrimp and grits, Maryland crab cakes and a barbecue sandwich, while others feature socks denoting "Beantown favorites." Beer is a wise choice with this cuisine and they have Sam Adams, and soon Gaskin will add Harpoon. The wine list is brief, offered by the glass or bottle.

Food comes out quickly. The most rapturously received starter is the seductive plump slices of Italian sausage (imported from Massachusetts) mated with thick strips of roasted peppers and smothered with mozzarella. There's a Quahog (that's co-hog), aka stuffie, but the clam shell was AWOL. (A stuffie is the love child of stovetop dressing and a clambake.) Gaskin said the health department will not permit clam shells to be used as servers. Huh? This Gaskin family recipe stuffie was flecked with chourico, a spicy Portuguese sausage; chopped onions; and bits of Quahog clams.

Beantown's sandwiches are not dainty. The Boston cheese steak (which is also available in chicken) has sautéed mushrooms, onions and mozzarella and (was this a mistake?) a cup of beef jus. The touted lobster rolls (two per order) were too salty and offered only small morsels of lobster. These were a disappointment. Yet the feisty fried oyster po' boy, which got even more heat from the chipotle sauce, was the perfect match for a heady beer. The baked beans, without a hint of sweet, may take a Tar Heel palate by surprise. The least impressive side was the macaroni and cheese which oozed of an unnatural yellow not often found outside of a Sherwood Williams store.

Desserts, on the other hand, should veer close to overboard and the Boston cream pie with a heavy dose of Hershey's chocolate proved this sufficiently.

Beantown, though, is a tavern with a rather ambitious menu filled with the comfort foods of people who breathe the Sox and Pats. No toques in this kitchen. Prices seem to agree with this: sandwiches range from $8.25 for a burger to $10.95 for the lobster rolls. Entrees run from $13 for pasta to $30 for an eight ounce filet mignon and a 4 ounce lobster tail. Pizzas start at $13.25.

The patio, which is enclosed, has a new misting system which keeps diners 20 degrees cooler -- a difference that is the summer differential between Boston and Charlotte. I guess you can go home again.

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