It's Thursday, it's late and we parked blocks away because the lot is full at Steel & Rye. We're good though; one of us thought to make a reservation so we're seated right away. The room, formerly a warehouse with 20-foot ceilings and huge windows in 7,000 square feet, is noisy and fun. This is a light supper night in an eclectic American setting and we're casual, having come from dance classes, but it doesn't matter at all.
Hungry as hippos after a big tap-out, now we have our menu and we're breaking out the flashlights. It's weird because you can't call it dark exactly and you better not call us old. I should have taken the menu because what's online is a "sampling of our offerings" since the selections change nightly.
We start with Domaine Pichot Vouvray. It's light and raisin-y with a tart apple finish. Good choice because now we're digging into cream-based squash soup with pomegranate. I'm finding ginger, maybe pumpkin, and apples. No clue what's making it so light and fluffy. (You'll see mushroom soup with duck and eggs for $11). We use brown bread to mop up; it's what they call in New England anadama bread which usually means wheat flour, cornmeal and molasses. Anadama bread turned up in Rockport, MA in the mid-1800s. Smooshed along the steel plate, the butter's filled with salt crystals and from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Steel & Rye for no olive oil, no honeyed spread and no hummus - it's just butter.
Everything's served on neat steel plates. Here's a green salad all dressed in a soy vinaigrette with tons of sesame seeds. They're everywhere and they work, like croutons, to give it body. Mesclun works better when you add a bunch of Bibb to smooth the chokiness from tiny pieces with tails. Such suckers for salad, we are. (You'll see a different one on the menu: chopped romaine with chicken, beans, onion, and cotija cheese for $14).
Since it's big and busy, we're checking to see if we know anyone. I don't but then it's not my neighborhood. Most of the 150 seats are taken and it's just as well no one knows us because we're not exactly, um, trendy tonight if we ever are. The bar's got a mixed crowd - it draws from Dorchester, South Boston, Canton and Milton along with industry people - always a good sign and they'll keep things going long after we crash.
The ambitious chef is Chris Parsons, late of Catch and Parsons Table, both in Winchester. He's doing a yeoman's job, as owners will, and you gotta be good to work in an open kitchen. Finally, here are Julie's mussels with smoked tomato, chorizo and olive oil in a sofrito lobster broth. Mussels without garlic or wine, fantastic. Their peppery bite's got our attention. Yes, and we need the giant slab of French bread because nothing else will do for sopping and that's what Julie's up to. I think the last time we found mussels this good was at Boston's Taranta. Aren't we glad we're on the right coast.
My roasted clams are baked on salt and stuffed with chorizo and buttery bread crumbs. They're spicy and salty if your fork slips. You may or may not find them but not to worry: you can start with fried shrimp and local oyster appetizers. Things we missed that you shouldn't are pastas in combination with pancetta, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, lobster, pork belly, squash, spinach, beef and mustard greens. We also have an eye on mains like broccoli casserole along with a sweet potato married to Brussels sprouts and crab apples.
It's fun chatting with Dan Kerrigan, another owner, who's on the floor. He manages the guest experience, like not having to worry about what we're wearing. Our dessert is here: steamed Meyer lemon cake with melted chocolate that's dripping down my chin. Too bad they roll up the sidewalks early-ish which gives us the distinction, and this is a first, of being last to leave. It's a dining room and we are closing it down. The bar, however, is going strong and I check: it's fine to be over 30.
Steel & Rye
95 Eliot St
Milton, MA 02186
617. 690. 2787
© Photos by Julie Moffatt. Kitty Kaufman is a Boston writer. See more of their food adventures at Corporate Edge.
by Chef Mark Shoup