By Scott Kearnan
If there’s one thing you can say about Somerville’s dining scene, it’s that things are never stale. There’s always a high-profile opening or innovative new approach happening in the city, so we found a handful of current culinary game changers.
From acclaimed chefs to dumpster divers, from husband-wife restaurateurs to entrepreneurial brothers, these folks are as hot as an oven right now.
Daddy Jones Bar (525 Medford St.)
Like most teenagers, Tsourianis desperately wanted out of her hometown. Now there’s nowhere she’d rather be. “I was one of those kids who always wanted to get out of my city,” laughs Tsourianis, who grew up deeply entrenched in East Somerville. Her parents were area landlords and her father was highly active in community improvements and local politics. “We grew up holding campaign signs on Winter Hill,” she chuckles. But Tsourianis had a knack for a slightly different kind of organizing. A born party-planner, she was studying at BU’s hospitality school when she started as a coat-check girl at the Hub’s long-gone Sugar Shack nightclub. She offered herself for daytime office work and her plucky ambition was rewarded with a graduation gift: a full-time job with the Lyons Group, one of Boston’s most successful, longstanding owners of bars, clubs and restaurants. Tsourianis rose through the ranks, managing swank hot spots like Alibi at the Liberty Hotel before leaving to open her first solo venture: Daddy Jones Bar, a modern, funky Magoun Square restaurant serving Greek-influenced plates and innovative but unpretentious cocktails. Ever ambitious, she’s already thinking about her next venture: “I have a seafood bug I need to get out of my system,” she adds with a wink. But Daddy Jones, a hit since its November opening, represents a heartfelt homecoming. “I have so much more appreciation for home now,” says Tsourianis. “Somerville has grown so much. Now it’s the kind of place you never want to leave.”
M.F. Dulock (201a Highland Ave.)
“As a culture, we eat too much meat.” These aren’t words you’d expect to hear from a butcher. But Dulock, who opened his eponymous Somerville meat boutique in September and is already working on a new Boston location, isn’t a guy who concerns himself with quantity. M.F. Dulock is aimed at “conscientious meat eaters” who want quality meats raised locally, healthily and more humanely. His is the only whole-animal shop in the area; each animal was pasture-raised within 250 miles of Somerville and arrives straight from slaughter to be broken down on site and sold by cut. Customers eat better and more responsibly and they support small-scale, family-owned farms that would otherwise be decimated by a factory system that churns out cheap, compromised carcasses. (It’s the difference between Old McDonald and – well, McDonald’s.) Dulock couldn’t stand for that. The Everett native’s family owns Sunny’s Seafood, a fish purveyor that sells to top restaurants, where Dulock cut his produce-oriented teeth before opening Concord Fish & Prime, his former shop outside the city. Now he’s fully focused on M.F. Dulock and is scouting the Fenway, Beacon Hill and South End neighborhoods of Boston for a second location that would also sell consommés, rendered fats and stocks. There’s an appropriate word for that type of business growth: sustainable. “I want to do the right thing,” says Dulock. “I understand the quality and care that comes from family businesses. I want to support them. There are great farms in New England. We don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Area Four (500 Technology Square)
Leviton likes to stay active. He plays soccer, hits the gym and admits that the physical component of the chef world – long, demanding hours hustling and bustling in the kitchen – is part of what attracted him to the business. Now, like any good athlete, he’s bulking up: by June’s end he’ll add a Somerville offshoot of Area Four, his popular Kendall Square bakery and restaurant. In fact, he hasn’t taken the idea of even further expansion off the table. But he says if he and co-owner Michael Krupp ever created a true Area Four empire, they’d build it like muscle: slowly and steadily. “The success of the first Area Four put us in the position to do another,” says Leviton. “If lightning strikes again, hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to do something else.” Though never, he says, at the expense of undermining their underlying philosophy of quality food first. In fact, the smaller Union Square location actually has a pared down menu focusing on Area Four’s most popular pairing: gourmet pizzas and craft brews. Running these restaurants (plus his Newton spot, Lumiere) is demanding, but Leviton still finds time to blow off steam with InnerCity Weightlifting, a non-profit that gets at-risk youth off the streets and into the gym and gives ex-offenders professional development opportunities as fitness trainers. “They’re great guys. To see the growth in them is fantastic,” says Leviton. And if there’s something he knows well, it’s the benefits of good, steady growth.
Whoever said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” has never met Maximus Thaler. The recent Tufts University graduate has modeled his restaurant concept, The Gleaners’ Kitchen, on the principles of “freeganism,” an anti-consumerist food movement based on sharing resources of reclaimed food. Basically, he dumpster dives for the still-good edibles that grocery stores discard (say, an entire egg carton tossed because of a crack in one egg), concocts inventive meals with them and seeks to serve them up at no cost from his home-slash-takeaway-joint. The radical idea has raised media coverage, start-up money via Kickstarter and yes, eyebrows. The concept is legal, but Thaler says its defiance of the traditional, capitalist-driven marketplace has earned undue scrutiny and discrimination ever since he launched it from a Tufts cooperative-living house. (Interestingly, he says it’s easier to assuage concerns about dumpster diving than cynicism over the freebie model.) That frustrates Thaler, whose team is scrambling to find new digs after being evicted from the Somerville home where they intended to relocate the Kitchen. The eviction, he says, was over “culture clash” about his ideology and plans. Still, Thaler is determined to re-launch Gleaners’ Kitchen in Somerville, the heart of his freegan community. And he’s cautiously hopeful his pure intentions (less waste, more community, good eats) will overwhelm any backlash about his unorthodox approach. “In hindsight, I feel naive,” says Thaler of the ease with which he expected to find a new space. “But it also emphasizes deep-rooted misunderstandings and asks a lot of important questions about how we treat food, space and property.”
Tim & Bronwyn Weichmann
Bronwyn (255 Washington St.)
“I live my project. I live my art.” Chef Tim Weichmann’s not kidding. His acclaimed Cambridge restaurant, T.W. Foods, earned its esteemed reputation on a commitment to local, sustainable, thoughtfully sourced ingredients long before those adjectives became buzzwords. But at Bronwyn, the highly buzzed-about new venture from Weichmann and his wife, the restaurant’s namesake and front-of-house head, it’s not only the plates that are storied labors of love. Tim Weichmann crafted the dining room’s huge heart-shaped wood sculpture, Bronwyn’s choice for the restaurant’s symbol. He built the benches in the earthy, Bavarian dining room out of beans from a Maine barn and turned demolished zinc doors into a bar front. The ornate chandelier is a family heirloom from Germany; the chef spent many formative years living there and traveling throughout the continent. Hence the Union Square spot’s menu, which culls from regional cuisines of central Europe, anchored by handmade sausages, in-house milled-grain breads and of course, plenty of bier. “We took the assistant managers to Oktoberfest last year so they could feel what it’s like to stand outside a 700-year old German brewery,” explains Weichmann. We needed to be there to say: How do you recreate this feeling through the elegant simplicity of food?” We think the Weichmanns already have an answer for that: you live your art.
Kevin & Ryan McGuire
Pennypackers (514c Medford St.)
Stuck in a truck for eight hours with your sibling? This could be the making of a family vacation from hell, but for the McGuire brothers it’s just business as usual. “Hey, if you’re going to be stuck in a hot truck all day, it better be with someone you like!” laughs Ryan McGuire, the chef sibling behind Pennypackers. (Kevin manages the operations side of the biz.) The popular soup, salad and sandwich restaurant already has two street-roaming food trucks, and this summer, it opens its first brick-and-mortar in Magoun Square. The McGuire brothers have traveled a long road in the restaurant world. They earned their stripes growing up on Cape Cod, where summer jobs in restaurants are a rite of passage. Ryan kept at it, working first in the catering industry to put himself through Berklee School of Music. (He discovered Pennypackers signature porchetta while touring Europe with a rock band.) Then he moved on to well-regarded restaurants like Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop, Upstairs on the Square and Restaurant dante. He says the Pennypackers food trucks were intended to be a more affordable foray into restaurant ownership and their success paved the way for the Somerville eatery: a small, takeout-focused commissary with room for about a dozen tables. “We’ll have more space to flex a little, to do more creative, interesting stuff,” he promises. Oh brother, we can’t wait.
Ana Sortun & Cassie Kyriakides Piuma
Sarma (249 Pearl St.)
Renowned chef Ana Sortun knows how to spot and seize promising talent. After all, that’s how she found her Oleana chef de cuisine Cassie Piuma. Eleven years ago, Piuma was a recent culinary school graduate working in her first few kitchens. She wrote a letter to Sortun after having dinner at Cambridge’s Oleana, extolling the experience with the intelligence only a future star chef could possess. Sortun got back to her with a job offer, jumpstarting their decade-long kitchen coupling. Now it continues at Sarma, slated to open this summer in Somerville. Its opening is another example of Sortun recognizing strong potential: this time Somerville’s burgeoning culinary scene. “We agree with the rumor that Somerville is Boston’s Brooklyn,” says Sortun, referring to an analogy making the rounds. Sarma will be a friendly neighborhood mezze bar inspired, like Sortun’s Oleana and Sofra Bakery & Café, by culinary traditions of the Mediterranean and Middle East – particularly Turkey, where the team traveled recently for added inspiration. But Piuma, who will be chef and co-owner of Sarma, says that she and Sortun continue to find some of their greatest ideas in each other. “We have a really symbiotic relationship,” says Piuma. “We’re able to bounce ideas off each other to create something amazing and special.” No doubt, what they cook up for Sarma will be more of that stellar same.
Mike & Oana Bandar
East End Grille (116 Broadway)
The Bandars know a good investment when they see one. After all, this husband-wife team, the owners of newly opened East End Grille, works full-time in the financial services industry. So when they decided to gut and renovate the former home of Khoury’s State Spa – birthing the far more beautified East End Grille – it wasn’t exactly on a whim and a prayer. “This area is really transforming and we want to play a role in that,” says Mike Bandar. “There’s a big push toward revitalizing East Somerville and we want to be among the first to invest in it.” Smart move – and one with heart, too. Mike Bandar says he understands the way in which neighborhood restaurants can be the soul of a community: he remembers washing dishes at his family’s restaurant Averof, a Porter Square landmark that flourished in the 80s. You won’t find the couple scrubbing plates at this spot, of course. They’ve recruited a team that includes chef JJ Jimenez and co-owner/manager Mike Cotter from Davis Square’s Orleans. “The idea is to reflect the mix of the neighborhood,” says Oana Bandar. “We wanted a menu that included both basic staples and some more sophisticated options. It’s about giving the area a Boston experience at more reasonable prices.” Sounds like a solid investment, for sure.-Photos by Natalia Botukhova
This story appeared in the July/August issue of Scout Somerville. Get your copy here.