Perhaps the biggest news since the Bruins won the cup (well… sorta), a brand-new first-ever-in-the-area sports bar, Vito’s Tavern, has opened up in the North End. Owned and operated by Damien DiPaola, of Ristorante Damiano’s fame, Vito’s boasts a vibe very different from many of the other traditional Italian places lining Salem Street, and so, always down for a food-related adventure, I decided to scoot over there and check the place out.
Earlier on the day that I was to suss out the scene, I found the perfect work-distraction in staring at the menu online, puzzling hungrily over which of the dishes I would decide to try. Mac and gorgonzola cheese? Ziti and meatballs? Korean style tacos? The selection at Vito’s is more diverse than a Cambridge kindergarten class.
I arrived at the tavern hopelessly conflicted, but it turned out that the Gods of Gluttony were smiling down upon me, because guess what? It happened to be training day for the new employees, meaning that a sample of all of Vito’s best dishes was to be provided for them, meaning that the same selection would be available to me, meaning that I WOULD GET TO TRY ALL THE BEST ITEMS ON THE MENU. Conflict resolution!
Resisting the urge to start throwing out celebratory high-fives, I decided instead to coolly examine the place, soaking up the atmosphere, ambiance, and aesthetics.
Although Vito’s has the all the fixings of a sports bar—the half-dozen big screen tvs around the room were all tuned to ‘The Game,’ and the mandatory chicken wings are on the menu—it’s important to note that it’s not the kind of place you’d go with your buddies to drink your way through a tense game and shout obscenities at the ump through the screen.
Case in point: the three televisions behind the bar shine within huge, golden frames, and instead of potato skins, Vito’s serves kimchi quesadillas. Also, the art hanging on the warm red and green walls, including a portrait of Ted Williams, are originals by local artists. Hero worship done in good taste.
As I sat down and chatted with DiPaola about his inspiration for Vito’s and life in the restaurant business (check out my interview in this week’s Dig), plate after plate began to be placed before me. Everything that I tasted—from the fish taco ($11.99 for three) to the perfectly made French 54 (pineapple vodka, Chambord, and pineapple juice, $8)—was off-the-charts excellent, but a few items in particular deserve some undivided attention.
First, the truffle fries ($5.99). Holy potato, my mind was blown. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had never actually tried a truffle fry before in any capacity, ever, but all it took was one warm, crunchy, savory bite and I found myself declaring a life-long allegiance to Vito’s fry-cook. They had the perfect potato-to-crispness ratio (one of the most important factors when considering the quality of good fry).
The next Magna Cum Laude menu items would have to have been the two burgers that I got to sample, the North End (fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, basil oil, garlic/tomato aioli, $11.99) and The Dom (12 oz beef, beefsteak tomato, lettuce, extra provolone, special sauce, cherry pepper relish, $13.99). Vito’s Tavern gets all of its meat fresh daily from a nearby butcher, and it’s a distinction that you can taste. The Dom towered above its plate: a juicy challenge to anyone bold enough to attempt to finish the entire thing. Seasoned just-so, and texturally ideal, The Dom probably could have consumed all my attention if there weren’t so many other things for me to try. For instance, the North End Burger. To anyone who’s never tried prosciutto on a burger: do it. Now. Seriously, go to Vito’s this instant and sink your teeth into the salty goodness that is this beefy tribute to traditional Italian Boston.
Last, but by no stretch of the imagination least, the chicken wings (10 pc, $9.99). A little precursor: I usually don’t actually like chicken wings at all. Sloppy, greasy, and often a little strange smelling, wings are the one typical sporting-event-associated food that I avoid. There’s usually too much potential tooth-to-bone contact without enough taste appeal. But these… now these were wings I could scarf down with abandon. Made Korean style, they were crispy, spicy, and completely worth the red stains I had to lick off my fingers afterwards.
In the end, I left Vito’s Tavern stuffed to the brim, and thoroughly satisfied. Although the prices are steeper than they would be at your average sports bar, it’s because Vito’s is not your average sports bar.
From the food to the atmosphere, it’s undeniably nicer, but, even for broke college kids like me, nice is what you need every once in a while.
“Vito’s Tavern gives you a fair shake—you get your money’s worth. If we fuck anything up in the kitchen, we take it back. We don’t care if it’s wings, burritos, and fries, if they’re not good, they’re not good. The quality, how fresh our ingredients are—we stand behind everything.”
54 SALEM STREET