Photos by Mona Maruyama
It’s been barely a week since the South End’s newcomer Merrill & Co. opened in the former house that held 28 Degrees, and already the crowds are lush, the banter booming, and the food streaming out of the kitchen to hungry denizens looking for classic house-made fountain drinks and monstrous slabs of beef.
Inside, it’s virtually unrecognizable from its past life as a go-to haven for the LGBT community to get wild. Gone are the dark tones and general vibe of decadent seclusion for the after-hours parties. In it place: a lot of old-timey pressed tin ceiling work, leather swivel-stools, vintage cookware tucked within some highly visible real estate above the bourbon and sherry-stocked bar (they have 15 different varieties of the latter), and a general yesteryear-diner-meets-neighborhood-hangout spirit. And a giant illuminated SODA sign. Because soda.
The menu is decadent and approachable, very New England seafood and pork heavy. Jm Curley’s Kevin Mabry, who is overseeing both spots, is a Cochon 555 veteran on the cocktail side, and chef Jason Cheek is a grand lover of porcine (do not miss the pork belly here). Merrill’s cast iron mussels come out sizzling hot with small, succulent mollusks in a red curry and ginger broth, which one should not shy away from using the bulging waffle fries to soak up (see: sidebar).
One should also not shy away from the octopus, which is essentially a section of a single, perfectly tender tentacle that’s been braised for eight hours after being hand selected down at the fish pier every day, and served with kimchi, pimenton, and burnt onion. But if really going after it, just plop down at the communal table with some friends and dig into the 32-oz Big Ass Bone-In Ribeye with lardo and beef butter, which serves two to four people (or just you, glutton).
Washing all this down will be beers in bottle and draft (Blatant, Notch, Dogfish Head), cocktails like the ‘Gannsett 75 (gin, lemon, Narragansett beer), Leviathan (rum, house-infused thai chili aperol, honey, lime, bitters), and Ocean Mist (tequila, apricot, blue curacao, lemon, sea salt, egg whites). And root beer fans, brace yourself. “We’re going to have a sassafras guy,” Mabry says, for fresh old-school style fountain root beer. If you’re into the stuff, this is big news, people.
If not, just say sassafras a lot out loud. It’s a funny word.
MERRILL & CO. NOW OPEN. 1 APPELTON ST., BOSTON, 617-728-0728, MERRILLANDCOBOSTON.COM