IMAGE VIA RIVER BAR
Most of the time, younger siblings arrive into the world to the chagrin of their elder kin. They’re noted for the annoying habit of mimicking the traits of their breed, or just flat-out ripping them off in an attempt to create identity.
Luckily that’s not the case at River Bar, the just-opened Assembly Row watering hole, which joins Ken Kelly’s stable of eateries along with a string of popular Somerville haunts including The Independent, Foundry on Elm, Saloon, and the lauded Brass Union.
The 36-seat space is all kinds of early-’50s-meets-industrial-modular fun (as much as anything can be labeled “fun” when rising up in a massive strip-mall-meets-city-square). Lots of mixing of natural and industrial elements, from the wood and glass trim around the bar, to the massive desk lamp chandelier overhead, to the white marble and black granite used along the chef’s table facing the open kitchen and the bar itself respectively (the materials were sourced from head of operations Jess Willis’ extended family’s quarry). There’s even a spread of outdoor seating for 123 with three-season couches and seating and firepits.
The kitchen and menu are helmed by Patrick Gilmartin (Staff Meal, Rialto), who aims to focus on “elevated street food” with a fine-dining twist. If the early response is any indicator he’s off on the right note.
“Our soft open alone was supposed to just handle 50-60 people,” he says. “We wound up doing over 200 covers.” Gilmartin says the main challenge at this point is learning the nuances of the tight space the kitchen occupies and how to best work out the kinks presented by whipping up his inventive blend of street eats with an upscale twist.
Take the from-scratch shrimp chips with black garlic aioli dipping sauce ($7). They’re made in-house with fresh dough and frozen local shrimp, which provides the right amount of moisture when it’s processed with the dough to hold consistency and flavor without becoming overbearing. Furthermore, the excellent corned beef and cabbage dumplings ($9) topped with stringy pulled red pepper and house-made Chinese sausage sub ($13) both highlight Gilmartin’s love and knowledge of the different Asian markets in town.
Which isn’t to say it’s all Asian here. There’s plenty of roasted Vadouvan half-chicken ($22), and gems like Bourbon French toast with maple bacon ($10), confit chicken scrapple and eggs ($8), and smoked Bluefish hash with poached egg ($9) when you’re stopping in for brunch during holiday shopping.
Or whenever you want brunch, really.
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.