A laid-back neighborhood spot that gets little notice beyond JP
Boston is a city of neighborhoods, and some of the neighborhoods actually have their own miniature neighborhoods just to make the city even more confusing to outsiders. One example is the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain, a smallish area that includes a strip of restaurants and bars on Washington Street that, while not coming close to the endless dining and drinking options found on Centre Street in the heart of JP, does seem to have some potential, especially with the rickety old Casey Overpass finally being torn down a couple of years ago. With the newly added daylight, road construction that will (hopefully) reduce the demolition -derby vibe to the area, and new businesses coming in (including such dining spots as Brassica Kitchen and Simpli Bar & Bites), Forest Hills could indeed emerge from its relative obscurity and become a mini-restaurant row at some point. But for now, this neighborhood within a neighborhood remains much less of a draw than that of Jamaica Plain’s main drag, which helps make one restaurant and bar here—the Dogwood Cafe—a real hidden gem, one that’s a classic neighborhood spot with a lot going for it.
Residing in the middle of the strip of businesses found on Washington Street just south of the Arborway intersection, the Dogwood Cafe is one of those places that seems to be hidden in plain sight, and what doesn’t help is the fact that there are actually two Washington Streets that briefly parallel each other on either side of the commuter rail tracks—and what is really confusing is if you head south from Boston, the “main” Washington Street takes a right at the Arborway, then a left, while another little piece of Washington Street where the Dogwood is located goes for a block or so before becoming Hyde Park Avenue. In short, a map or GPS may or may not help you find this restaurant, but if you’re taking the T and getting off at Forest Hills, all you need to do is look east and you’ll see the place. The Dogwood looks a bit like an Irish pub from the outside, but once inside, it has more of the feel of a classic American family-friendly spot (which is sort of what it is), with a large bar area to the left that has some tables, a dining area to the right that’s somewhat partitioned off from the bar, and a second dining area further to the right, which has a fireplace and is just a tad quieter than the middle dining section. A relatively new addition is a small outdoor patio hidden away in the back, and you’d probably never know it was even here unless you needed to use the restroom and saw the entrance to the space.
The Dogwood isn’t exactly upscale, but its menu includes a good number of new American options to go along with its classic American meals and pub grub. The everyday menu includes great takes on macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, steak tips, chicken, broccoli and ziti, and fish and chips, and its terrific half-pound angus burgers include an ever-changing Juicy Lucy, which is stuffed with whatever the chef decides upon that day. A few regular menu items that are a bit less common include a savory short rib poutine dish, oven-roasted cauliflower in buffalo sauce, a root beer BBQ pulled pork sandwich with onion strings, a coulotte steak (a small, boneless steak cut from the sirloin) with a burgundy mushroom demi-glace, freshly made cannelloni filled with roasted butternut squash and creamy ricotta, and chicken under a brick, with the outside of the chicken encrusted with fresh herbs. One of the signature options at the Dogwood is the wood-fired pizza, which tends to be somewhere between gourmet and Neapolitan thin-crust, and the specialty pizzas are named after trees—which makes sense because the restaurant is just down the hill from the beautiful Arnold Arboretum. (And if you haven’t noticed yet, the place itself is named after a tree as well.) Some top craft beers are available here along with a few very good reds and whites, and the cocktail list has a mix of modern and classic cocktails including some twists on the latter (such as a watermelon gin fizz and a coconut margarita).
Never heard of the Dogwood Cafe? You’re not alone, as Jamaica Plain can be tougher to get to than some of Boston’s other neighborhoods, and Forest Hills—while on the Orange Line—remains a little-known section of JP. But the Dogwood is a spot that has been a neighborhood favorite for a number of years, remaining one of those places that gives newcomers a sense of discovery as so many local spots off the beaten path tend to do.
DOGWOOD CAFE. 3712 WASHINGTON ST., JAMAICA PLAIN. THEDOGWOODJP.COM