A sampling of some recent forays into indoor dining and drinking as omicron wanes and patio season waits in the wings
After two very distressing years due to Covid, things are starting to feel a bit more normal. That feeling certainly extends to the restaurant industry, which was hit about as hard as any sector of the economy. But with Omicron going away as quickly as it arrived, many people (including myself) finally feel comfortable enough to get back into indoor dining and drinking while waiting for patio season to get fully up and running once again. Over the past few weeks, I’ve sat inside a number of restaurants, bars, and breweries in the Greater Boston area, mostly sticking to quieter or more “airy” and spacious spots, including the ones below, which are among the better experiences of late.
The Village Manor, Dedham
This roadhouse-style joint near the Boston line has been a fave for many years now, and it’s fully up and running now, which is great because it’s one of those places that has a bit of everything. The front room at the Village Manor is a rather boisterous bar area where locals grab beer, cocktails, and shots while watching the games on TV; the back room has a much quieter feel to it, looking a bit like a rustic lodge in the middle of the woods. Some of the food at the Village Manor is outstanding, considering it’s basically just a local watering hole, with highlights being an extraordinary Thai chicken vegetable soup that leans toward being more creamy than spicy, a belly-busting “colossal” burger that deserves a pat on the back if you can finish it, some of the best steak tips southwest of Boston, and what may be the signature dish: a blackened chicken pappardelle with a Cajun alfredo sauce.
The Village Manor, 427 Sprague St., Dedham. thevillagemanor.com
Notch Brewery & Tap Room, Brighton
The original Notch in Salem is beloved by many for its focus on session beers rather than the IPAs that so many other breweries tend to feature, and now there’s a second outlet at the Charles River Speedway, a new development in Allston-Brighton that’s located in a building that was once part of a horse and bike track more than 100 years ago. The redeveloped Speedway is a small but charming space with a number of businesses, including Notch, which has a spacious taproom where people can enjoy various European-style beers. Notch’s smooth and easy-to-drink Kolsch (when available) is among the best I have tried anywhere, not discounting Wee Bird from Bent Hill Brewery in Vermont, which is saying a lot. The handful of communal tables at the new location of Notch allow for social distancing, and if you’re hungry, you can bring food in, though food trucks also appear to be on the way here at some point.
Notch Brewery & Tap Room, 525 Western Ave., Brighton. notchbrewing.com/notchbrighton
Good Thymes Family Restaurant, Lowell
The city of Lowell is one of the best places in all of Massachusetts for food and drink, with all kinds of dining spots offering every kind of cuisine you can imagine, including reasonably priced Asian and Latin American street food, while more and more upscale restaurants have been opening here of late as well. Lowell also has its fair share of old-school eateries, including this comfortable place south of downtown that’s popular with families, retirees, and those who simply want a good, hearty meal in an unpretentious space. Good Thymes has done its part to keep people from catching the virus, installing plexiglass barriers between each booth, though the spaciousness of the place makes it feel relatively safe as well. Comfort food rules the roost here, including an American chop suey that’s offered on special (and which I absolutely loved in a recent visit), chicken cordon bleu, shrimp scampi, and a roast turkey dinner. Plus, servers move rolling dessert carts from table to table, letting diners choose from huge pieces of carrot cake, chocolate cake, and more.
Good Thymes Family Restaurant, 1278 Gorham St., Lowell. goodthymesfamilyrestaurant.com
Coop’s Bar & Grille, Quincy
Much like the Village Manor in Dedham, this Quincy Point spot includes a bar area that looks rough around the edges but is pretty friendly (albeit loud at times), while a walkway that leads from the bar brings you to a quiet, laid-back dining room that is rarely busy. Coop’s has always been a good place to go for cheap eats and beer, and it happened to be not only one of the last indoor spots I went to before the pandemic but also one of the first spots I returned to once omicron started to fade, and very little has changed, which is a good thing since it has always been a hidden gem of sorts. Some faves here include the marvelous drunken buffalo meatballs with just a touch of heat; “poor man’s” nachos that include fries rather than tortilla chips (and come with bacon, scallions, cheese, and a chili option); country-fried chicken smothered in sausage gravy; an old-fashioned turkey club that, for some reason, is more and more difficult to find at restaurants these days; and lightly battered fish and chips.
Coop’s Bar & Grille, 520 Washington St., Quincy. coopsbarandgrille.com
Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co., Waltham
Too many people mistakenly think that this sprawling brewery near the Belmont line is a one-trick pony, and while its Cloud Candy indeed gets rave reviews (and is one of my favorite IPAs in all of New England), there is so much more to this place than just that one beer. On a recent visit there, we grabbed window seats and tried a few different beers: the aforementioned Cloud Candy along with a rich-tasting oatmeal stout, a very easy-to-drink Czech pilsner, and a double Cloud Candy, the last of which is slightly juicier than the original and has just a touch more alcohol. Mighty Squirrel feels more industrial than cozy, with its high ceiling, exposed pipes, and huge fermentation tanks all giving it a warehouse vibe, but for those who are still uncomfortable dining or drinking indoors, the expansive space is almost made for social distancing.
Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co., 411 Waverley Oaks Road, Waltham. mightysquirrel.com
Food courts get a bad rap, in part because they’re often synonymous with aging shopping malls, and the rise of “food halls” (which are basically more upscale versions of food courts) has made them feel even less relevant in a way. But some great dining spots can be found in food courts, especially those found in Asian supermarkets, and this utterly unknown Japanese eatery inside the 99 Asian Supermarket near the Malden-Everett line is a good example of this. Kakkoii is one of only four food spots that take up the right side of the grocery store, and it’s a fave among the large Asian community in Malden, especially for takeout. The little food court does have a decent amount of seating, however, and it’s a space I’ve been to a number of times, including a recent visit on a fairly quiet weekend day. The ramen and sushi are equally good options here, though other items such as dumplings, popcorn chicken, and rice bowls are also worth seeking out.
Kakkoii, 60 Broadway, Malden. kakkoiisushiramen.com