Restaurant chains tend to get a bad rap and in many cases, it’s justified—they can tend to feel sterile and soulless, and the food, while sometimes decent, it can be rather boring and basic. But there are some good aspects to chains as well, such as the feeling of familiarity that some diners prefer, and chains indeed try to cater to those business travelers, tourists, truckers, etc. who simply want nothing more than a basic, inexpensive, no-surprises meal while they’re on the road. So where do people go if they want the feel of a chain with the added benefit of an independent restaurant where the food is one step better and the place has more of a local vibe to it? Well, if you look around you can find a few such spots in the Greater Boston area, and one that certainly stands out is a neighborhood dining and drinking place in Malden called John Brewer’s Tavern.
Located on the edge of a small shopping center on Highland Avenue just north of the Medford line, John Brewer’s Tavern has an instantly familiar look to it, with its building having the appearance of perhaps the long-gone Ground Round restaurants that used to dot the Metro Boston landscape. But if you look more closely, it isn’t nearly as generic as a typical family-friendly chain and it also has lots of room to move around, including a large and comfortable bar area in the front, a quiet, dimly-lit, and rather serene dining room out back, and a relatively large patio that extends along the left side of the building. Unlike some chains where workers often seem to be going through the motions, John Brewer’s Tavern tends to be an exceedingly friendly place, with everyone from hosts to bartenders to servers to managers greeting customers and making sure the place runs efficiently, which it definitely does.
The name John Brewer’s Tavern might throw some people, as it could imply that this is a brewpub where beers are made on the premises. It is not, but like its sister restaurant with the same name in Waltham (as well as the more beer-centric Brewer’s Coalition in Newtonville, which is also connected), the place is pretty impressive when it comes to craft brew options, with such names as (depending on the seasons and specials) Ballast Point, Aeronaut, Maine, Kona, Night Shift, Two Roads, Slumbrew, Lord Hobo, Idle Hands, Jack’s Abby, Founders, and more, with flights available for those who have trouble choosing or simply want to sample some different beers. The food at John Brewer’s doesn’t stray far from classic American fare and pub grub, but it is pretty impressive and very reasonably priced, with highlights being a meaty chili served with two types of cheeses and tortilla chips, aromatic truffle fries sprinkled with parmesan cheese and rosemary , an old-fashioned turkey dinner with all the fixings, a creamy macaroni and cheese with diced chicken tenders and bread crumbs, a tavern burger that is only $5.00 (including fries) on weekdays at lunch and on Wednesday nights, a turkey burger smothered with zesty cranberry mayo, and tender and nicely-marinated steak tips which compete nicely with some of the legendary steak tip places just north of Boston. A children’s menu is also available, as is a gluten-free menu.
Chains such as TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s, and the 99 certainly serve a purpose and no matter how much restaurant critics and food nerds/gourmands don’t want to hear it, they remain popular with much of the population and aren’t really going anywhere anytime soon. But why go to a chain when you can support an independent restaurant that does everything a chain does and more? That alone is one reason to hit a place like John Brewer’s Tavern, and as an added benefit, you can get some truly great beers to go with your chain/not chain dining experience.
John Brewer’s Tavern. 7 Highland Ave, Malden. johnbrewerstavern.com/malden.html