All trends have their ebb and flow in the greater restaurant ecosystem. Gastropubs swell and deflate, retro diners rise and fall, and speakeasies open and then fade into the shadows. But one trend that has been sporadically peeking out from the ether around the Hub during the last few years involves a tipping of the hat to our collective colonial history. As a rule, the less literally restaurants take that theme—at least from a design standpoint, if not the development of a menu—the better. Otherwise bad things can happen (or you’re just eating at Disneyland).
So when ex-Menton and pop-up supper-club for hire (see: Brasstacks) vet Marc Sheehan began looking at potential locations, and having conversations with his partners which includes Daniel Myers and Rebecca Theris (both involved in Somerville’s the Hand Taste Collective pop-up dinner group), and David Beller (Puritan & Co., Atwood’s Tavern) about where they would bring their future “East Coast Revival” cuisine to life, Cambridge began to make a whole lot of sense. The result, Loyal Nine, opened this past weekend, and according to Sheehan the location’s history had all the right synergy.
“It’s a great part of town,” he says. “It feels like it’s still a real neighborhood. It hasn’t been built up too much like other parts of Cambridge. The cool thing [is] we’re on the road that the British took from Lexington to Concord and back, so we’re actually in the only part that got ‘revolutionary action’ in Cambridge.”
For a restaurant aiming to jibe well with both the new neighborhood and the flavors of early New England, the connection is serendipitous. But the journey to get here, for Sheehan, was one of toil, learning, and self-discovery.
“When I was 18 or 19 in culinary school I had this dream of going to Italy and coming back to Boston and incorporating those flavors into the food being made here,” he says. “The more I was studying colonial America the more I was seeing the impact of the moment of food on society at the time, and came to the realization that as an Irish kid from the South Shore I didn’t really have any connection to Italy. Didn’t make sense for me to go and commit myself to making pasta, [when] there was a whole wealth of a culinary heritage here that was as foreign to me as northern Italy was. The fact that I had lived here my whole life started my interest in it.”
And the menu concept here reflects that interest, with a heavy focus on coastal seafood, meats, and whole roasted veggies sourced from throughout New England and as far away as Philadelphia. Think: mutton raised on an island in Penobscot Bay, whole Ossabaw pigs from Vermont (“You don’t see them in Boston much,” he says), or mollusks from oyster farmers who supply shellfish to the famed Le Bernardin in NYC. Moreover, keeping in line with the tactful employment of rustic, colonial-inspired flavors (braised pork with anchovies, chilled shrimp with salted herbs), many of the dishes are meant to be eaten with hands as opposed to needing silverware.
Ultimately though, for Sheehan the idea was to offer dishes approachable both in style and affordability, with prices ranging from $4 to $60 (and the latter is for a salt-crusted lamb shoulder that can feed five people).
“I’ve been very conscious about trying to appeal to people my age or younger in terms of price point,” he says. “But being in Cambridge there’s a certain expectation for accessibility of a restaurant. I want people to come here for a special occasion, or twice a week if they want to.”
LOYAL NINE. NOW OPEN. 660 CAMBRIDGE ST., CAMBRIDGE. 617-945-2576. FACEBOOK.COM/LOYALNINEEASTCAMBRIDGE
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.