A less-beachy beachside option south of Boston
Believe it or not, summer is quickly winding down, but there will still be plenty of days (knock wood) to hit the beach—and for those who like to stay close to Boston, one of the best options is historic Nantasket Beach in Hull, which was once home to the legendary Paragon Park and still has all the tacky and cheesy stuff that beachgoers tend to love. And while Nantasket still has places to play arcade games, eat junk food, drink cheap beer, and listen to live music, sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy a relaxing meal and some peace and quiet at a pleasant full-service sit-down restaurant. Hull does have a handful of such places, with one of the better ones being Mezzo Mare, a borderline upscale spot that features the type of Italian food you might expect to see in the North End, and with a move by the restaurant that took place awhile back, the eatery now has more modern digs and feels a world away from the sights and sounds of the ocean across the street.
The old location of Mezzo Mare on Nantasket Avenue certainly had its charm, with its two quiet rooms and fireplace making for a nice date spot, but it did feel a bit tired and worn, and its location just off the main drag in a strip of small businesses rendered it nearly invisible. The restaurant’s “new” space (as in a few years old) a couple of blocks south continues the romantic feel and old-world charm of the old location, with a pleasant bar off to the left, a main dining area to the right, and an “overflow” room in the back that has slightly dimmer lighting and a fireplace. The exterior of Mezzo Mare really isn’t much to look at, and as was the case of the older location, it is very easy to drive right by the squat structure without even knowing it is there, which tends to keep the dining spot a bit of a secret to all but Hull residents even though it is right in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in town.
Because Mezzo Mare is within sight of Nantasket Beach—and because Hull itself tends to be a low-key and unpretentious beach town—you might think that an Italian eatery here would be a casual cheap-eats spot that is more geared toward the takeout crowd. This is definitely not the case, however, as the dining spot goes well beyond the basic pasta and meatballs and chicken marsala dishes (though you can find both of those here) and is in fact only open for dinner, so don’t expect a quick midday snack between beach sessions. The menu tends to be ever-changing here (and it also has nightly specials), but a few options might include bruschetta with grilled bread, meatballs, and baby spinach; savory arancini stuffed with peas, cheese, and Italian meats; house-made mozzarella sticks that are stuffed with pepperoni; a classic appetizer of asparagus with prosciutto and mozzarella; a penne and broccoli dish that comes with spicy Italian sausage; a seafood lover’s risotto dish with lobster, scallops, and shrimp included; a moderately garlicky gnocchi pesto; a rich and creamy gorgonzola ravioli with chicken; and a wonderful version of veal piccata. Mezzo Mare has a few beer options, though wine may be the better way to go here, and a rotating list of desserts includes a rich and decadent German chocolate cake. Prices tend to be more in line with Italian restaurants in Boston than in the suburbs, but even though they are a tad higher than average, you can certainly get dishes for around $20—especially among the pasta options.
Mezzo Mare has been around for a number of years, but it still gets overlooked even within the town of Hull, perhaps because Hull does seem to be all about burgers, hot dogs, lobster rolls, beer, and sweets, especially during the summer months when the beach is packed. If you want a change of pace from the more typical beach food, however, this little restaurant is indeed a very nice option, and its slightly upscale vibe doesn’t include any kind of dress code, so unless you plan to have dinner while wearing swim trunks or a bikini, you will be more than welcome here.
MEZZO MARE. 245 NANTASKET AVE., HULL.
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.