When tourists and business folks come to Boston, they often think of trying such regional items as clam chowder, lobster, baked beans, and the like. To those who live in and around the city, however, the term “regional foods” tends to bring to mind such things as roast beef sandwiches (mostly on the North Shore), bar pizza (mostly south of the city), and steak tips, which tend to be found in mostly working-class neighborhood joints throughout the area. And to some, there is only one place to go for this distinctly regional dish—the NewBridge Cafe in Chelsea, a cash-only local fave that has been serving up transcendent versions of tips for more than four decades.
The NewBridge Cafe is located in what some people call the heart of steak tip country, which includes a swath that cuts through such places as East Boston, Revere, Chelsea, Everett, and Malden. It is fitting that the watering hole sits near where three of these communities meet—Chelsea, Revere, and Everett—and like many spots for steak tips such as Floramo’s in Chelsea and Stewart’s in Everett, the NewBridge isn’t all that easy to find, being in a residential neighborhood that is more or less cut off on the east by Route 1 and on the west and north by a couple of huge cemeteries. From the outside, the mostly windowless place looks like it could be a sketchy dive bar, but it really is more of a family-friendly dining and drinking spot, with its main room having rows of seats on one side and a bar on the other (and a low partition complete with old-fashioned bar rail separating the two), and a separate dining area above the main room that is good for larger groups and diners who want to be away from the bar. Expect lots of “honeys” and “sweeties” from the waitstaff, which is usually friendly, sometimes gruff, and often full of humor.
It would be easy to say that it’s all about the steak tips at the NewBridge Cafe, but a lot of other favorites can be found on its menu as well. The antipasto served with the restaurant’s legendary house dressing is a good place to start, and it is absolutely huge and piled in such a way that it could probably be considered the highest point in Chelsea at any given time. The house-made meatballs happen to be among the best in the Boston area (this is a very well-kept secret) and the red sauce they sit in is also as good as that of many if not most Italian restaurants nearby. As with the meatballs, the old-school steak fries can be ordered as an appetizer or on the side, and the fries are so big that one wonders what the original potatoes may have looked like. Main courses at the NewBridge include chicken parm (again, with the marvelous red sauce), baked scallops, tripe if you are so inclined, mild and slightly sweet Italian sausage, and a variety of tips, with the lean turkey tips, rich-tasting lamb tips, and savory pork tips all being excellent choices—and you can do combo plates if you don’t know which tips to choose. Finally, there are the NewBridge steak tips, and much of the goodness here comes from the outstanding marinade whose recipe is a heavily guarded secret, though half of all people in the Boston area claim to have the recipe or have “successfully recreated” it (don’t listen to any of them). However the marinade is made, it brings out the flavor of the beef without overwhelming it, giving the right amount of “zest” to go perfectly with the char from the grill. Alcoholic beverages go very well with the steak tips—and everything else at the NewBridge—and a few craft beers are offered along with the mass-market options, while plenty of hard stuff is available for shots and mixed drinks.
You don’t hear much about steak tips outside of New England, and even in New England itself steak tip places seem to become fewer and farther between as you head away from the Greater Boston area, so it really is a regional dish that often gets lost among all the talk of roast beef, bar pies, and yes, clam chowder and lobster. And while you can certainly make an argument for Floramo’s in Chelsea having the region’s best tips, the NewBridge Cafe seems to be—to many, anyway—the premiere spot for them, making this a place that meat lovers really need to seek out.
NEWBRIDGE CAFE. 650 WASHINGTON AVE., CHELSEA. NEWBRIDGECAFE.COM
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.