When opening a new restaurant in a highly congested landscape of ever-growing fantastic, unique chef-driven neighborhood eateries, confirmation that you’re doing something right can come in various forms.
Sometimes it’s a string of thanks and congratulations from diners. Other times it’s a shining Yelp review. But it’s when your dishes make diners longing for the food they grew up on well up in tears while eating that just speaks for itself.
And that’s what’s already happened at the Frogmore, Jamaica Plain’s latest opening in the former Centre St Sanctuary space (which closed earlier in 2015 after the brutal and relentless winter that was), courtesy of the crew that brought you Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline. And chef Jason Albus says that’s all part of the plan.
“Andrew [Foster] and Steve [Bowman] have always tried to be a neighborhood restaurant first,” he says. “I live a block away from here. I love the area. This is what we’re trying to do, be a neighborhood restaurant to hit everyone on every level. We had a guy in [recently] from Charleston, who said, ‘Thank you, you saved a plane ride home for my anniversary.’ Had a woman come in and get emotional [too].”
Focusing on the food of “the lowlands” of South Carolina and the surrounding coastal region, Albus says his long familial lineage in the southern foothills of South Carolina is the engine behind such tear-inducing menu items, which, when boiled down to their essential core, are in his words, “A lot of old, old shit.” And that’s not bragging.
“These are my grandmother’s pickled peaches—South Carolina state, blue-ribbon-winning pickled peaches,” he says while pointing to the pork chops. “They’re just really good.” He then notes the thin-cut meat with a smile. “I wanted to hold true to what I grew up with, and this is what I grew up with … They know this is the food I love and am passionate about.”
The soft-shelled crab and house-made Andouille sausage in the Frogmore Stew alone would be worth the trip, but if you need a little gentle coaxing, let the Lowcountry Board with pickled shrimp (“We’re working on getting fresh Florida gulf shrimp regularly,” says Albus), ham hock rillettes, smoked oysters, and house-made field pickles seal the deal. And the produce will be mixed source. In one case it may be fresh okra from Brookline, or crabs and seafood from Louisiana. “When I can source things local, I will,” says Albus. “But I won’t for the sake of sourcing local.”
Walking into the space feels a bit like entering what one could imagine is an overblown version of some grammammy’s enclave. Left over from Centre St Sanctuary are the church pews and gorgeous central bar made from old church doors and lined with ornate stained cathedral glass. (“The place had great bones,” says Foster.) But the walls are a mishmash of found hangables, lighting fixtures, random paintings and pictures with that kitschy sweet-scary vibe, and pineapple wallpaper. Which both Albus and Foster say was a special point they intended to make.
“Pineapples historically were the ultimate representation of hospitality down South, because pineapple came from a very specific place. So to be able to go to a cocktail party and show up with a pineapple … everyone did this. It was just the ultimate gesture,” says Albus. “You’d put it in the centerpiece of the table then eat it for dessert. We embrace tongue-in-cheek when we can, because it’s fun, and you gotta have fun at the end of the day.”
“The more you can eliminate the artificial the better,” adds Foster. “Making a place feel like a real home and embedding yourself into a community, you get to have that familiar experience you may have lost when you left home.”
THE FROGMORE. NOW OPEN. 365 CENTRE ST., JAMAICA PLAIN. 857-203-9462. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEFROGMORE.COM
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.