Let’s talk macaroni and cheese for a moment. While the Greater Boston area isn’t exactly the best place in the world for it (and it isn’t a regional food like bar pizza or roast beef sandwiches), it isn’t exactly the worst, either. With places like Harvard Gardens in Beacon Hill, Silvertone in Downtown Crossing, Ashmont Grill in Dorchester, and the Publick House in Brookline, there are definitely places to find excellent versions of this classic comfort food dish. But one of the best places for it is a dining spot in Winthrop that is as about hidden as they come—and ironically, the restaurant doesn’t even have it on the menu. Never heard of the Winthrop Arms before? Well, you’re definitely not the only one.
The town of Winthrop itself is a bit on the hidden side; even though it borders Boston (East Boston, to be exact), it sits on a peninsula mostly away from public transportation and it has no malls, huge office complexes, busy highways, or anything else that might attract crowds of people. And within the community is a smaller peninsula that sticks out from the main peninsula where quiet residential streets and jaw-dropping ocean views can be found—and right in the middle of it all is the Winthrop Arms, a hotel and restaurant that dates back to World War I. The interior of the place is gorgeous in an old-world kind of way, with a lobby full of mahogany and a sprawling, comfortable dining area that oozes charm and elegance without being stuffy. A relatively new addition to the space is a long outdoor porch that overlooks the street and is a great spot to be on a warm summer night.
The restaurant at the Winthrop Arms focuses mainly on classic American fare and Italian-American dishes, including good takes on bacon-wrapped scallops, a Caesar salad, chicken cordon bleu, crab cakes, veal and chicken parmigiana, baked stuffed scrod, shrimp scampi, chopped sirloin with mushroom gravy, and pork chops, along with a fair selection of beers and wines. But it is the macaroni and cheese that is king to many here, and for some strange reason, it isn’t on the menu, so you need to ask for it. For those in the know, the mac and cheese at the Arms is something special, with cavatappi (a kind of corkscrew pasta) used rather than the more common elbow macaroni. It’s mixed with several types of cheese and a good amount of cream, then baked until the top is browned. To some, this is the best macaroni and cheese in the entire Boston area, and also one of the cheapest (and perhaps the only off-menu version around).
The Winthrop Arms restaurant remains well under the radar after all these years, in part because it’s in a residential neighborhood whose roads don’t really go anywhere, and also because it is located in a town that generally isn’t considered a dining destination (which is too bad, because the community has a number of impressive restaurants). If you’re jonesing for mac and cheese and have a car—and a decent map app or GPS—head to this charming seaside spot for a true sense of discovery within the local restaurant scene.
WINTHROP ARMS. 130 GROVERS AVE., WINTHROP. WINTHROPARMS.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.