If you ask Arlington native Billy Lyons about the history of his town, he will probably tell you about the Cooper’s Flip cocktail. Lyons, who has managed several restaurants over the last 30 years — Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale and Jasper White’s Summer Shack among them — will inform you that the “shot heard ’round the world” that really matters happened in his hometown, formerly named Menotomy. At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, two patriots who refused to hide from the advancing British lost their lives when Redcoats stormed Cooper’s Tavern.
What they were drinking is now the signature libation at Menotomy Grill & Tavern, which Lyons opened in June in a renovated space (once a Hollywood Video) that includes high ceilings, exposed brick, and an outdoor patio. On a Thursday night, all 150 seats are filled with a line out the door. The hostesses barely have a grip managing walk-ins. The crush could be the honeymoon phase of a highly anticipated restaurant. But then again, with chef Mark Thompson (formerly of Chez Henri in Cambridge), those hostesses better get the hang of it.
We’re watching servers whisk plated entrees from the open kitchen. Shrimp and poblano fritters ($10) remind us of savory doughnut holes with just a whiff of crustacean flavor and subtle chili heat. Served with tangy aioli for dunking, we make quick work of this tasty appetizer. The Boston Bibb salad ($8) shines in its fresh simplicity, showcasing velvety butter lettuce, with shreds of bright radicchio, arugula, and radish, all dressed up in a bacony vinaigrette.
The crisp skin on chipotle citrus wings ($10) is brushed with a zippy glaze. We’re used to slumming it with the fast-food variety of this dish, so when these delicious drummies come garnished with micro-greens, we have to smile.
A dining companion is enjoying a cocktail made of gin, lavender syrup, and lemon juice when herb-roasted free-range chicken ($17) arrives, the half-bird nestled on potato-sausage hash. The dish is based on a recipe from Lyons’s mother, and the side has great potential, it’s just over-salted. Shallow-fried pork cutlet ($15), a specialty of Thompson’s mom, is the epitome of comfort food. Panko-crusted boneless pork comes with roasted fingerlings and a soft, fragrant red cabbage saute. An entree this good could be pricier, but Lyons is aiming for the budget’s “sweet spot,” as he calls it, so diners will return.
On a Sunday afternoon, crowds are tame and beer appears to be the drink of choice (the place has 20 on tap). Grilled vegetable panini ($10) arrives with cheese (we ordered it without), but the staff takes care of sending out another. The thinly sliced (almost shaved) eggplant has been cut on a deli slicer and grilled, then layered on a soft crusty baguette with roasted red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and grainy mustard.
Classic French dip ($11) showcases rosy slices of roast beef on that same good bread, with peppery watercress, and a delectable horseradish cream. Skin-on fries are golden, and hot from the fryer.
For a late supper, we’re contemplating the lobster special advertised on the 1930s-era blackboard (Lyons rescued it from the town’s old elementary school before it was demolished). On another wall is an antique print of two men raising their glasses. It represents the duo gunned down at Cooper’s Tavern. We order the signature drink, which sounds like Thanksgiving pie.
“Watch this,” the bartender says, cracking a whole raw egg into a shaker full of ice, rum, pumpkin, and nutmeg. The result is cool and silky. We’re sipping drinks and pondering Menotomy’s patriots when we realize we’re craving that pork cutlet.
Soon we’ll be ordering that dish by telling our server, “We’ll have our usual.”