Simpli Bar & Bites resides in a neighborhood in flux, at the dividing line between Jamaica Plain and Hyde Park, a short walk from the Forest Hills stop on the Orange Line. The Harvest Co-op across the street and Dogwood Cafe by the T station are signs of the area’s ongoing gentrification, though there are plenty of reminders of its past life.
The upstart restaurant, which opened in mid-July, pays tribute to yesteryear while keeping a decidedly modern decor. Inside, grainy transit photos hang on walls wrapped in subway tiles, while the color scheme revolves around orange, a hat tip to the nearby station. A long bar runs the length of the room, near two high-tops and an L-shaped corner table, seating 24 total. Outside, on an inviting, wood-encased deck, with towering heat lamps for chilly nights, there are 26 more seats to settle into. That is, until the T rumbles by and stops conversations short. “It’s really loud, but the people in the neighborhood come and hang out and say the train adds character,” says general manager Mike Merlis. “You kind of get used to it.”
Those residents make up much of Simpli’s business, he says, walking over from Hyde Park Avenue or migrating from Roslindale. “It’s a European cafe concept where people can come in, get a latte and croissant in the morning, come back at lunch and get a sandwich, and then if you’re on your way home from work, stop in and get a cold beer and a little bar bite,” Merlis says.
The three menus give the place a straightforward approach suggested by the restaurant’s name. Mornings bring muffins, scones, and the locally roasted Boston Common dark brew coffee. (There are plans to add hot items like quiche later this month, Merlis says.) Afternoons focus on salads and sandwiches, evenings center around small bar snacks and 8-inch flatbread pizzas.
Sandwiches, offered pressed and with a choice of locally made bread, wrap, or bagel, are led by the popular cran-walnut chicken salad ($7.50), a blend of all-white meat, dried cranberries, and nuts (too few) tossed with mayonnaise. The veggie ($6.50) is another fine, well-balanced choice, offering roasted balsamic eggplant and portobellos with red onion, goat cheese, and basil. Both sandwiches arrive with an unadvertised side salad tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. The dressing is a recipe Merlis learned from his mother, a longtime caterer, and while it’s tasty (he says customers often ask for the recipe), there’s too much of it.
At night, the rustic pizza ($8) mirrors the veggie sandwich, loaded with balsamic-roasted vegetables in garlic and olive oil, then topped with goat cheese. But the jewel is the pork belly pizza ($8), which Merlis says is the most-ordered item on the menu. To make it, Kurobuta pork belly is slow-cooked for 8 to 12 hours, then the meat is combined with shredded mozzarella and julienned red onions, and topped with arugula and sweet barbecue sauce. The result: excellent and filling.
Similarly, pork belly sliders ($5 for two) uses the same tangy pork on toasted brioche rolls with house-made coleslaw. Another appetizer, pretzel pucks ($5 for four), make great sober-up food in this bar setting. They’re large rolls coated with butter and sea salt and served with a side of spicy brown mustard. All of this comes on appetizer plates and sometimes they don’t work, especially with messy foods like the pork belly pizza.
For a neighborhood joint, the bar list is crucial and this may be one of the biggest draws of Simpli, with a revolving list of mostly local craft brews, spirits, and wines. “It’s not a high-volume sports bar,” says Merlis. “It works when people spend $8 to $10 on one beer and they’ll have two, instead of five or six Bud Lights. I can probably count on one hand the people who have asked for a Bud or Coors Light.”
With the neighborhood’s identity changing, Simpli is positioned to become a new fixture.