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Cheap Eats

American comfort food for Local crowds

Clockwise from left: iceberg wedge salad, fish and chips, and a burger and fries from the Wellesley Local Kitchen & Drinks.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Iceberg wedge salad from the Wellesley Local Kitchen & Drinks.

The new locations of The Local Kitchen & Drinks in Wellesley and Wayland do not take reservations, but they’re mobbed (Wellesley seats over 165, Wayland 200). Put your name on a waitlist and you get an immediate text from Noshlist.com to tell you when a table will open, so you don’t have to bug the hosts. Typically on weekends, the wait might be 45 minutes to an hour, and that doesn’t seem to deter the crowds. Co-owners Tom Wynn and Frank Santo of the Wellesley Restaurant Group, who also own the 5-year-old Local in West Newton and Isabella in Dedham, are probably minting money with this concept.

The Local might be called a gastropub, but that implies classic dishes prepared with new ingredients in imaginative ways. At The Local, the food is American comfort without much innovation: Delicious warm potato chips with an onion dip ($5), iceberg wedges with bacon and creamy blue cheese dressing ($9), roasted tomato flatbread, which is genuinely crisp and well made ($12), and tomato soup ($4 and $7), with a nostalgic taste that will make you think Campbell’s, though it’s obviously homemade, with a grilled Vermont cheddar sandwich ($5).

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Menu items are called “snack things,” “small things,” “flatbread things,” and so on. Probably cuter than it needs to be. Culinary director Brian Counihan, who oversees the kitchen for three Locals and Isabella, has been with the company since 2007, beginning as the chef at Isabella. Every restaurant serves the same fare, he says, and individual chefs vary a dish of say, short ribs, to make it theirs.

To that end, pot roast with short ribs and roasted root vegetables ($19) in Wayland comes with spoon-tender meat, but the vegetables and ribs seem to have been cooked separately and then just presented together. Fisherman’s stew at the same location ($19) has flavorful couscous with bits of chorizo, a rimful of nice mussels, but flabby shrimp and cardboard cod.

In Wellesley, steak tips ($18) come with that intense sweet and lightly salted glaze that I think of as crack marinade — it makes everything taste good. But when you get to the meat, it doesn’t have real flavor. Same for lobster roll ($18): lots of delicious mayo but it completely masks the sweet crustacean.

A giant piece of haddock, deep-fried with a semolina-flour coating ($17), is sweet and moist. A burger ($11) made with a blend from butcher John Dewar is big, juicy, and nicely priced. And just when we’re starting to think that we’re really eating at The Cheesecake Factory, dessert arrives, and they could be dead ringers for what you’d get at that popular chain: hot fudge sundae ($7) without enough sauce (which isn’t particularly fudge-y anyway), and a giant wedge of coffee ice cream pie ($7).

Fish and chips.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Fish and chips.

One night in West Newton, a place that seems much more like a neighborhood pub, the bartender is talking to a patron and completely ignoring everyone. We’re inches away and have to flag him to get service. The Wayland barkeeps should get awards for service. Everyone at Wellesley looks overwhelmed. One night our bill comes tallied with so many extra desserts that I honestly think the waiter was too slammed to check it before he presented it.

New locations are sleek. A milk-chocolate tin ceiling in Wellesley, dark colors and a marblelike surface on the bar made from quartzite in Wayland. West Newton is down at the heels.

There’s no one you couldn’t take here: Grandparents, teens, friends visiting from abroad who want to see what a typical American spot is like, girlfriends celebrating a birthday.

“It kind of feels like everybody,” is how Counihan describes the clientele. When someone once asked him what’s on his menu, he answered, “a high-brow approach to low-brow food.” That stuck, he says. And the crowds formed at the door.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.
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