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Cheap Eats

New McCabe’s rises above standard pub fare

Chilled lobster bisque (left), brined wings (center), and duck sliders (below) are some of the menu highlights at McCabe’s on Mass.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Duck sliders at McCabe’s on Mass.

You know Bull McCabe’s, the friendly, pocket-size pub in Union Square, with decent food and great music? A slightly more refined and sophisticated, but still fun-loving, sister pub opened up the street in Porter Square in May. What sis lacks in raucous reggae nights, she more than makes up for in well-made cocktails and an eclectic menu that is a few notches above standard pub fare. Happily, the service is as affable here as at the little McCabe’s, but with hustle, and a little more shine.

The former space of The Dubliner Pub has been outfitted with dark high-top tables, funky orb-like light fixtures, a lime-green accent wall, and exposed brick behind the bar. It’s a clean, welcoming, sparkling area. The bar and dining room are dotted with regulars from the Union Square outpost, and a few locals drawn in by the smart new building facade.

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The bartender, who instantly recognizes one of our party from pints at Bull McCabe’s, suggests the drink special, a ginger margarita with Casamigos tequila ($10.50). “It’s George Clooney’s tequila, if that convinces anyone,” he says. It’s fresh, with a touch of smoke, and goes down far too easily. Another dining companion, sipping his rye Old Fashioned ($10), nods in approval, and the beer geeks enjoy The Crisp ($7) a German-style pilsner from Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn.

Partners Brian Manning, Chris Whitney, and Thomas Covert recently hired head chef Graham Honig, formerly of Ten Tables. According to Manning, the menu is constantly changing. “We are trying to keep it fresh, see what’s working and what’s not, figuring out what people are looking for,” he says.

If you are looking for meat-candy, you’ve come to the right place. We had to start with bacon bliss ($5), a half-dozen slices of candied bacon, which is exactly as delicious as you would expect. It being a hot summer night, we also sipped a bowl of chilled lobster bisque ($8), a very large portion of rich, cooling soup with deep lobster flavor, studded with knuckle meat and sweet kernels of corn. Wings ($9) are brined before being deep-fried and tossed with sweet-hot sriracha butter, served alongside buttermilk blue-cheese dressing. Even the Buffalo purist at the table can’t help but love this crunchy/juicy/spicy bar snack. An artichoke flatbread ($12) is almost cracker-thin, topped with a tasty puttanesca-like mixture of house tomato sauce with olives, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, and fresh mozzarella.

Farm salad ($8), a perfectly simple and delicious summer plate, is a mound of Verrill Farm’s greens with grilled zucchini and corn, shaved radishes, and herbs. Cornbread ($3) is a sad little square that tastes of musty grain.

The chilled lobster bisque.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The chilled lobster bisque.

Sandwiches are a mixed bag. Vegetarian banh mi ($12) is a bit bland with a fried slab of polenta subbing for the meat and pate, topped with a slaw of under-pickled daikon, carrot, and cabbage. It’s assembled on an Iggy’s baguette smeared with sriracha aioli. Accompanying fries are crisp, golden, perfect pub grub. A braised brisket sandwich ($16) is a behemoth plate with a thick filling of tender, fatty brisket, between two almost-as-thick slices of Iggy’s focaccia. It could use some more seasoning, and the acidity and crunch of some pickles, and maybe more mustard, to balance out the richness. Duck sliders ($9) are savory, salty, and truly addictive: two little brioche buns stuffed with rich confit, topped with cracklings and a zippy slaw.

We end our meal on a very high note with the colossal cookie ($9). It’s billed for two, but could feed four — a gooey chocolate-upon-Valrhona-chocolate confection, topped with Christina’s vanilla ice cream, rich caramel sauce, and toasted hazelnuts.

Classy comfort. That’s the new McCabe’s in a nutshell.

Diners, from left, Meghan Watt, and Bill Harnois, both of Cambridge, at McCabe's on Mass Ave in Cambridge. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Lifestyle, smartc)

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Inside McCabe’s on Mass.

Catherine Smart can be reached at cathjsmart@gmail.com.
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