Heel and Toe
45 Wingate St., Haverhill
Kitchen hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Handicapped access by elevator via Peddler’s Daughter
Haverhill’s slowly gentrifying Shoe District has a restaurant called Heel and Toe. It opened two months ago as a sort of retro, whiskey-and-bitters speakeasy, a concept that’s proven popular in Manhattan. (During Prohibition, “heel and toe!” was supposedly what bartenders shouted to scatter customers when a raid was imminent. The phrase also alludes to the shoe and boot makers that once filled the neighborhood’s handsome brick buildings.)
For now, at least, Heel and Toe is a low-key restaurant that puts more emphasis on its drinks than its food. Until we stopped in on a recent Thursday evening, we’d never heard of a cocktail that involved pickle juice (the $7 Pickle Back, made with Jameson Irish whiskey). We didn’t actually order one, but we liked knowing that we could.
Heel and Toe occupies the high-ceilinged, brick-walled room where Bistro 45, a tapas and wine bar, used to be. The Irish pub downstairs, the Peddler’s Daughter, has the same ownership. We sat at a banquette by a set of tall windows in front. Our view of the street, however, was blocked by huge Venetian blinds and heavy dark curtains, which we took to be a nod to Prohibition furtiveness.
Much of the room is taken up by the bar. On the wall opposite hang a pair of stuffed animal heads: an eight-point buck and a snarling boar. Another salute to bygone days is the imitation gaslights, although where we sat, this touch was overwhelmed by bright track lighting along the ceiling.
Heel and Toe’s new-American menu is creative and concise — two salads and just four entrées or “big plates” (one each of steak, chicken, fish, and pasta), which range from $17 to $28. Bistro 45’s tapas concept lives on the restaurant’s offering of seven “small plates,” priced from $8 to $12.
Among the latter, we chose devils on horseback ($8), which were dates that had been stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in prosciutto, roasted on a skewer, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. We wondered if the flavors would blend, but we needn’t have worried; there wasn’t enough blue cheese to clash.
An appetizer of portabello mushroom caps with garlic spinach, red peppers, and Swiss cheese ($9), also with balsamic vinegar, was large and tasty, although it might have benefited from a minute or two in a broiler to give it some crunch.
An $8 plate of crostini had an interesting medley of toppings, including ricotta with honey, cold roasted chick peas, roasted tomato (with yet more balsamic), and eggplant caponata. The latter tasted as if it might have come from a jar.
A spring salad with arugula, fresh corn, and homemade croutons in a raspberry vinaigrette ($9) was a satisfying mix of flavors and textures, but it was very cold, as though it had been assembled earlier and refrigerated.
Our favorite was a small-plate special of lightly seared ahi tuna on a bed of seaweed salad with a wasabi cream sauce ($15). Haverhill may not be a seaport, but it’s close enough: The tuna tasted ocean-fresh, and with the trimmings it was delicious.
Heel and Toe was offering two desserts, and we tried both (at $6 apiece). A serving of tiramisu with whipped cream in a martini glass was fine but unremarkable. A dish of chocolate pudding with a drizzle of butterscotch sauce was sweet, certainly, but no better than supermarket snack food.
Still, you don’t go to a speakeasy for pudding, right? We probably should have finished with a S’More ($11) from the bar.
The drink combines vanilla vodka and dark-chocolate liqueur in a glass with the rim dipped in chocolate syrup and then in graham-cracker crumbs. In lieu of a cherry, the bartender plops a fire-roasted marshmallow on top.