21 Main St., Medford
Hours: Mondays-Wednesdays, 4 to 11 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, noon-10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
The new location acknowledges the former restaurant’s storied history through vintage photos and decorations.
Call it the comeback kid: Carroll’s is open again in Medford after more than two decades. Founded in the 1930s, this local standby served legions of diners before closing its doors in 1986. Credit for the recent revival goes to Tom and Maury Carroll, sons of the original owner. They have chosen a new location adjacent to Mystic River that still acknowledges the former restaurant’s storied history through vintage photos and decorations.
If diners can look past a few weak menu items and a slightly disjointed layout, they will find Carroll’s second act to be pretty solid so far.
Carroll’s is divided into a cavernous, 100-plus-seat dining room and a cozy, brick-walled bar. The dining room feels staunchly formal, with white linen tablecloths, candles, and minimalist, earth-tone decorations. The bar, on the other hand, is casual and lively, with five large flat-screen TVs, comfortable booths, and high-top tables. The result is somewhat incoherent, but the menu is identical in each section. Unless you are out to impress, skip the quiet dining room and cozy up near the taps.
Carroll’s menu is modern American, heavy on steak house classics such as burgers, sandwiches, seafood, and salads. There is also a fully stocked raw bar, with chilled local oysters ($2.50 each or $14 for a half dozen); chilled jumbo shrimp ($2.50 and $14); and chilled local top neck clams ($1.50 each or $8 for a half dozen). Prices run the gamut here, from a $9 burger to a $26 signature center-cut New York sirloin.
The length of the menu is outmatched only by the list of libations, which includes a California-heavy wine selection and plenty of craft brews, including regional favorites such as Pretty Things Jack D’Or ($13.75) and Cisco Whale’s Tale Pale Ale ($5.75). The specialty cocktails ($9.50) are named for famous Medford residents and community lore; order a 1630 Infusion or an Isaac Royall and write it off as a local history lesson.
The appetizer list features mostly standard bar finds, including potato skins ($8.50) and nachos supreme ($8). Our portion of Mussels W.O.G. (white wine, onion, and garlic, $10) was generous but uninspiring. More interesting was the crackling ginger calamari ($10), a creative twist on the typical starter with loads of fresh ginger and a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce.
We also drooled over the steak, cheese, and caramelized onion egg roll ($8). What happens when you bring together the glorious Philly cheesesteak with the illustrious deep-fried wonton? A greasy, delicious mess, with provolone sauce on the side.
The entrées at Carroll’s seem to suffer from the standard long menu problem: it is hard to get every dish right when there are so many offered. The enormous pork chop special ($19) was marred by an overly buttery marsala sauce, although the side of skin-on garlic mashed potatoes earned rave reviews. The Colonial burger ($10.50) was cooked perfectly to order and topped with crispy, thick-cut bacon and tasty caramelized onions, but the fries arrived mushy and the bun was almost impossibly greasy.
That said, Carroll’s earns kudos for its delicious sirloin steak tips ($16), well-marinated in homemade barbecue sauce and grilled with a light char. We also enjoyed the lobster roll ($16), which arrived with a generous heaping of lobster salad, light on the mayo with plenty of fresh-chopped celery. The best dish was the New Bedford scallops ($23), perfectly pan-seared in a light white wine and butter sauce with rice pilaf on the side.
In keeping with the rest of the menu, Carroll’s offers classic American desserts: New York-style cheesecake ($7.50), an ice cream sundae ($7.50), and a cake of the day ($7).
If you are lucky enough to catch the mud pie cake in the rotation, don’t skimp out. The enormous pie features layers of almond-studded coffee and chocolate ice cream atop an Oreo crust, drowning happily in pools of caramel and hot fudge. It’s large enough to turn heads at other tables, so make sure to keep your elbows out.