At Turner’s Yard in Pembroke, pub grub gets a chef’s makeover with farm-fresh ingredients, and retains a casual vibe in spite of its celebrity ownership.
The restaurant is the collaboration of Shawn Thornton of the Bruins, former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, Dropkick Murphys front man Ken Casey, and HGTV host Taniya Nayak.
Executive chef Eric Bogardus, who has cooked alongside the likes of Lydia Shire, brings the focus to comfort food with upscale twists and precise execution.
“I worked in restaurants with fine dining, but growing up in the Midwest, it’s the food you want to eat every day, things that fill you up,” said Bogardus, also executive chef at Petit Robert Central in Downtown Crossing in Boston.
The onion soup ($7) fits that bill, a warming starter in the cold of winter. The dark beef broth gave the soup rich body, and the melted Swiss and Munster added a subtle tang.
I was surprised to count the spinach salad ($8) among my favorites. The local cranberries make it sweet along with addictive, crunchy candied walnuts. The blue cheese was nicely pungent without being funky, and held up well to the assertive flavor of the spinach.
The mixed grill pizza ($14) was a special of the night, and arrived on an upside-down sheet pan lined with parchment, set on a rack. The toppings of shaved steak, chorizo, blue cheese, and Gouda were peppery and hearty, their richness offset with wilted spinach. The crust was delightfully thin and crispy, and the rectangular pie was so large it became the next day’s lunch.
Steak tips ($19) were prepared with a chimichurri rub and served with hand-cut frites. The sirloin pieces were cooked to a perfect, juicy medium-rare, but the seasoning was somewhat plain. While quality beef doesn’t need much enhancement, the advertised chimichurri simply wasn’t detectable.
The chicken schnitzel sandwich ($12) — a breaded chicken breast with caper butter, Swiss, and an over-easy egg on a roll, with fries — is fun to eat. I approached it as an open-faced sandwich with a fork and knife, rather than bite into it with the runny yolk. The chicken breast was moist and got extra richness from the egg, and the capers gave the sandwich a briny contrast.
Dessert offerings included local cheeses with fig jam, and slices of coconut cream pie or chocolate cream pie (all $8). My table opted for doughnut bites ($7) with a choice of dipping sauces: chocolate ganache, salted caramel, or banana syrup.
The doughnut holes arrived warm and coated in cinnamon sugar, but the coating prevented any salted caramel from sticking — the sauce dripped right off and took some sugar with it. Split them and spoon over the salty-sweet caramel. The doughnuts were all right, but not great, and a little on the dense side.
Turner’s Yard also offers brunch on the weekends, and pizza hour for the late-night crowd at the bar. Only pizza is served from 11 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and two or three special pizzas are available in addition to those on the menu, Bogardus said.
But don’t get too attached to the menu, because change is coming. “Being in a small town, you try to pay attention to every comment,” Bogardus said. “I want to change things to make people happy.”
Regulars want to see the menu mixed up once in a while, and more appetizers at the bar, he said. Some planned dishes include potato skins filled with duck confit, a fresh quahog chowder, and white corn grits with shrimp sautéed in brown butter.
Turner’s Yard occasionally has live music, and recently a comedy show. The owners wanted residents south of Boston to have a place for dining and entertainment without the hassle of driving into Boston, said Nayak, of Milton, who has been working on pilots “Billion Dollar Block” and “Renovation: Impossible.”
Her inspiration for the design of Turner’s Yard was a “farm-to-table look” with industrial features. “With Turner’s Yard being close to the water, I put the wood on the walls to give it more richness, but also a nod to a nautical vibe,” Nayak said.
She stained the wood a darker espresso shade alongside cream-colored planks. A large bar sits at the center of the restaurant, and customers can catch a game on 10 flat-screen televisions.
On a recent Thursday night the space was half-full. Our server was friendly, and food came quickly, but we never felt rushed.
Bogardus also plans to collaborate with area farmers markets once the weather warms up. “You start to lose a lot of the produce until summer comes,” he said. “But there’s always seafood to get you through the winter.”