There was a while many years ago when I hated my landlord (he did everything mean landlords do — or rather don’t do). In the winter, when I walked in my neighborhood and could see into all the lit-up houses, I wanted to be in one of those inviting rooms.
Every once in a while on a dark, frigid night I get that feeling again (minus the desperation) when I walk by a bustling restaurant and the place from the outside looks bright with convivial diners. I’m immediately curious to go in and see what it’s like.
So I finally parked the car in Brighton Center recently and stopped by Brighton Bodega, which took the place of Mandy & Joe’s. The seven-decade restaurant closed in 2015 and Superior Dining Group, which specializes in neighborhood gastropubs, moved in over two years ago.
There's always that moment when your imagination of warmth and hospitality is squashed like a bug when you enter a place. Not at Brighton Bodega. I was greeted as if I had been there last week and was returning for my regular visit.
Roisin, our waitress, should have a side gig giving lessons on how to be part of a wait staff. She's from Galway and has the gift of gab, but also of grace and generosity. She's paying attention, having a little fun, tossing in a clever quip now and then, and making you feel like you're where you should be at this moment.
The menu changes all the time, she tells us. In fact, if you go online to the restaurant website, there’s a sample menu from mid-December that doesn’t look that different from the January list. It’s a mix of everything you’re expecting, with the emphasis on crisp and creamy textures, heightened tastes, dishes you’ll recognize — cheese and charcuterie boards, burgers (both beef and vegan), tacos, lots of vegetables cooked different ways, many with ingredients pulled from the pantry of the moment (tahini, pomegranate seeds, halloumi), and an array of steamed buns filled with other trendy items (katsu shrimp, Nashville chicken, confit duck).
Superior also runs also runs Barlow's in South Boston, Copper House Tavern in Waltham, Orleans in Somerville, and Warren Tavern in Charlestown. Porter Belly's Pub and Devlin's in Brighton Center, both neighbors of Bodega, are part of the group. The formula seems to be appealing food in generous portions.
To that end, steak tacos on small soft wheat tortillas have delicious juicy, beefy bites with some real heat in the salsa. Cauliflower with carrots in a tahini sauce, a pretty dish with just the right proportions, seems right out of Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born London cookbook author and restaurateur.
The double bacon cheeseburger and its melty cheese is an impressive stack, so high you know you can’t bite into it. A knife has been speared into the juicy layers, which are assembled on a soft bun with curly fries so you can halve the big thing and give half to a table mate. This is a real “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” presentation.
Bodega seats 96, 15 at a bar, and a coveted eight more seats at a kitchen bar, where you can watch the cooks assemble and put the finishing touches on everyone’s dinner. Roisin is chatting with us as she clears our spot, holding our dishes as she talks, standing still without distraction as if she has no one on her mind but us. Another waitress passes by empty handed, and as if choreographed, the second waitress slides the plates out of Roisin’s hands into her own and keeps walking.
The good feeling in this place starts with the staff and spreads its geniality to all the diners.
We tally up our bill and grab our coats. "See you next week," says Roisin. "Don't be late or I'll worry."
328 Washington St, Brighton, 617-208-8698, www.brightonbodega.com. Most main courses under $20.