Where to: Northern Spy in Canton.
Why: For a luscious reminder of Boston’s deep well of culinary talent that persists despite COVID-19. For modern New England cooking with soul. For food that tastes homemade, even in takeout containers. For the hope that better things are surely to come — and, in fact, have already arrived.
The backstory: Northern Spy is a new effort from the team behind Cambridge’s Loyal Nine: David Beller, Rebecca Theris, Daniel Myers, and Marc Sheehan. Their first restaurant, which opened in 2015, is an idiosyncratic nook specializing in Colonial revival cuisine served on handmade pottery (or to-go containers, for now): steel-cut oats, apple bread, maple pie. It was named for an underground group of Bostonians who staged protests against the Stamp Act of 1765.
Northern Spy, located on the developing Paul Revere Heritage Site, is a nod to Revere’s intelligence work during the Revolutionary War and his Canton roots. Northern Spy is housed in his former copper mill.
There’s nothing quaint about the current digs, though: It’s a construction zone right now, with unpaved roads as in days of yore. (Do not trust your GPS to get you where you need to go. Study an old-fashioned map. It’s off of Revere Street, by Revolution Way. Follow the signs.) Sheehan says he was initially reluctant to open a restaurant here three years ago, when the build got underway. Growing up nearby in Milton, he didn’t consider Canton a culinary hot spot. But his dad had read about the burgeoning Heritage project and nudged him. Sheehan also realized how many urban ex-pats had moved to the area and wanted more dining options.
Of course, he didn’t plan to open during a pandemic. Right now, the business is just takeout and delivery — with a cute little host nook out front with pottery and some business cards, like a grown-up lemonade stand — but local response has been strong. Sheehan brought on chef de cuisine Paul Clark and two more part-time cooks from Loyal Nine.
“Support from the town is allowing us to get some people back to work,” he says.
What to eat: Most food is cooked in a wood hearth, such as my favorite so far: “creamed” kale ($7). I never imagined a day when I’d crave kale, but this dish — a moss-green tangle that would make Bob Ross swoon — is scrape-the-takeout-container good. Kale is lightly grilled over the hearth and pureed with walnuts, mushroom stock, lemon, and butter. It’s like eating a savory forest, and there’s no cream involved. A tub of baked beans with salt pork and molasses ($7) is sweet and tangy, and baked clam dip ($14) spiked with horseradish and a blanket of cheddar is the type of dish that entices dieters to crouch in front of an open fridge at midnight.
A fish sandwich ($16) topped with coleslaw and tartar is lightly fried on a buttery brioche bun and served alongside fries, best dipped in Spy’s secret sauce (a Thousand Island-ish mixture with garlic and capers). Stout-braised beef stew ($24) is a thick velvet blanket of root vegetables and horseradish, the perfect antidote to a chilly January eve. For dessert? Two chocolate chip cookies ($4) that stay warm and gooey despite traveling a half-hour to their destination. There’s also a kids’ menu, with mac-and-cheese, flatbread, chicken tenders with honey mustard, an ice cream sundae, and lots more. Nothing there is over $12. There’s even a kids’ creamed kale — and, truly, they just might eat it.
What to drink? Local ales, like Proclamation; double Mai Tais and Boulevardiers (because we deserve it); matcha from Art of Tea; and an assortment of Fountainhead craft sodas.
The takeaway: Paul Revere once roused the countryside to prepare for war, even though he probably never really said, “The British are coming!” But I can officially say that Northern Spy is here, even in a pandemic — and the countryside would be wise to mobilize toward it.
4 Rolling Mill Way, Canton, 781-989-1850, northernspycanton.com