The buzz about Daddy Jones, the new cocktail bar in Magoun Square, has been swirling around Somerville for months now. In a corner of the city known for its pubs, pizza places, and Chinese take-out shops, owner Dimitra Tsourianis, who grew up in Somerville, saw a niche she could fill. "There aren't many Greek bars and restaurants where you can listen to hip-hop, and possibly watch the game," she says. She wanted to create a space, she says, where "you could eat Greek-influenced food, but isn't necessarily all blue and white, where everyone is drinking ouzo."
If you ever visited the space when it was Little Vinny's, the red-sauce Italian joint, you'll be surprised by the transformation. The room is now dimly lit, with a stately black bar, in front of a plum-colored wall. Small tables line windows overlooking the street, and high-tops spill into a pocket of space toward the rear of the small restaurant. Daddy Jones is full of happy locals sipping drinks after work, or cozying up to the bar for TV and a bite.
From what I can tell, no one is drinking ouzo. The cocktails include '80s favorites like Grape Crush ($10) and Harvey Wallbanger ($10). I'm a little worried they will be sickeningly sweet. Happily, they are not. Sex on the Beach ($9) is sweetened with a puree of fresh peaches and ginger. The Bourbon Spoon ($8) comes with a mastiha spoon, sweet taffy on a stick, a favorite of Greek children, who stir it into water. Here it dissolves in your chilled bourbon, to be removed when the drink is sweetened to your liking.
Libations are served in an array of cut-glass vessels, just grandmotherly enough to be hip. Drinks in the $8 to $10 range are not exactly cheap, but if you are looking for craft cocktails this is a good deal compared to other local places. Tsourianis, who worked as a general manager at OM in Harvard Square and Alibi in the Liberty Hotel, enjoys going to high-end cocktail bars on her days off. She wanted Daddy Jones to be a "really comfortable" place. "I just wanted to have fun with it," she says.
When I first called the restaurant, inquiring about the menu, I was told, "We are really a cocktail bar, but we have a small food menu." On the first visit, the cheerful waitress was full of info about the drinks, but it took some prying to get her going about the food.
Stuffed phyllo ($6) are savory little triangles of mushroom, spinach, and cheese tucked inside the buttery pastry. Smoked herring ($6) is a powerfully flavorful fish, not for the faint of palate. The smoky flesh comes swimming in oil with lemon and capers, perfect for drizzling on the accompanying grilled romaine and sopping up with pita triangles served alongside.
You know the chicken souvlaki ($9) will be authentic as soon as you see the crisp, hand-cut fries peeking out from the soft pita. That's how the sandwich is traditionally served in Greece, and what sandwich isn't improved with fries? The chicken is juicy and flavorful, topped with tomato, and tzatziki, the garlic sauce, packing a punch.
Grilled lamb skewers ($14) are a little too charred, but the flavor is good, as is the accompanying pilaf with peas and carrots. The Mac Daddy ($12), while not particularly Greek, is my new favorite macaroni and cheese. Sharp cheddar mixed with gooey kaseri (there's that Greek influence) are tossed with elbow noodles. Sweet sauteed cherry tomatoes are nestled in the mixture and salty, crisp cubes of bacon stand in for the usual breadcrumb topping.
Fish and fries ($14) are just a little overdone, but the flaky haddock is still delicious, with more of those addictive fries. The dishes are inspired by recipes from Tsourianis's mother, and created by chef Stephen Hoddinott, whose food is worthy of the accompanying cocktails.
Daddy Jones may be the neighborhood's new hot spot for drinks, but it's a fine idea to stay for the food.
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.