Acquaintances are always returning from vacations to Turkey or Thailand or Tulum with reports of the magical dinners they had on the water, where a guy in a skiff arrived with freshly speared fish and the cook had it over the fire minutes later. They chased it with flagons of local spirits as they gazed into their partner’s eyes and listened to the waves lap the shore.
They can keep their postcards. We’ve got water aplenty right here, and if the local spirits are made by a villager named Sam Adams, the atmosphere is as magical in its own way.
Take Pier 6 in Charlestown, formerly Tavern on the Water. It opened at the tail end of summer, the season for which the location seems best suited. In the Navy Yard, it is perched on the pier it’s named for, practically in the water. There’s a glorious roof deck. The warm-weather charms of the place are obvious. But eating here on a dark winter night turns out to be differently splendid.
Clambering up steep stairs braced against a cutting wind, one hurls oneself with extra gratitude into a boxy structure that looks something like a shipping crate sided with windows. Inside, locals mingle at the mahogany bar. It’s busy without being unpleasantly crowded. Servers have time to joke, and they are genuinely funny, not just trying to be. The atmosphere feels a little like the Cape off season, relaxed and friendly, everyone in it together. There are nautical touches — columns wrapped in rope, vintage marine spotlights — and wood floors, but mostly there are those windows. They look out onto the winking night, the city skyline spangled, the air cold and clear. It’s breathtaking.
With a view like that, the food doesn’t need to steal the show. It doesn’t here, most of the time. But what comes to the table is often a pleasant surprise. Executive chef Greg Reeves was previously at Green Street in Cambridge, and before that places like B&G Oysters and UpStairs on the Square. He and sous chef Adriano Silva keep Pier 6’s menu simple but sophisticated, with a slight, location-appropriate bias toward seafood and daily specials that sound too good not to order.
There are oysters and a few carefully composed salads — beets and goat cheese with a pick-me-up from pickled onions and pumpkin seeds, endive with watercress, apples, and blue cheese. There is a fragrant, steaming bouillabaisse, its saffron-lobster broth stocked with cod, squid, clams, and mussels. There’s a special one night of golden lobster beignets, the batter just sweet enough to complement the lobster without veering into dessert territory. Fried oysters are crisp and greaseless, the little nuggets paired with tangy house-made tartar sauce and pert celery leaves.
Lamb ribs, charred on the outside and juicy and tender within, are paired with spicy harissa, cooling Greek yogurt, and cubed sweet potatoes. An antidote to cold weather, chicken is braised in red wine, served with mashed potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms, lardons lending smoke, salt, and depth. A place like Pier 6 needs to serve a satisfying burger, and it does — a hearty patty topped with good cheddar and bacon, on a big platter laden with fries and house-made pickles. The sliced tomato is winter-wan but also unnecessary. It gets shunted to the side. And for dessert, there’s butterscotch pudding, not too sweet, spiked with candied walnuts. The texture is grainy, but the flavor is fine enough to forgive it.
But another night, those lobster beignets (now called fritters) are undercooked, runny at the center. Fried chicken wings with spicy soy aren’t spicy, just very, very salty. A lobster roll is both too much and not enough at once — there is an overload of crunchy celery in the salad, but hardly any creamy mayo to hold it together. The lobster meat is dry and flaky, saline without being particularly sweet. And gnocchi — with mushrooms, sage, and Parmesan — are an abomination, soggy, tasteless blobs that together make for a bowl full of mush. The unevenness is unfortunate, because at its best, Pier 6 serves very good, just-fancier-than-everyday fare.
What’s in your flagon? Taps are monopolized by Harpoon, with some Sam Adams and Blue Moon for good measure. This is the middle ground. Also available are “go to brews” (Amstel Light, Michelob Ultra) and “specialty brews” (Delirium Tremens, Slumbrew Flagraiser IPA). Wines veer more toward “go to” territory: Kung Fu Girl riesling, Blackstone merlot. This would be an excellent spot to pop a bottle of champagne, and there’s Dom Perignon and Perrier-Jouet for such occasions. Cocktails are sassy potions: the Papichulo, basically a margarita that incorporates sriracha; the Breakfast of Champions, rye with maple syrup, bitters, and a slice of apple; the Dirty Texan, a very dirty vodka martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives and pepperoncini.
Sitting here with a cocktail, chatting up a neighbor, one would never guess there is trouble underfoot. The pier belongs to an absentee landlord whose maintenance failures (and threat to evict houseboat dwellers) have garnered negative attention. But Pier 6 itself is owned by locals behind restaurants Mija Cantina & Tequila Bar in Faneuil Hall and Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale in Downtown Crossing. The team clearly values hospitality. This bodes well for the place. Charlestown is still short on restaurants. With its great atmosphere and good food, Pier 6 is a very welcome option.
And of course there is that view, a cold comfort in a long winter. It’s also a reminder. Summer is coming.
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