166,773. That’s how many votes it takes to declare Highland Kitchen the winner of the Boston Globe’s 2015 Munch Madness restaurant tournament. It trumped second-place contestant Island Creek Oyster Bar by 691 votes. Spicy goat stew, spelling bee nights, and a righteous jukebox have powerful allure. The Somerville hipsters have spoken.
It was a long road to victory. To win, Highland Kitchen took out: Kendall Square gastro-dive bar State Park, South End steakhouse remix Boston Chops, food-lover favorite Craigie on Main, Barbara Lynch flagship No. 9 Park, the intoxicatingly spiced Oleana, and, finally, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Kenmore Square purveyor of sparkling seafood. Last year’s final round came down to two of Island Creek’s sister restaurants, Eastern Standard and Row 34 (Island Creek lost to tapas bar Toro in Round 2 of that championship). Had Island Creek won, it would have represented the dominance of a familial dynasty. Relax. The power balance has been restored.
Things got interesting at the end. During karaoke night at Highland Kitchen, a crew from Island Creek Oyster Bar entered enemy territory, setting up a shucking station and giving away oysters to Highland Kitchen’s customers (they brought champagne for the staff). Highland Kitchen then staged a counterattack with the help of Hot Tamale Brass Band, invading Island Creek Oyster Bar with drums, horns, and an adorable baby goat (plus a case of Budweiser).
There were no hard feelings. Both finalists are class acts. Island Creek’s oysters are a Boston institution. And Highland Kitchen has been Somerville’s canteen and clubhouse “since just the other day,” as the website has it (2007 to be precise). Chef-owner Mark Romano won us all over with gumbo, catfish po’boys, and fried chicken and Tiki drink Mondays. The bar rules. The jukebox: already covered that. We all knew it was one of the most lovable restaurants in town. This win just clinches it.
Congratulations, Highland Kitchen.