People say you can tell a lot about a cook by his or her omelet. I think that’s just as true of a simple chicken liver pate. It has to be smooth and creamy, rich but not so rich it knocks you over, full of flavor, and presented with cornichons. At Ferry Street Food & Drink, which looks like a tavern but serves unexpectedly good food, the pate ($6) is exactly right and even the tiny pickles are made here.
Jason and Shannon Ladd, both 34, who met as students at Johnson & Wales, opened Ferry Street exactly one year ago. Malden residents are flocking to this friendly 65-seat spot. He’s in the kitchen and she’s in the front of the house. His younger brother John, 28, is operations manager, but really, says Jason, “He does whatever Shannon and I can’t get to.”
Jason Ladd worked at Pot au Feu in Providence (he says he poached the pate from them), Julien at the Langham Hotel, and for eight years in large biotech firms and other establishments as a chef for Aramark. “Having the job enabled me to save money to open a restaurant,” he says. Shannon was also working for the company, which runs dining rooms and food services all over the country.
The pair had lived in Malden so they knew the city and knew it was changing “from what it used to be — a lot of pizza joints,” says Jason. The Ferry Street space was once Revere Knitting Mills, then became a series of pubs, most recently No. 9 Ale House. The new restaurateurs left the pub look, including the large front room that houses the bar — the kind of place you might have stopped by in any town in the region — with a dining room adjacent to it.
And then the food comes and you can’t help but be surprised. This is Mom and Pop 2.0. Green bean fries ($3) are tempura-style, coated with an unusually crisp batter, and they’re wonderful. Texas chili ($6) has no beans, nothing but meat and plenty of spices, the way Jason Ladd’s dad made it when he was a boy in Houston. The chef takes eye of the round beef and cuts it up himself, so it isn’t ground, and isn’t particularly dense either, just a bowl you want to keep eating. Pork meatballs with Southwest spices ($8) are nice and plump, served with cheddar grits. Jambalaya ($17) is another of Ladd’s signatures, a smoky helping of rice studded with andouille and Cajun-spiced chicken. “Growing up on the Gulf Coast in Texas, we ate it all the time,” says the chef.
Fish ’n’ chips ($19), a huge serving, is a farm-raised skin-on boneless trout dipped in a cornmeal crust, and served with spicy Cajun fries, slaw, and creamy gribiche sauce. A pulled pork sandwich ($10) begins with a slow-roasted picnic shoulder.
The chef makes everything: Fries that accompany a very good hand-packed burger ($12) are double-fried the classic way. He even makes the burger bun. And the pickles.
PB&J cookie ($6), baked in a skillet, has a peanut-butter-chip cookie base, then ice cream, then warm raspberry preserves. Your spoons will scrape the little pan clean. Chocolate pot de creme ($7) arrives in a canning jar with whipped cream and raspberries. Only an overly gelatinous vanilla panna cotta ($6) isn’t up to the rest of the fare.
And the room has quirks. A table in the back is the perfect height for diners on one side. Chairs on the other make our friends look like they’re trying to sit at the grown-up table. But a brisk and competent staff compensates for this. And the neighborhood feel, where return customers are greeted warmly, makes you want to come back too.
FERRY STREET FOOD & DRINK
118 Ferry St., Malden,
781-321-0265, www.ferrystreetmalden.com. All major credit cards except for Diner’s Club. Fully wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers and small bites $3-$9. Sandwiches and entrees $10-$22 (most dishes under $20). Desserts $6-$7.
Hours Tue-Fri 5-10 p.m., Sat-Sun brunch noon-
4 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m. Lounge (small bites and desserts) open Tue-Wed 4-11 p.m., Thu-Fri 4 p.m.-midnight, Sat noon-1 a.m., Sun noon-11 p.m.
Liquor Full bar
What to order House pate, BBQ pork meatballs,
green bean fries, jambalaya, fish ’n’ chips, pulled pork sandwich, house burger,
PB&J cookie skillet.