"Do you have any feedback for us?" Our server at the Frogmore in Jamaica Plain really wants to know. What can they do better? Did we like the cocktails? Was the blackberry cobbler good?
His persistence is well-meaning and slightly uncomfortable. Well, the cobbler might be served warm, someone finally offers. And the pieces of bitter lemon rind in the accompanying marmalade could be smaller. The server thanks us. He will take our feedback to the kitchen.
Of course, these are things the people in the kitchen should already know, having tasted the cobbler. Dinner is an affair best curated, not crowd-sourced. But it's part of the Frogmore's approach. The restaurant specializes in Lowcountry cuisine — the she crab soup, Hoppin' John, and namesake Frogmore stew of coastal South Carolina and Georgia — and a conscious, Southern-style hospitality. Visits are accompanied by glad-handing and copious introductions by staff members. This is where everybody knows your name, and where you live, too.
The co-owners of the Frogmore — Steve Bowman, Andrew Foster, and Alex Homans — are also behind Brookline's Fairsted Kitchen, another place where hospitality is the focus. The intentions are clear. They want the Frogmore, opened in July in the former Centre Street Sanctuary, to be part of the neighborhood. It's what the Frogmore was born for, with its reasonable prices, weekend brunch, and dozen craft beers on tap.
Executive chef Jason Albus, who has Lowcountry roots, stocks the menu with appealing dishes, comforting but not staid. Instead of french fries we've got fried green tomatoes, and who can resist? They are cut into triangles rather than rounds, breaded in crunchy cornmeal and showered in far too much salt, and served with a swath of thick, tangy green goddess dressing. The plate itself is dotted with pink rosebuds, rimmed with a pink stripe.
Everyone wants the Lowcountry board, too, an assortment of pickled vegetables and shrimp, smoked oysters, and ham-hock rillettes. It's a fine thing to share, although the pickled shrimp have gone limp in the brine.
Hoppin' John is a savory bowl of black-eyed peas and rice cooked in and infused with ham broth. It's a small thing, but in this dish it's everything: The peas are cooked to perfect creaminess. The dish is a homey pleasure.
Tiny Sea Island red peas are tender, too, stewed and served beneath a square of pork belly glazed in molasses and showered in chopped green herbs.
There is a lovely version of she crab soup, so called because it is made with the creature's roe. It's rich with cream and aromatic with sherry, the bites of crabmeat plentiful and sweet.
Grilled okra, tossed simply with hunks of golden tomato, shows another side of the vegetable. The pods retain some of their slithery internal texture, but that's balanced by the charred flavor and skin of the exterior. The seeds pop between the teeth like garden-variety caviar. But a salad of green and yellow beans with shaved onions and buttermilk dressing has almost no flavor or seasoning. A side of macaroni and cheese is similarly bland, and it comes with none of the promised buttered Ritz crumble.
Sustaining a low price point is a fine balance. At the Frogmore, the strain becomes more evident with the main courses. The signature stew, also known as Lowcountry boil, serves up shrimp, smoked sausage, segments of corn on the cob, and potato, topped off with a crab. The seafood is nicely cooked. The sausage is heartily spiced. But this is a dish to be shared; it ought to spill out over the jaunty red-and-white checked paper soaking up the juices. The portion feels skimpy.
Pork chops are thin and thus easily overcooked, although served with an appealing combination of pickled peaches and goat cheese. The fish camp plate features a whole fried fish with onion rings and coleslaw, but the small scup, sadly served headless, doesn't offer much meat.
Execution can be a problem, too. Grilled rib eye topped with pimento cheese butter? Genius idea. Yet there isn't enough of the butter, and the potatoes on the side are blackened in spots and visibly greasy. The chicken part of chicken 'n' dumplings is just fine, a tasty stew of tender meat and garden vegetables. But the dumplings, heavy hanks of dough, are entirely unappealing. And cornmeal-crusted catfish in Old Bay broth features neither crust nor broth. It's a thick fillet, not crisp in the least, topped with a slightly gelatinous layer of sauce.
For dessert, banana pudding looks sweet enough in a small jar, but it's grainy and has little banana flavor. Calling a dish The Sundae leads guests to expect an impressive presentation. The smallish dish of ice cream looks more like A Sundae, but it does taste great, topped with hot fudge, bourbon caramel, and pretzels.
Beer is a strength at the Frogmore, from Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace (a saison made with Japanese hops that tastes intriguingly like dill) to Omer VanderGhinste's sour Oud Bruin, an oak-aged brown ale, to Anderson Valley Brewing Company's refreshing Gose-style ale The Kimmie, The Yink, and The Holy Gose. Homans manages the bar, which features a quirky list of house cocktails such as the Low Country, High Society (pisco, Curacao, dry vermouth, and strawberry shrub), and the Jekyll and Cyde (sherry, smoked peach, cider, and bitters) that can sound better than they taste. (The former is candy sweet, while the sherry overwhelms the latter.) Bowman, the sommelier, is a great source of wine knowledge and enthusiasm. His all-American list showcases an excellent California sparkler, a New York Riesling, a cabernet-zinfandel blend from Washington, and more, along with enticing and helpful descriptions.
The restaurant's decor is sweet and stylish — jewel-toned pineapple wallpaper, rich red curtains, and mismatched chandeliers and oil paintings. Smiling servers check in frequently, send over extra desserts, quietly remove late-arriving dishes from the bill. Pleasing people is the priority. Families with kids and hipsters on dates happily occupy the dining room, and locals spread out at the comfortable bar. The Frogmore offers the neighborhood a warm welcome, and it's getting one in return.
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary
★ ★ ★ Excellent
★ ★ Good
(No stars) Poor