When the history of Boston-area dining is written, one thing the twenty-teens will be remembered for is the proliferation of neighborhood restaurants in areas not previously considered restaurant neighborhoods. Of course, we’ve seen the building booms of the Seaport and Somerville. But it has also been a decade when chefs and restaurateurs set up shop in places where rents were reasonable and residents clamored for more dining options. From the suburbs to all corners of the city, restaurants are finding us where we live.
Two new Dorchester spots exemplify the trend. Opened in June and August, respectively, Lower Mills Tavern and Lucy’s American Tavern are drawing locals with affordably priced, locally sourced, surprisingly similar menus: a pinch of Latin, a smidge of Asian, American comfort classics, pizza, pasta, salads, and an oversize burger. Both feature $11 craft cocktails, lengthy beer and wine lists, and congenial waitstaffs. For those of us who eat out multiple times a week, it’s a formula we can embrace.
In the Lower Mills section of Dorchester, decades-old saloon Lower Mills Pub has been replaced by Lower Mills Tavern, owned by a group that includes Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey. Amber tubular lighting, high-top seating, lots of windows, brick walls, and mosaic floors make a modish setting for chef Colton Coburn-Wood’s seasonally friendly, something-for-everyone cuisine.
On a mid-November night, patrons include millennials perched barside, chatting in groups of twos and threes, and several multigenerational families more intent on dinner than conversation. Two burly gym guys across the aisle devour individual pizzas (each of which could feed two smaller people). The margherita pie boasts a chewy crust, perky sauce, fresh mozzarella, and slivered basil.
Fried pork belly tostadas — covered with crunchy chayote, radish, and jicama slaw and presented on a pool of fiery yellow mole — are texturally terrific and tremendously tasty. Vegetarians and gluten-conscious diners can chow on roast squash, kale, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed salad, tossed in tart cider vinaigrette. Or buttery Hakurei turnips, grilled whole and plated with paper-thin slices of watermelon radish and sweet, sesame-laced Korean “bulgogi” sauce. Looks like someone raided the farmers’ market.
Perhaps chef Coburn-Wood (an alumnus of Ashmont Grill and Loco Taqueria) might add a little reserved pasta water to the orecchiette? The basics are there — hot Italian sausage, kale, red bell pepper, and mushrooms, garnished with whipped ricotta, basil, and grated Romano — but the combination, mixed together, is a tad dry. Yet I can’t imagine a better cold-weather dish than Coburn-Wood’s marvelous chicken potpie in a cast-iron skillet. With its flaky puff-pastry crust and gloriously gloppy gravy, it should fly out of the kitchen this winter.
I’d happily return for expertly roasted salmon on French lentils, drizzled with beurre blanc, surrounded by seared broccoli, and finished with a scoop of arugula salad and a smattering of dried cranberries. Downtown, it would cost you considerably more than its $22 price tag here.
The bun is unexceptional, but everything else about the LMT burger is spot on. It’s an 8-ounce, hand-formed beef patty, grilled precisely medium-rare, then layered with American cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise-y “house” sauce. Serious burger lovers take note.
Portions are generous and can be easily shared as part of a group meal. Four of us quickly consume the apple crisp, an old-fashioned, oatmeal-covered, cinnamony delight crowned with a scoop of vanilla ice cream from the Ice Creamsmith, a few doors up the block.
A five-minute ride away, in the Adams Village neighborhood, Lucy’s American Tavern is a former Hollywood Video franchise converted into a cavernous and clamorous food hall — recycled wood and exposed brick walls, black industrial ceiling, enormous bar, and 14 flat-screen TVs. It’s named for 19th-century Dorchester suffragette Lucy Stone.
Located at the intersection of Granite Avenue, Gallivan Boulevard, and Adams Street, Lucy’s benefits from the busy corner. On a recent evening, a steady stream of people walk through the door — all ages and ethnicities, casually dressed and in business attire. If they’re looking for a good time, they’ll find it. The entire room boisterously takes up one table’s rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The patio has been newly winterized to keep pace with the crowds.
Veteran Boston chef Chris Bussell (Butterfish, Foundry on Elm, BoMA) inaugurated the menu, but he’s no longer here; executive sous chef Thomy Nieto is behind the stove. Some details may have been lost in the transition. Tequila-brushed, hickory-smoked wings come with coleslaw, not the promised nopales (cactus) salad. The chunks of sausage on the Northender pizza (additionally topped with smoked tomatoes, garlicky broccoli rabe, mozzarella, and arugula pesto) are overly large to be comfortably consumed without a fork and knife.
Smoked tomatoes make an encore in the delicious, crisp iceberg salad — a half-head of lettuce smothered with blue cheese dressing, crumbled bacon, those tomatoes, and scallion greens. If you like Cantonese-style steamed pork buns, you’ll find Lucy’s fried pork belly version with kimchi and hoisin-vinegar dipping sauce is a decent — if slightly over-fried — interpretation.
The inclusion of pulled short rib may be untraditional, but Lucy’s Bolognese is a wonderfully satisfying, creamy, rich ragu that, served over fresh pappardelle, will please anyone who tries it. The chef’s barbecue board of baby back ribs and brisket tastes great even if the brisket is tough and unevenly seasoned. You can order accompanying cumin-laced Texas beans as a side, and you should.
Cod tacos on soft corn tortillas with tart cabbage slaw and avocado crema would be better with much more corn and jalapeno salsa on top. Lucy’s burger “royale” deserves the highfalutin moniker. It’s a half-pound of chuck and short rib blend, grilled medium-rare, then sandwiched into a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, cheddar, bacon, fried onion strings, and a spritz of sweet bourbon BBQ sauce.
We shared everything — and took home leftovers.
Remember funnel cake, that carnival midway favorite? Its distinctive, lacy appearance is formed by pouring batter into hot oil through a funnel. At Lucy’s American Tavern, it’s renamed “county fair treat” and arrives dusted in powdered sugar, with a ramekin of maple buttercream decorated with bacon pecan praline alongside.
If you lived near, you could eat it now.
LOWER MILLS TAVERN
2269 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 857-267-4461, www.lowermillstavern.com
All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $9-$11. Entrees $11-$26. Desserts $3-$7.
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sat 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 11 a.m.-midnight.
Noise level Moderate
What to order Pork belly tostadas, grilled Hakurei turnips, margherita pizza, chicken potpie, pan-roasted salmon.
LUCY’S AMERICAN TAVERN
13 Granite Ave., Dorchester, 617-326-6677, www.lucysamericantavern.com
All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $7-$15. Entrees $13-$20. Desserts $7-$9.
Hours Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Bar open nightly until midnight.
Noise level Loud
What to order Hickory-smoked wings, crisp iceberg salad, Lucy’s Bolognese, Lucy’s burger royale, county fair treat.
Mat Schaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.