Where to Buttonwood, the third Newton restaurant from chef-owner Dave Punch and team. They also operate Sycamore and Little Big Diner. (Sycamore trees are also called buttonwoods.)
What for Punch and crew found their niche in Newton, opening restaurants that would play well anywhere in the city. Buttonwood features their relaxed hospitality and food from chef de cuisine Francisco Millan (Row 34, Island Creek Oyster Bar).
The scene At 8 p.m. on a Thursday, the restaurant is full. This used to be 51 Lincoln, and the layout — bar on one side, dining room on the other — remains the same. But Buttonwood replaces the former restaurant’s art-crammed coziness with something more modern and streamlined, plus a whisper of rec-room nostalgia. In the dining room, one wall is covered in wood paneling, the banquettes in dark blue pleather. Its gleaming wood floor gives way to black and white tiles on the bar side. A miniature brass bust of Roosevelt sits atop the bar; R&B plays in the background. At one table, a woman is dining beneath a pile of plaid wool coats; at the bar, a bespectacled man in a jacket eats with a napkin tucked into his collar. A bartender empties a can of ’Gansett into a row of fancy cut-glass tumblers: “It’s for the crew. They’ve been working hard.”
What you’re eating Grilled baguette with spicy whipped feta or the rillettes of the day. Nice salads — chopped beet, pear and celery with Pecorino and walnuts. House-made gemelli with spicy tuna sauce and crispy pork ribs with honey za’atar glaze. Moules frites, roast chicken, cheeseburgers; grilled flank steak and whole branzino. For dessert, maybe dark chocolate cake with peanut brittle and ice cream or “one dope cheese.”
Care for a drink? There’s a list of nifty house cocktails, from a Sidecar made with Calvados and a white Negroni to the Jersey Shore (mezcal, olive brine, and spicy bitters) and the clever Final Ward (rye, green Chartreuse, Luxardo, and lemon). Wines by the glass are food- and wallet-friendly (most are $10-$12). On tap or in bottles and cans, beer here is local (with the exception of one from Maryland-based Stillwater) and goes beyond the usual suspects.
Overheard Talk of gun control, violins, literature, and Peruvian vacations. “Everyone expects you to be a grownup,” a man says to his wife, sighing. “What are you reading?,” Punch asks a customer. “Yes, please save us,” someone tells a server who offers to clear her plate. “The aioli is what kept us going.” “It’s actually a joke,” says a bartender: “Why can’t Italian men become vampires?” A woman laughs and tells her dining companion, “You are good at finding your way. You are not good at finding things.”
51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, 617-928-5771, www.buttonwoodnewton.com.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.