IN THE KITCHEN General manager Mike Tallon’s hosting skill makes Oscar’s feel welcoming, like somebody’s home. And although Tallon doesn’t own this terrific little pub in Dedham Square (it’s owned by an investment group headed by Boston’s John Gibbons), Oscar’s was his idea and he’s its face.
His enthusiasm for creating a “third place” pub experience — not work, not home, but a third place where people can hang out — extends beyond the 20 craft beers on tap, to what’s on your plate. Tallon works with his cooks and consultant Frank van Overbeeke to create dishes that are both affordable and good. The team is continually tweaking the menu, both with the seasons and to cater to Dedham’s changing demographic. “The concept is to see you two, three times a week,” said Tallon. “We want quality food with a price point that’s affordable.”
THE LOCALE Since the 2012 Dedham Square Improvement Project kicked in, this it’s-not-Legacy-Place spot has become a cool little destination with three cafes; a vintage movie theater; several new restaurants and stores; and now, Oscar’s. Working with architect Jonathan Cavanaugh, Tallon and company completely rebuilt an abandoned storefront from the ground up. The pretty 39-seat space has windows, plenty of wood and stone, banquettes, a big bar and, best of all, a working fireplace. If you’re curious about the picture of the dog behind the bar, ask Tallon to tell you the story of how Oscar the mutt was buried in Tanzania. (It involves elephants, poachers, sanctuaries, and bars.)
ON THE MENU Oscar’s offers a good assortment of lunch and dinner dishes with appetizers, small plates, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. You can stop in and eat any time: The menus change over at 4 p.m. and many items appear on both.
I dropped in late one midafternoon and felt perfectly at ease eating alone at the bar. Lovers of fish and chips ($15 lunch, $18 dinner) fall into different camps and I had my own high hopes for Oscar’s tempura version. Although it doesn’t hit the bulls-eye (a bit too hard-crusted), that didn’t stop me from devouring it whole with my hands. The tartar sauce (often criminally overlooked) was up to the task, the cole slaw fresh and bright, and Oscar’s fantastic fries crispy and soft.
On two subsequent visits, the place was busy and we used cutlery. The clam chowder ($5) is a contender with a nice volume of clams and potatoes. The mussels appetizer ($15), sided with grilled bread, is offered three ways, and those tender little shellfish are nice in the tomato garlic version.
The grilled salmon filet ($17) is perfect: the tender fish savory, the sides of rice and sautéed veggies just delicious. (Turns out the rice is an old Tallon family recipe cooked with fennel, coriander, cumin, and a bit of turmeric.) The roast chicken ($20) on the dinner menu is as satisfying as great baked chicken can be: two pieces of crispy bone-in chicken sided with creamy mashed potatoes and a mixed sauté of fresh asparagus, flat beans, round beans, and carrots.
The popular burger ($13) didn’t need the fried egg we added on, and the small chopped salad ($6) with add-on shrimp ($5) is only perfectly OK. (I’m not in love with its sweet dressing and grilling didn’t do the shrimp any good: Just order shrimp cocktail.) That old seducer, the tuna melt ($13), was plenty satisfying but I’d ask that it be more melted next time.
Vegetarians will enjoy the lovely spicy green beans ($8) in a light peanut sauce, and so will anyone else. Oh: I so appreciate that Oscar’s is using paper straws and paper boxes for take out. (Who needs more plastic?)
Oscar’s, 380 Washington St., Dedham, 781-686-9705, www.oscarsdedham.comJoan Wilder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.