You can’t eat history, but there’s something satisfying about dining on hearty food in a place with a sense of history, a place like Pearl Street Station Restaurant in Malden.
Even if a virtual wall of high-def televisions hangs over the bar, and on Friday and Saturday nights diners are serenaded by earnest if off-key karaoke singers, the restaurant pays more than lip service to its location’s storied past. That’s one of its attractions. Another is the savory and generously portioned food, with just a smidgen of flare.
Pearl Street Station is one of those places that folks like to say has been there “forever.” Actually, the restaurant was opened in 1985 in a former tavern on Pearl Street in Malden (hence the name), where it gradually outgrew the space. In 1998, the Robbat family purchased the former railroad station, which had been turned into a function hall, and converted it into a restaurant. One room remains as a function area.
The red-brick 1891 building, tucked into a relatively quiet location on Summer Street, retains its ornately carved façade, and a sign declares that the edifice was “once the largest passenger station on the Boston and Maine railroad.” The T rumbles nearby, a reminder of the days when the region moved by rail.
The restaurant’s foyer has a special counter for ordering pizza (ranging in price from $8.75 for a small cheese to $18.25 for a large shrimp) and the walls are dotted with celebrity photos, some dating to the time when the place was a function hall.
Not surprisingly, the main dining area is cavernous with the depth and heft that bespeaks a time when public buildings were made to impress as well as shelter. The bar serves 12 varieties of draft beer, catering to a sports crowd that last week drowned its sorrows over the Bruins heartbreaker.
A railroad motif is maintained, with a locomotive on the menu and a dining section that resembles a train coach. There’s something — a trophy, a sign, a sled — almost everywhere you look, creating a comfortable sense of clutter. Large overhead lights, rescued from the old Hotel Bradford in Boston, add a sense of drama.
The menu is extensive, if filled with the usual suspects, such as appetizers like onion rings ($5), potato skins ($8), super nachos with chili ($9.45), chicken wings ($8.25), and fried mozzarella sticks ($8).
Pearl Street Station boasts about its steak tips, which are marinated for several days, according to owner Alan Robbat, so we jumped in and ordered the Famous Pearl Street Combo ($17.25), a dish overflowing with steak tips, lamb tips, sausage, and country ribs. All the meats were tasty and chewy without toughness, and even if we could not distinguish the lamp tips from the steak tips, we had no trouble picking out and sinking our teeth into the moist ribs.
Those who prefer to concentrate on one kind of meat can opt for the steak tips ($14.75), turkey tips ($13), baby back ribs ($19), or barbecue chicken ($13). Another fine choice would be the boneless center-cut pork chops, ($13.25), a savory alternative to ribs.
There are also pasta and seafood choices with an Italian emphasis, such as chicken parmesan ($14.45) and linguini and clam sauce ($15). We sampled the broiled sea scallops ($18.75), a pile of hulking morsels, saved from blandness by a buttery breaded finish. Diners can also choose from calzone, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps.
The surprise of the evening was one of the new specials: grilled chicken penne with chipotle cream sauce ($13.25), an outstanding example of how subtlety and generosity can get along. Our order came with plump, not overcooked, chicken and penne dripping with the sauce, redolent of lime and cilantro. The sauce’s heat kicked our shins, but packed more taste than ferocity.
Baked macaroni and cheese has joined the parade of the retro-hip cuisine, and the version at Pearl Street ($9) adds bacon and green peppers to Mom’s favorite comfort food.
For dessert, if you want something that will feed a village, try the fried ice cream ($6), a mound of ice cream, drenched in whipped cream and swirls of chocolate and set in a pastry shell. There’s nothing subtle about this bad boy; and please, friends don’t let friends eat this entire dish on their own.
When the bill comes, your server will pull a bean from a jar of numbered beans. If the number matches one on your check, your meal will be free. That would be a really sweet finish, but bring your wallet anyway. After all, the homage to history comes free.
Reach Stephanie Schorow at firstname.lastname@example.org