After working together in several South Shore restaurants, chefs Michael Fitzpatrick and Ton Shortall decided to strike out on their own.
When they opened Aroma Tavern & Grill in the Mayflower Plaza in the Manomet section of Plymouth almost two years ago, their goal, Fitzpatrick said in an interview, was not just to serve good food at reasonable prices, but to “aim a little higher. People who knew us were expecting more.”
I’d say they have succeeded. On a recent visit, there was much to like, though with a few areas that could stand some improvement.
Among those is the decor, which could be described charitably as “eclectic.” Is it beach house or grandma’s house? Nautical tchotchkes compete with butter churns and tiny white lights draped over fake greenery. The look is decidedly rustic, but the bread — a pleasing assortment of bread and rolls — arrives in a contemporary wire basket.
In view of the down-home decor, the large and ambitious menu comes as somewhat of a surprise. My party was finding it difficult to choose when our server, Laurie, stopped by to recite an impressive list of specials. Fitzpatrick said the nightly specials give the chef-owners a chance to really indulge their “creative mojo.”
At Laurie’s suggestion, we tried the “award-winning” clam chowder ($7), rich, smooth, and smoky with bacon. It was loaded with clams and potatoes, and our only complaint was that it could have been served warmer.
Salt-roasted beet salad ($8) was large, delicious, and shareable. Red and gold beets, fresh greens, and goat cheese were topped with a tangy balsamic glaze.
Pan-fried crab cakes ($12) ranked with the best I’ve had anywhere. They were all crab — chunked, not shredded — with just a little breading set atop red pepper aïoli and ringed with bright green chive oil. It was an attractive presentation and a delicious appetizer.
The menu has a large number of appetizers, soups, and salads. You could certainly put two or three together for a satisfying meal.
The appetizers fared better than the entrees, which were solid, but not extraordinary. When I go out to dinner, I don’t want my meal to remind me of something I’d prepare at home, but that’s what I thought of when I tasted the pan-roasted pork chop ($18). While it was moist and meaty, it was not distinctive; accompanying sweet corn polenta gave the dish some needed pizzazz.
Limoncello-glazed sea scallops ($22), served with basil risotto, were large and nicely seared, though not as sweet as I expected and not particularly lemony. I substituted fresh asparagus, perfectly cooked, for eggplant caponata.
“You be the chef” ($12-$20) allows diners to pick pasta, sauce, and meat or fish from a large selection. We enjoyed linguine with sweet Marsala sauce and a generous portion of chicken.
Other signature dishes include meatloaf wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon ($14), which Fitzpatrick said he adapted from a recipe he learned at Grill 23 in Boston, and bourbon cask-smoked prime rib ($22 for 14 ounces, $28 for 20 ounces) served on Wednesday and Thursday evenings only.
The $10 “power lunch” — soup, salad, and sandwich — is also popular, Fitzpatrick said.
We couldn’t resist a dessert called chocolate lasagna ($8), an ingenious layering of white chocolate “pasta,” Oreo cookie crust, marble mousse, and Amaretto ganache. It was a sweet blend of tastes and textures. Other desserts made in-house include crème brûlée in the flavor of the season (pumpkin, eggnog, or maple) and a fudge brownie ice cream sandwich.
The tavern side of the restaurant features a large and lively bar with full menu service. It’s completely separate from the dining room, so those who want a quiet dinner aren’t distracted by noise or TVs.Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.