Somerville’s Feeding Frenzy

The 'Ville has become the place for food lovers, with a slew of exciting new eateries that have raised the bar for Boston's dining scene. So what's behind this rapid influx of restaurants? A perfect storm of factors.

By Christine Liu | Boston Magazine |
corn and pork on plate

Pecan-crusted pork chop with candied-cherry sauce, Brussels sprouts, and corn on the cob from M3, now open in Davis Square. (Photo by Ekaterina Smirnova)

The Demographics: The city has a higher percentage of young people (ages 20 to 34) than the broader region and state, according to a 2009 report by? Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning. Somerville’s population density is also the highest in New England. Add it all up and you’ve got a lot of young, educated, and hungry people packed into a very small area.

The Bang for the Buck: “Pound for pound, you’re getting more value for your dollar in Somerville,” says local butcher Michael Dulock, who looked into spaces in the South End and Cambridge before settling on Union Square for his forthcoming shop, M. F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats. That’s especially true for businesses that serve booze — liquor licenses in Somerville are a steal compared with Boston. Magoun Square barbecue newcomer East End Grill, for example, recently procured a full license for $125,000. The same license in Boston could go for as much as $450,000.

The Can-Do Spirit: Restaurateurs say that officials in Somerville are refreshingly accessible — unlike in Boston, the land of red tape. Casa B co-owner Angelina Jockovich recalls the process of opening her Union Square tapas spot: “We sent an e-mail to the mayor’s office, and they called within 24 hours to set up a meeting.” Joe Cassinelli, owner of Posto and the Painted Burro, says he knows “all the ladies who work the desks at City Hall. People are really nice, and that’s why things get done.”

The Indie Appetite: Somerville has a thriving food subculture that’s bolstered by the organization Union Square Main Streets. The community group puts on the annual Fluff festival as well as a popular farmers’ market and the new hipster-picnic fantasy that is Swirl & Slice — an evening market featuring wine, cheese, cured meats, breads, jams, pickles, and more. The Somerville Arts Council, meanwhile, offers “market tours” of off-the-beaten-path ethnic stores such as Capone’s, La Internacional Foods, and Little India.

taco with peppers

Photo Anthony Tieuli

A Timeline of the Somerville Restaurant Boom:

2007
Highland Kitchen ups the city’s hip factor with quality yet casual fare — spicy goat stew, cult-fave fried chicken — and craft cocktails.

2009
Trina’s Starlite Lounge opens and immediately establishes itself as a restaurant-industry hot spot. Posto begins offering authentic Neopolitan-style pizzas and house pastas.

2010
Journeyman debuts its avant-garde locavore cuisine. Foundry on Elm becomes a favorite local watering hole, and Bergamot’s thoughtful bistro fare is met with raves.

2011
Globally inspired pub Five Horses Tavern (its short-rib-and-pepper taco is pictured below) opens, followed by the old-school tavern Saloon, the quirky Three Little Figs bakery, and the Latin tapas restaurant Casa B. The area’s craft-cocktail scene is also solidified thanks to Backbar, from the team behind Journeyman.

2012
Posto’s Joe Cassinelli goes Mexican with the Painted Burro. Jason Owens, of South Boston gourmet-food shop American Provisions, opens inspired southern restaurant M3.

What’s Next?
Forthcoming concepts include barbecue joints the Bearded Pig and East End Grill; high-end butchery M. F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats; the German- and Austrian-focused Bronwyn; Peruvian restaurant La Brasa; ’80s-themed cocktail bar Daddy Jones; and Washington, DC, import Amsterdam Falafelshop. — Leah Mennies

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