New England State of Mind: Boston Chefs Update Classic New England Dishes

Local restaurants The Gallows, Puritan & Co., and supper club Brasstacks take traditional inspiration for their menus.

By Leah Mennies | Boston Magazine |
classic-new-england-dishes

Photo by Bruce Peterson Styling by Jessica Weatherhead/team

Progressive restaurants in other regions of the country tend to embrace their culinary roots. There are high-style versions of soul food in the South, for instance, and of California cuisine out West. But here, unless you’re talking seafood, we all but ignore our traditional fare. Recently, though, that’s begun to change. Come fall, for example, Seth Morrison adds classic steamed brown bread in a can (pictured) to the menu at his South End gastropub the Gallows. “What we thought of as mundane and simple before, we realized, ‘I can go get really nice flours and molasses, and put my signature on it,’” he says. At the new Inman Square restaurant Puritan & Co., meanwhile, chef Will Gilson will also offer the dense bread, plus a take on a New England-style boiled dinner, served shabu-shabu style. “We are hoping to take the dishes that people roll their eyes at because they hate them, and play around with them,” he says. Actually, says Marc Sheehan of the local supper club Brasstacks, our forefathers would be more familiar with these upgraded takes on the classics than they would with the mass-produced dishes that we’ve come to associate with New England. “Baked beans, Indian pudding, chowder—when you got an industrialized food system, those dishes were kind of reinvented,” Sheehan says. “We are trying to approach the food from before that moment of history—when everything was local, seasonal, required to be sustainable, and oftentimes nose-to-tail…. The cuisine evolves and transforms, which is a good thing, but it went off in a weird direction. That’s why it’s unpopular.” Until now, that is.