The Regional Redux (Nova anglia resurrectus)

Chefs are increasingly finding inspiration in New England’s rich culinary history, causing a new sort of locavorism to emerge—one characterized by direct, thoughtful references to traditional recipes that hadn’t seemed relevant in years. And by traditional we mean honest-to-goodness dishes and staples that once defined our region—boiled dinners, johnnycakes, and syrupy Moxie soda—not faux New England mash-ups like lobster mac ’n’ cheese.

Long relegated to gimmicky-tourist-food status, fading standards like baked beans and Boston cream pie are getting a new lease on life, particularly within the confines of the thoroughly modern dining room at seafood haven Island Creek Oyster Bar. Or the farmhouse-chic digs of Puritan & Company, where chef Will Gilson has demonstrated that with the right inventive touch, everything from Parker House rolls to hardtack crackers can be given a fresh start.

This new wave of regional cookery can also be spotted elsewhere in town: in the exquisite Indian-pudding-like dessert of corn grits with brûléed Demerara sugar, fruit, and anise hyssop ice cream at Craigie on Main; the Rhode Island–inspired johnnycake with honey butter, smoked trout, and caviar at Neptune Oyster; the poached Harvard beets with Wagyu bresaola, barley, and hazelnuts at Bondir. It even appears in the smallest of brush strokes: the Moxie-soda glaze on the wings at Watertown favorite Strip-T’s; the round slices of homemade brown bread alongside pâté at South End gastropub The Gallows; the delicate “Boston baked” rice beans with maple-spiked soy sauce and braised pork from the high-style Japanese specialists over at O Ya, in the Leather District.

Hover/click for details. (Photographs by Bruce Peterson. Food Styling by Rowena Day/Ennis.)

The Boiled-Dinner Salad from Puritan & Company

For this dish, chef Will Gilson takes the building blocks of a New England boiled dinner—corned beef, carrot, turnip, potato—and turns them into an avant-garde reinterpretation of the classic. Our forefathers would hardly have made potatoes into a crunchy crumble, or relied on tweezers to artfully arrange pickled onions, or used molecular ingredients like agar-agar to morph brisket jus into the “brisket jus consommé gel” that dots the plate. Which, of course, is the entire point.

Leah Mennies
Leah Mennies Leah Mennies, Senior Food Editor at Boston Magazine