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.