Branch Line, Opening This Week, Extends Eastern Standard’s Hospitality to Watertown
The ‘urban rotisserie’ draws menu inspiration from the diverse community around it.
A suburban restaurant with some big city names behind it is softly opening tonight at 4:30 p.m. Tucked into Watertown’s decommissioned military complex the Arsenal on the Charles, Branch Line borrows both from the neighborhood around it and from its pedigree as the next venture from Eastern Standard’s hospitality team.
Branch Line is the first joint partnership between restauranteur Garrett Harker (Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne, Row 34) and Andrew Holden, Eastern Standard’s longtime general manager, a job he plans to keep. Eastern Standard’s former front-of-house manager, Deena Marlette, is on board as Branch Line’s GM.
Though he is a Watertown native, Holden said it wasn’t necessarily his lineage that led the team to choose Watertown. It was the gorgeous space they found at the Arsenal.
“Walking from building to building, you look up and you see these high ceilings, with exposed walls and gorgeous windows. We said, ‘We have to do something out here,'” Holden said.
“Growing up a couple streets over, the Arsenal complex was one part of town we were all aware of, but it was forbidden grounds,” he continued.
Over the past several months, Holden met with local historian Bob Damon to learn more about the space’s history. The complex was designed in 1816 by Alexander Parris, the architect most famous for Boston’s Quincy Market. The Watertown arsenal was a weaponry depot and small arms factory from the Civil War through World War II, but the Army pulled back its operations starting in 1968. It still housed a military technology lab before it was fully turned over to civilian use in 1995.
When Holden was growing up, “There was a fence all around it; you couldn’t cruise in there. But you could always see these cavernous, brick buildings with high ceilings and expansive brick windows, and you wonder what’s going on.”
Now, the 29-acre area is home to Athenahealth, a growing medical tech company that has a grand vision for its future. Branch Line is more than happy to be part of it.
“The old-school restaurant philosophy is location, location, location,” Holden said. “When you [used to] go into Boston to eat, restaurants were on Comm. Ave., Huntington Ave., or just centrally located. But in the past few years, seeing places like Hungry Mother and Sarma, people are maybe more willing to go to a neighborhood they’re not as familiar with for great food, value, and experience. Part of why we loved [the Arsenal complex] so much is it’s not on the main drag.”
The name “Branch Line” recalls another piece of Watertown’s history: Until 1969, the town was accessible via the Green Line’s A branch. The train picked up in Kenmore Square, right in front of where Eastern Standard now sits. Green Line trains used the tracks into the 1990s, traveling into Watertown for maintenance.
“It’s a different look, feel, and menu, but [Branch Line] is an extension of and connected to Eastern Standard,” Holden said. “By definition, a branch line is an extension off a main line that handles a little bit less volume, and goes off into less-populated areas.”
In designing Branch Line, Holden’s main goal was to not get in the way of the space, he said. The open kitchen and an industrial mural by local artist Kenji Nakayama are the major changes the team made to the interior. Despite the towering ceilings, the space feels intimate, with 50 dining room seats and a 14-seat bar. Even on its sub-50 degree opening day, there’s a 45-seat, heated outdoor space, and bocce courts. Once warmer weather arrives again, the patio will expand to seat 65.
Chef de cuisine Stephen Oxaal, who most recently held that position at B&G Oysters, has developed a menu around a French-manufactured Rotisol rotisserie. A whole-roasted chicken is $32, and there will be smaller-format options, including other meats, vegetables, and seafood seasoned with fresh herbs.
“Growing up in Watertown, I know there’s this great enclave of Middle Eastern cuisine: Armenian, Greek, Lebanese, Turkish. We’re drawing a little bit of inspiration from that,” Holden said.
Much of the fare will spin on the rotisserie, including a vegetarian entree, roasted cauliflower with harissa, charred chard, and gremolata. A rustic, wood-fired grill provides a quick-cooking counterpart. Expect grilled oysters; bavette steak with roasted garlic and anchovy butter; and a whole fish plate.
Starters include skewered lamb marinated in herbs and citrus, grilled and served with grilled cucumber tzatziki and house-made pita; and steamed clams with house-made sausage, fennel, and preserved lemon. There are also small bites, like avocado with fresh marjoram, pickled mustard seed vinaigrette; and ricotta salata.
For dessert, Holden is most excited about the house-made sweet cream ice cream swirled with Watertown-produced Coop’s Microcreamery Salted Caramel Sauce, topped with crushed candied hazelnuts.
Wine director Charles Gaeta is offering a list of mainly coastal Mediterranean wines, plus a handful of California blends. The beer list will constantly change and “lean toward the obscure;” some of the 20 drafts on the opening list include Derivative: Mosaic, an American pale ale from Rhode Island’s Proclamation Ale Co.; Lupulin River, a double IPA fromKnee Deep Brewing in California; and Sour Cidah, a cider/kombucha blend from Maine’s Urban Farm Fermentory.
With 1,700 Athenahealth employees based at the Arsenal, as well as the employees of Harvard Business Publishing, SEIU Local 509, Arsenal Center for the Arts, and more, Branch Line plans to debut lunch next month. Expect hearty sandwiches on Iggy’s bread, Holden said.
Today’s soft opening is for the immediate neighborhood, and the general public is invited starting this Wednesday. For now, Branch Line is open for dinner Monday – Thursday from 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. with the bar extending to 11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, the hours will be 4 p.m. – 11 p.m. (midnight for the bar).
321 Arsenal St., Watertown, 617-420-1900, branchlinearsenal.com.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015, 2 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify when the Green Line's A line stopped running.