First Bite: Stoddard’s in Boston

A long-anticipated downtown tavern delivers on its promise of good food — and even better drinks.

First Bite Stoddards

Photograph by Michael Piazza

“Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a cheese that could get you drunk?”

So wonders our waitress — a Jersey Shore Sammi look-alike — when my teetotaling companion asks if there’s active alcohol in the aged-Gouda-and-cask-ale pudding.

Uh, sure, we mutter. But before we can write her off as a good-time goof, she launches into a treatise on the historical bona fides of the restaurant’s cocktail program, explaining how most recipes were adapted from Jerry Thomas’s 1862 classic How to Mix Drinks and how Prohibition influenced the evolution of American cocktails.

And so it goes at Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ale, a slow-to-open “modern tavern” in Downtown Crossing. It’s a place that’s equal parts silly and serious, where the bar is a stunning 30-foot oak and mahogany replica of a turn-of-the-century beauty, but a dining alcove is offset by a corny display of wall-mounted bustiers. (Apparently they’re a nod to the building’s days as a corset shop.) Here, rough-hewn wood panels and pressed-tin ceilings read belle époque Boston, but the sound system blares “Honky Cat.” And the crowd is a mix of conventioneers, bridge-and-tunnel types, and a handful of urbanites on loan from Woodward and the W hotel.

But here’s the kicker: The food and drinks are good, almost shockingly so. There are 25 beers on tap, five cask ales, and about 100 bottles, not to mention whole categories of flips, fizzes, rickeys, sours, and slings, all chilled with handcarved block ice. That tangy cheese pudding, served with house-made pretzel bites, had us scraping the bottom of the little cast-iron cauldron. Lobster-and-scallion hush puppies were tender and lightly fried, set off by a spicy aioli. Chicken potpie proved the wonder of a good velouté, and a merguez sausage sandwich with aioli and turnip sauerkraut added just a hint of exotica. The menu is still in flux, but chef Mark Cina is on to something — a modern take on New England classics that makes them fresh and free of stodgy comfort-fare trappings. If the room itself can find that balance, old-timey Stoddard’s may be the next hot young thing.

48 Temple Place, Boston, 617-426-0048,