First Bite: Canary Square

A crowd-pleasing team nests in Jamaica Plain.

Photograph by Kristin Teig

Photograph by Kristin Teig

Restaurateurs Michael Moxley and James Cochener, the duo behind Allston’s Common Ground, put a neighborhood restaurant at the northern edge of the South End about four years ago. It was a real local eatery, not some designer’s fantasy of a hangout in Fabuloustown. They kept prices under $20, threw in a wide-ranging bar program, and made the menu just sophisticated and well sourced enough to attract a food-loving crowd. That place was Coda, and seeing its success, the two have now set about conquering their hometown — J.P.

With this third venture — Canary Square — they replicate much of what’s good about Coda. Named after its location at the intersection of South Huntington Avenue and Centre Street, the new restaurant aims to appeal to cocktailing twentysomethings as well as young family types.

The airy dining room, with its brick walls and lab-counter tabletops, looks like a less-quirky version of Miracle of Science or Cambridge 1. There’s room for strollers between tables, and something like a quarter of the seats are situated at the bar, so each demographic gets its own zone. The cocktails are creative, as evidenced by the Centre Street, a mix of Jim Beam, lemon juice, and both ginger and rosemary-orange syrups. There are also 30 or so beers on draft and a smart wine menu, with plenty offered by the glass.

The food? It mostly pleases. Salads — which range from a simple pile of greens to a warm jumble of Swiss chard, chicken, bacon vinaigrette, egg, cranberry, and pecans — are flavorful and well dressed. The handcut fries are velvety inside, crunchy out. The beef-and-Guinness stew is a silky marvel, the ale’s bitterness a perfect contrast to the gravy’s richness. And the mussels, bolstered by roasted garlic and shallots, make good use of pale ale. But the Serrano and Manchego ham and cheese sandwich was, on one visit, dry as hardtack, and the fried Twinkie dessert’s dense, overcooked shell was tough enough to break a tooth.

Still, we expect things to get better from here. Chef Marco Suarez proved his chops at nearby Bon Savor, and he knows his two primary audiences well. Once he fine-tunes that Twinkie, he’ll be on his way to winning them both.

435 S. Huntington Ave., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-2500,