Joshua Smith is officially living his dream. First the former Four Seasons chef opened Moody’s Delicatessen and Provisions in Waltham, with its enticing selection of stuffed sandwiches, artisanal goods, and house cured meats. That inaugural empire of swine and salt paved the way for his New England Charcuterie company, which sells his brand of sausages and salumi to some of the best restaurants and specialty stores across the country. Now comes what Smith calls his “biggest passion project” to date, a 50-seat wine bar that combines his love of wine, smoke, and traditional French cooking.
Smith’s latest concept, simply called The Backroom, contains a certain degree of showmanship. Diners access the restaurant through the adjacent deli, which, filled with its ogle-worthy cases of coppa, pickles, and chorizo, inevitably triggers one’s salivary glands. The idea, not dissimilar from the gift shop at the end of theme park ride, is that you enter one culinary wonderland, enjoy a multi-course meal in another, and leave with a shopping bag filled with Moody’s’ house-made goodies.
A self-professed “Francophile,” Smith spared no expense when it came to his range of copper Mauviel cookware, limestone walls, all reclaimed from a French abbey, and most importantly, a wood-fired oven from renowned company Le Panyol.
“The interesting thing about this oven is that the outside of it is made in Maine, the copper dome and all the steel, but the ceramic clay dome and the brick inside comes from Le Panyol,” Smith says. “The clay that they use is actually excavated from former vineyards in the Rhone Valley. That clay once grew vines, which makes it all the more appropriate for the wine bar. They take the clay, cut the bricks, kiln dry them at 3,800 degrees over three days, then ship them over here where they’re built on-site. I thought that was a cool tie-in to our story.”
The eye-popping scenery doesn’t end there though, with a French-made copper spit roasting free range chickens and suckling pigs in back, towering 200-hundred-year-old beams salvaged from a New Hampshire lumber yard lining the space, a sprawling Enomatic wine dispensing system, an interactive, sliced-to-order charcuterie program, a glowing stream of USB ports underneath the bar, and pricey Peugeot Olivier Roellinger pepper mills at every table. Hell, even the entrance to the bathroom is impressive, with its sliding, steel-plated butcher’s door.
Then there’s the food itself, which takes advantage of Smith’s skill with charcuterie. Scallop crudo is studded with loukaniko salami and charred fennel, spicy Italian ndjua is spread on a ricotta flatbread, and crispy pork belly is brined in bourbon and served atop a creamy parsnip puree. The Backroom’s wood-fired oven is certainly the centerpiece of the restaurant though, and Smith intends to get his money’s worth as he’ll nightly churn out hefty 32-ounce cowboy steaks, giant Savenor’s tomahawk pork chops, and whole-roasted fish presented on custom-designed butcher block slabs.
Smith said he was initially inspired by famed Thomas Keller spots Ad Hoc and Bouchon for their “focus on sophisticated simplicity,” and you can see that influence all over the menu: pan-roasted Giannone chicken, seared sea scallops in a lemony brown-butter sauce, and French onion soup with caramelized onions and Emmentaler cheese. But he’s also developing a formidable pizza and pasta program thanks to “artisanal chef” Luke Fetbroth, who splits his time between Smith’s underground “food lab” and Ana Sortun’s Sarma.
All the mozzarella, ricotta, and, even, parmesan will be made in-house, with Fetbroth given free reign to develop recipes like his oven-baked Parisian gnocchi with wild mushrooms, rye risotto with spring vegetables, and porcini pasta with farmer’s cheese.
“I’ve never had a pasta-focused menu, but with Luke on board we’re going to do some really cool Italian dishes,” Smith says. “I’m a classically trained French chef, but I’m also interested in pasta because I think it’s a natural expression of the meats that we have here. To add some of our meats to a pasta dish, something right out of the wood-fired oven with freshly made cheese, those are crave-worthy dishes. Like we’re going to be making a rye orecchiette with a Swiss mornay sauce and braised pastrami. It’s almost like a pastrami sandwich, but flipped on its head.”
The wine list includes 50 bottles and 25 by-the-glass items with a focus on French and domestic selections, like the two draft options from his friend Peter Seghesio of Sonoma’s Journeyman. Glass pours will range from a $10 malbec blend from Washington to a $300 Harlan Estate cabernet sauvignon.
Presenting something unique to the Waltham area remains a high priority for Smith, who intentionally strayed from an Italian-heavy wine list given The Backroom’s vicinity to Il Capriccio and La Campania. The bar also only has two draft beer lines because, as the chef says, “we’re trying to complement what The Gaff [directly across the street] already does as opposed to competing with them.”
The Backroom will have a small selection of cocktails, several tequilas and mezcals, and an impressive year-round supply of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Yes, that includes the 12-, 15-, 20-, and 23-year-old versions.
A soft opening for Smith’s wine bar is tentatively set for April 8. Initially The Backroom will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.
468 Moody St., Waltham; 781-216-8732 or moodyswaltham.com.
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