Enough about Clam Chowder: It’s Time to Start Honoring Boston’s Real Best Food
Hint: It doesn't need to involve seafood.
“What y’all want to eat tonight?” is one of my favorite questions. It’s an emotional question for me, because whatever I eat has to be on point, otherwise Imma be cranky. So people throw suggestions at me to choose from, and maybe it’s my age, or who I normally chill with, but not once has any of my homies answered with “Ayo, let’s hit that clam chowder spot” or “baked beans, son.”
It’s no secret that clam chowder, lobster rolls, and baked beans are as Boston as Adidas and spelling cities “Worcester” and “Leominster” while pronouncing it the way we do just to fuck with people from out of town. Go to any Boston tourism website and it will undoubtedly list the same five “must have” dishes for visiting travelers. I would never suggest that these local staples are bad. But are they exciting anymore? I’m sure an old school Bostonian will regale me with stories of how the British ushered clam chowder into our culture in the 18th century. I completely understand the history, but we have Playstations now. It’s time to get sexy. Time to step it up. Our tastebuds demand it.
This is why I nominate barbecue as Boston’s most underrated food option. Now let me be clear, I’m not saying Boston is, or could ever become, North Carolina or Texas in brisket hierarchy. I am saying that we have enough established places that deserve more chatter amongst the chowder set. Truth is, BBQ has somewhat risen in popularity in Boston in recent years, with awesome places like the Smoke Shop and Sweet Cheeks earning attention. The food is outstanding, but it’s easy to forget that Boston-area BBQ isn’t a new phenomenon—we’ve been blessed for years with excellent options, and it feels like every neighborhood has a tried and true BBQ location.
But for me, a Dorchester kid, a couple places stand out. Pit Stop Barbecue (known affectionately as simply “The Pit”) on Morton Street in Mattapan has been satisfying gullets for over 30 years. And I couldn’t write anything about BBQ in Boston without talking about that blue Puritan Laundry truck that was a staple in my grandmother’s neighborhood with the line that stretched around the corner. Originally named M&M Ribs, it started as a food truck in 1982 by Maurice and Marion Hill. If Maurice was the mastermind behind the operation, Marion was certainly its heartbeat, cheffing up food so delicious it had patrons waiting in long lines, staring deeply into the eyes of the restaurant on wheels, singing Tony! Toni! Toné!’s classic “Just Me And You”. In the days long before food trucks were in vogue, a tiny LPizzle, rocking a classic Incredible Hulk tee and sporting a smile as large as his appetite, would happily wait in that hazy, hickory smoke-filled line accompanied by my mom, an aunt, uncle or older cousin and sometimes all four! I was too small to see into the truck, but the aroma was vivid. Every stomach growling step closer to the truck was akin to Tom Brady leading a methodical game winning drive in the Super Bowl. And when they finally reached out to hand you a plate that held some of the juiciest fall-off-the-bone ribs you’ve ever laid eyes on, I imagine the only comparable feeling would be Julian Edelman catching that go ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter of Superbowl 49. Yes, the food was THAT good.
And while the city has plenty of excellent BBQ options, the other reason it deserves more credit is that it satisfies two of the food critic’s (my tummy) greatest desires. The first is the BBQ itself, with its fine meats and rich sauces. But in addition to that, it brings with it a good amount of the fare I was raised on: soul food. Growing up in a Black home, you become accustomed to the joy cooking a big Sunday soul food dinner can bring. Coming from a big family like I do, it was normal to be in a house full of relatives spanning generations, cooking and laughing and listening to music at least once or twice a month. As a kid, I became addicted to the intoxicating aromas soul food brought to the table. The kind of smells that would make me drop my Super Nintendo controller instantly and float to the kitchen, my nose guided by the arm of an aroma cloud like Bugs Bunny smelling carrot soup.
And when you hit up a BBQ place in Boston, the menu will boast a healthy amount of those very same foods: buttery cornbread, delicious collard greens and sweet, well, sweet potatoes to choose from, just to name a few. This combination of options is what vaulted BBQ ahead of its very worthy opponents in the rest of the city’s food scene—and while nationally we may be known for soup and beans, anyone who actually eats in this city knows the BBQ here is being unfairly neglected. I wouldn’t necessarily call M&M’s a “hidden gem,” as it’s certainly received a lot of well-deserved accolades over the years (including from this very magazine, which awarded it a Best of Boston award in 2020). But I do believe that the food is so legendary it deserves the same adoration city and state-wide that it gets from anyone who grew up in Dorchester, especially those of us who spent a substantial amount of time on Columbia Road.
Why do we underrate BBQ so badly as a city? Our stomachs certainly don’t. Pre-pandemic, there was a time I was everywhere. Comedy clubs, restaurants, Boston bars where groups of white people with one trusty Black friend frequented. I was in them streets and I don’t recall one solid BBQ conversation. Something that tastes this good should be heralded at least as much as a bowl of wet clams, no? I’m sure a big part of the reason is because, living in New England, we have absolutely no regional claim to it. Around here we fish. Well, I don’t, but real men do. And there’s a real sense of pride in catching your dinner on the high seas. You’re never gonna see a dude from Gloucester on a fishing boat holding up a freshly caught beef brisket in his Tinder profile pic. But so what if we can’t regionally claim it? We can pretend. If they let me reboot A Perfect Storm, it’s gonna be about some pulled pork, beef ribs, and my mother’s potato salad all being ready to eat at the same time.
Now, if I’m keeping it a hundeezy, the best food in Boston has been made by my mom for decades. She makes a sweet potato pie so good that pumpkin pie should retire in shame for even resembling it. Don’t get me started on the greens. The GREENS! (Homer Simpson drool face). I’m just saying, she’s an LLC away from putting everybody out of business.
But even if my mom’s cooking isn’t available to you, you’re really missing out if you don’t do your part to change this city’s reputation from the top distributor of wet clams to a place where you can get some damn good soul food. So the next time you’re sitting around with friends watching Walker, Texas Ranger reruns and your stomach begins sounding like a lion preparing to pounce, instead of ordering what Paul Revere ate, head on over to M&M BBQ at their beautiful new indoor location housed within Dorchester Brewing Company. And when you order the juicy fall-off-the-bone ribs or the delicious beef brisket sammy or the amazing collard greens, tell them Lamont sent you. They won’t know who the hell you’re talking about, but you’re gonna get some good ass collard greens.