Comfort in food and place at Geoffrey’s Cafe
You might think that the restaurateur behind Geoffrey’s Cafe owns a moving company for all the times he’s changed the addresses. In 1991, Geoffrey’s opened in the Back Bay, moved two years later to Tremont Street in the South End, then almost a decade later to a different Back Bay location. To the dismay of its Boston regulars, the restaurant moved to Roslindale in 2007. Now Geoffrey’s has returned to Back Bay in the largest space yet (185 seats). It shares an enviable destination block with the upscale French restaurant Mistral, and the gay mecca Club Cafe. “We have a 20-year lease here,’’ says chef-owner Michael Aplin. “We are not going anywhere.’’
The huge menu is — and always has been — a canon of comfort food: chicken and dumplings, beef burgundy, meat loaf, lasagna. Aplin and his staff have had 20 years to perfect them — and it shows. A maple-glazed French-cut pork chop ($14.95) seems impossibly tender, thick, and juicy, which I decide must mean it has been brined. It’s actually a center cut of pork loin, bone intact, giving the appearance of a very plump chop. “I love the look,’’ says Aplin. “It’s really dramatic.’’
If there’s one thing in abundance at Geoffrey’s it’s drama. Lighting is seductively low; decor mid-century bordello. Walls are deep red, with frills in gold. Fontella Bass and Dusty Springfield join Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller on the soundtrack.
The bar is classy, with dark wood and lots of detail. Seated there are many longtime regulars, mostly gay men, with a candor and humor rare in our still buttoned-down city. Geoffrey’s was one of the first openly gay-owned restaurants in Boston, founded by Aplin and his partner, Geoffrey Seelen, who died in 1995 from what obituaries then called “a short illness.’’
The lively restaurant is now one of the best values for anyone who wants a good meal in the otherwise pricey Back Bay. Country chicken and biscuits ($10.95) — a.k.a. chicken a la king — is an example of how the chef elevates what might be a pedestrian dish. A seasoned white sauce is smooth and light; the chicken is flavorful and tender; peas add color and freshness; biscuits are perfectly baked. There’s no attempt to complicate or even modernize. It’s a simple, satisfying dish prepared very well.
Very good burgers ($7.95) come in various configurations. Fried eggplant Milanese ($8.95) — my regular gotcha-dish to test over-frying — is light, crisp, and tender. The plating is often flamboyant. And Geoffrey’s does have a habit of providing inexplicable sauces and sides, as in sweet-and-sour sauce for fried calamari, sour cream for the liver, mounds of rather ordinary “exotic greens.’’ Ignore them and enjoy the food.
Desserts are enormous, and meant to be shared — perhaps by three. Key lime pie ($6), baked by Aplin each day, is extraordinary. Tart, sweet, citrusy, fresh, authentically pale yellow with an admirable crust.
Back at the bar, men of a certain age tell me they have been coming to Geoffrey’s since they felt less welcome elsewhere. And so, the venue for many dinner dates and partnership ceremonies is now a very frequent host of the anniversary meal. Comfort food, in every sense of the word.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at theideassection.com.