For the food-obsessed Bostonian with a deep pocketbook and a hunger for unique dining experiences, pop-up restaurants, featuring new foods prepared by well-known chefs in a venue diners might not otherwise eat at or have access to, are an enclave in the local restaurant scene.
Ever since supper club Love + Butter opened its secret -- and likely illegal -- restaurant, run by a couple out of their home kitchen, in 2007 (it has since shut down), pop-up restaurants have been entrenched in Boston’s foodie culture, much like Grillo’s Pickles and food trucks. Here are the details on a few of these blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em eateries.
Eat. The most established of Boston’s pop-up restaurant organizations, Eat is run by Chef Will Gilson and marketing guru Aaron Cohen. The duo has created numerous pop-up restaurants with multi-course tasting menus in diverse locations, such as Mizu hair salon, the British Consulate-General, and Taza Chocolate’s Somerville factory. Tickets to their events generally cost around $70, but they also offer more affordable and casual opportunities, such as the Bacon and Beer Festival, to be held on April 28.
Whisk. By day, the space where Whisk is housed is home to Fiore’s Bakery, but at night, it transforms into a fine dining destination, complete with candles and fresh flowers. While the décor is sparse, the setting is intimate, and it’s not uncommon for one of the young chefs to actually step out of the kitchen and serve guests. Diners can choose from either a seven-course tasting menu (in which three of the courses are desserts!) or a three-course dessert tasting menu. As you might have guessed, Whisk specializes in desserts, which isn’t too surprising given that Chef Philip Kruta used to work as a pastry chef at L’Espalier.
Barrio. This local pop-up restaurant is both secret and unusual: Its menu focuses on Afro-Cuban street food (think plantains and corn on the cob). After purchasing their $50 ticket, attendees receive the restaurant’s location in an email and are basically sworn to secrecy. Founded by Wheeler del Toro -- a master of underground dining (he’s the brain behind Dining in the Dark and Fillet of Soul) and known for his vegan ice cream -- Barrio’s March 8 dinner was the first event that was opened to the general public. The next event will be held on Thursday, April 26.
Guchi’s Midnight Ramen. This pop-up eatery by Tracy Chang and O Ya’s chefs, Yukihiro Kawaguchi (hence “Guchi”) and Mark O’Leary, specializes in -- you guessed it -- ramen and other Asian dishes, such as pork buns. Since January, Guchi’s has served food at -- you guessed it again -- midnight to cold, hungry Bostonians at upscale restaurants Bondir and No. 9 Park. Tickets usually cost $25 and include an appetizer, ramen, and a dessert. The only frustrating part is actually getting one of those tickets; both events, which they announce via Facebook, sold out within minutes.
Brasstacks. Like Barrio, this pop-up restaurant requires a little bit of effort to get in. First, friend it on Facebook to put your name on the ever-growing invite list for bi-monthly dinners, which generally cost around $75 per person. Industry veterans and Menton alumni Marc Sheehan, Drew Davis, and Matthew Schrage began Brasstacks with a focus on bringing back local food traditions by stripping the dining experience down to the bare minimum, which is how they came up with the clever name. Expect dishes like marinated bluefish and cocktails like raw goat’s milk Last Frontier punch. Brasstacks' first event concluded with a tasting of five types of honey, a unique use of local ingredients.
BONUS: Moon Shine Pop-Up Whiskey Bar. Held back in March at Bella Luna’s Milky Way Lounge in Jamaica Plain, the Moon Shine Pop-Up Whiskey Bar was Boston’s first pop-up bar event. For the $30 ticket price, attendees got a taste of food and drinks from around the world. Although the bar’s name is a little misleading -- no moonshine was actually served -- guests could savor sips of aged whiskey and scotch served in teacup-sized Mason jars and nosh on rosemary-braised short ribs, grilled oysters with pickled ginger, and pecans soaked in bourbon. It’s unclear if Bella Luna will hold another Moon Shine event, but hopefully they’ll find an excuse to break out those Mason jars soon.
Have you been to one of Boston’s pop-up restaurants?
Photo of Eat diners (one) by Simon Simard, courtesy of Eat; photo of a Whisk dessert (two) by of Marissa Lowman; photo of Guchi's Midnight Ramen's ramen (three) by Tracy Chang, courtesy of Guchi's Midnight Ramen; and photo of Moon Shine bread and cheese spread (four) courtesy of Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge.
About Marissa -- Marissa is the founder of EdTechup, an organization that brings together education technology entrepreneurs and educators. She currently works at AisleBuyer, a mobile commerce startup. Her writing has appeared in Time Out Boston and BostInnovation, among other publications.
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