Nowadays, opening a restaurant anywhere is a gamble, and filling its seats a high-risk venture. So why not raise the stakes even higher? Pick a location along an unpaved road that might have seen more traffic in the 18th century.
So how can it be so difficult at times to get a table at the Rye Tavern, on Old Sandwich Road deep inside The Pinehills planned community in Plymouth? It cannot be because of the stagecoach traffic, which pretty much petered out in the 1800s.
Could it be the clam chowder, with briny fried whole-belly clams nestled atop a small mound of bacon mashed potatoes floating on the chowder? Or maybe the fried ravioli stuffed with chicken confit, and topped with Parmesan, asparagus, and a dollop of farm cheese?
But those are just appetizers, though an entrée-size portion of each would be quite nice.
Could the queue for an empty table be explained by the tender sea scallops, pan-roasted with pancetta and served with risotto cooked in the stock of the corn that adorns the dish? Or perhaps the 14-ounce, bone-in pork chop, grilled after being brined overnight in apple cider, and accompanied by polenta with Parmesan and butter, and a roasted red pepper salad?
The Rye Tavern, which opened in late June, is a nice venue for some other 18th-century verities: Much of what gets plated in the kitchen is grown just outside the back door, and the poultry and beef are raised organically on nearby farms. And now, as back then, it is a comfortable respite, right down to the beamed ceilings, large stone fireplace and, ah, the big-screen TV in the cozy alcove bar, which is mercifully hidden from most of the tables.
The restaurant is the latest culinary godsend for Plymouth - and for the 3,200-acre Pinehills development, which has 3,500 residents and a high-end market that draws 1,300 shoppers a day.
The tavern is actually quite accessible, just off Route 3 and reachable by paved roadways through the Pinehills. And the high quality of the food - and the artistic preparation by Joanna Farrar, the talented chef de cuisine - is not matched by the prices.
The most expensive entrée, an extraordinary rendition of local striped bass with lobster chunks in a lobster-tarragon vinaigrette, is $26. But the scallop mainstay is just $19. Appetizers run from $5 to $10. And the tavern has an eclectic, high-quality wine list, with most bottles between $22 and $35.
And if you’re uncertain whether to take a chance on a glass of wine, for instance, a Minervois from the Languedoc region of France, the waiter will offer you a taste.
The Rye Tavern is the latest creation of Dramshop Hospitality, a Boston-based company that also operates the Regal Beagle in Brookline, Church Restaurant and Nightclub in the Fenway, and starting this year, Union Fish Seafood & Raw Bar on the waterfront in Plymouth, which also happens to be the hometown of Chris Tocchio, the company’s founder.
The Rye Tavern is the company’s most unusual venue, in a restored tavern that was a popular way station on Old Sandwich Road, the main thoroughfare between Boston and Cape Cod, in the 18th century. Dramshop has re-created the building’s antique atmosphere. Alas, with all that wood and stone, the tavern can be annoyingly noisy when it’s busy. Tocchio said he is working on plans to alleviate the problem.
The tavern is otherwise quite comfortable. It seats 50 in the large, L-shaped dining room, and there is al fresco seating for another 30.
Farrar, a culinary wunderkind at age 25, grew up on a 100-acre farm in Maine. So it’s no surprise that her cuisine is heavily dependent on local produce, including items from the tavern’s own large garden plot.
Take, for instance, the roasted beet salad - though don’t try to take it off my table. Farrar’s team roasts golden and red baby beets, then peels and quarters them. The roasted beet salad is served with raw sunflower seeds, candied with a spice blend and served with Vermont goat cheese on a bed of arugula and topped with balsamic vinaigrette. This is a salad to remember, even for someone, like myself, who would never consider being first in line for either beets or goat cheese.
Or like the riff on a Caprese salad I had last week - slices of watermelon and beefsteak tomatoes with mozzarella chunks, served over spinach and topped with a basil vinaigrette.
For sheer audacity, there is nothing on the menu quite like the clam chowder. The chopped clams, carrots, celery, and onion are cooked in the rendered fat of smoked applewood bacon. A spoonful of whipped mashed potatoes with bacon is floated in the chowder, and all of that is crowned with whole-belly clams dredged in semolina flour and deep-fried. It is a memorable $7 appetizer.
There is also a $7 bookend on the meal: a whiskey-flavored fresh peach and brown sugar crisp with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce.
And if you like, on the way out the door, you can peek into the bar and find out the
Walter V. Robinson