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New England Regional | Tastes and Tables

Changes at the Tap

Green Street offers comfortable New England fare with a twist.

July-August 2007

Dylan Black (in blue shirt) mingles with guests at his restaurant.

Phtograph by Fred Field

Dylan Black (in blue shirt) mingles with guests at his restaurant.

Phtograph by Fred Field

If “fresh hot dog” sounds like an oxymoron, taste the one at Green Street. It’s as close to the tender pig as you’ll ever want to sit. Dip it into the saucy Boston baked beans, or wrap it in buttery brown bread (a richer cousin to the canned stuff you ate as a kid), and you’ve got a whole New England meal, au courant. The concept works well at this restaurant and bar that last year replaced a beloved Cambridge classic, Charlie’s Tap/Green Street Grill. Gone, now, is the Jamaican chicken at times so jerked it seared the pan as well as the palate, and gone is the live jazz. (Nina Simone sings on CD instead.) And missing is that gritty vibrancy, that rare and lively mingling of local folks, artists, and pols of all sizes, shapes, and colors that made the old grill so much fun. To be fair, perhaps the new place just needs time to ripen.

Green Street
280 Green Street
Opens for dinner at 5:30
Bar stays open until 1 a.m.
Reservations recommended.

Local boy Dylan Black, a talented veteran bartender who used to play pinball at the Tap, bought the business from Cambridge fixture John Clifford, and reveres the establishment. (It holds the oldest operating liquor license in the city.) “I understand people’s shock when they walk in. But it’s still a comfortable, neighborhood place,” he says. “We no longer offer goat stew, but we have a playful menu; we serve the mac and cheese with duck confit, and we make all our own sausages.” His “A to Z” cocktail menu, favoring rums, Angostura bitters, and fresh juices, is already a hit among fancy drinkers. We recommend the beguiling Widow’s Kiss, or the Air Mail—or just pick from the superb beer and wine list.

Green Street’s dcor is less ad hoc bohemian than its predecessor’s—no big, abstract art on the walls nor gleaming jukebox. Now, the look may be more in keeping with its history as a tavern: the mostly bare walls are a greenish-grey with black trim; black chairs and tables fill the two rectangular rooms; and, very important, the lighting and music are cued to avoid squinting and yelling.

The New England-themed menu stops short of offering a boiled dinner, although chef Pete Sueltenfuss could probably do wonders with one. We started with the steamed mussels ($10): buoy-cultivated on Cape Cod, they were as big as a toddler’s hand. In lieu of broth, a creamy sauce with leeks and herbs clung to the sloppy, succulent morsels, and served as a fine fondue for the accompanying grilled bread. The tender roasted-golden-beet salad ($8) with blue cheese and chestnuts had enough vinegary punch to offset any waxy sweetness. Root vegetables and wavy, homemade noodles came dressed in a red-wine braising sauce with the Yankee pot roast ($20), serving up warm memories of Sunday dinners at grandma’s. The “Green Street Clambake” ($25) was artfully layered: clams, mussels, sausage, potatoes, and a small ear of corn under half a length of lobster. All was cooked to perfection, in a broth that tasted like an ocean breeze. Also of note was the juicy roasted organic chicken ($18), with herbed mashed potatoes and tangy Swiss chard. Among the home-style desserts was a butterscotch pudding ($6), sweet, though runnier than expected, and a slightly tart and chunky pineapple upside-down cake with nutmeg cream ($6), which was outstanding.

As Black says, “Change is not a bad thing all the time.”