If there is one thing that Boston has- its sports bars. Every corner that you turn down, every street you pass has bars littered with TV's in every available space and Boston fans cheering on their favorite teams. Who can blame them really? Boston rocks. Sure we have our off years (I'm still crying over the Sox loss a few weeks back) but we aren't called the Title Town for nothing. I digress....sports bars- everywhere. The thing about most of them though is that the food isn't all that great. They all seem to serve up the same combinations of the same food- burgers, chicken fingers, fries, some sort of chicken sandwich, some variation of "Irish food"...it gets a bit boring. With that said- there is a recently re-opened place, that promises a new look at fan cuisine-and seem to very much be on the right track.
Johnnie's on the Side opened in 2008 bordering both the Garden community and the West End of Boston. It is a place that I have eaten at numerous times, have always enjoyed my food, but have always forgotten to write about. This past summer though they were forced to close due to plumbing issues in the neighborhood, and every time I passed Johnnie's I was reminded of what a great place it is, and how sad I was that it wasn't open. Last night we ventured over to the area again, and were thrilled to find it open once again.
While there is no mistaking Johnnie's as a sports bar, the feeling inside is far different from the average. Plush leather couches greet you as you enter, dark wood surrounds the place giving it a more upscale theme, and the walls, well yes- there is a very generous smattering of TVs adorning the walls, but in between those are fantastic old photos of great sportsmen all signed and addressed to the owner. Retired seats from Fenway, Hall of Fame basketballs, gifts from players and teams alike create an amazing array of memorabilia, and all displayed in great array. For a fan- its a fantastic site to see.
But I'm not there to talk about sports stuff am I? I'm there to eat (well and take in a great Celtics season opener game). Not wanting to feel weighed down by individual meals we decided instead to split some appetizers since they all sounded so good. We started with their traditional meatballs, served in marinara sauce with parmesan cheese and a beautifully fried basil leaf. A few slices of fresh bread, and I felt like I was back in my mother's kitchen. A bite into one of the meatballs, and I really was in my mother's kitchen. I was shocked at how similar these were to her recipe. Actually-I think that they stole it. Perfect consistency, great flavors- really delicious. And the bread was nice a crusty- a great compliment to the meatballs!
After revelling in those for a bit, we saw a plate of quesadilla's walk past us- upon menu study we found out that these were known as the Bullfinch Triangles- and were actually made from Duck and Monterey Jack cheese as the main components, and were served with a fun mango salsa and Hoisin sauce on the side. These were also really tasty- duck is one of those poultry items that I just don't have much experience with, but here it was moist and delicious, perfectly paired with the flavors of the cheese and complimented by a nice texture change with still crisp onions. The salsa was good, though Mango and I have never been good friends. The Hoisin sauce was a nice addition- and added a good Asian vibe to the dish. Enjoyable all the way around.
We finally ended the night with their spinach and artichoke dip served with pita chips. Chock full of artichoke pieces and tons of spinach, I could almost convince myself that this was healthy. It wasn't as the other main components are yummy cheese, but it was certainly delicious. Johnnie's serves their spinach and artichoke dip in a little bowl with marinara sauce, which I always think makes it even more delicious. Somehow the acidity of the tomatoes just perks up the rest of the flavors and counters the wonderful decadence of the creamy cheese.
Combined with my past experiences, I have a lot of love for Johnnie's on the Side. Its a place where you run in to old friends, where you may make some new ones, and a place where you don't have to sacrifice good food for watching the game. Johnnie's-welcome back! I am so pleased you have re opened!