Historically, New England has never been really known for its cuisine.
Sure, our lobster rolls are pretty amazing, clam chowder hits the spot every time, and our seafood is top notch. However, we've never been lauded for our creativity or cutting-edge dishes. In fact, for decades people associated Boston with old world steak houses and sleepy New England fare.
But things are changing.
Not only do we see more and more innovative chefs opening places in Boston, we even have chefs like Chef Mark Sheehan (Bondir, Menton), who is putting his own spin on New England cuisine. Loyal Nine, a self-proclaimed "East Coast Revival" resaturant, opened in 2015 to much deserved fanfare. It went on to become the only restaurant in Massachusetts to be nominated for Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants List in 2015 (50 nominees total).
Chef Sheehan studied colonial cookbooks like Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book and Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and then added his own modern touch to the period cuisine. What results is a genuinely interesting yet totally approachable restaurant where you can try a number of fun dishes.
The menu is divided up into three sections: On the Ice, which consists of a variety of chilled seafood dishes; With Hands; which includes snack-like appetizers; and Trenchers, most substantial, warm, "meaty" or hearty vegetable dishes.
Bread is baked in-house by pastry chef Adam Ross, formerly of High Rise Bread Company (yum!).
From the "On the Ice" section of the menu we tried Littleneck Clams, a flavorful starter bite that consisted of cooked clams that were chopped up, dressed, and then served in their own shells.
Another time we had the Razor Clams ($12), topped with pickled garlic scapes and wild leeks.
From the "With Hands" section of the menu, we were tempted by the Fried Jacob's Cattle Beans ($5), served with herbs and sea salt. These came out first, and they were hot, crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside, and downright so good. It was really hard to stop eating these light, crispy, savory snacks.
We also tried the Fresh Cheese ($12), homemade ricotta served with Brussels sprouts, turnips, and a colorful assortment of radishes along with some gorgeously charred bread.
You could also separately order Radishes ($8), which came with a tasty shrimp mayonnaise.
Grilled Pork Ribs ($18), which were delicious, came piled high with molasses and hot peppers.
Celery Root ($10) was a special one day and came prepared three ways: roasted, as raw slices, and as a puree, served with preserved apple, Harbison cheese and black walnut.
From the "Trenchers" section of the menu, we tried the Pondemnast ($16), a porridge of grains with wild mushrooms, herb salad, and a soft egg on top. It looked like it should be savory, but this version reminded us more of cinnamon oatmeal. It was quite sweet, and the combination of the sweet porridge with mushrooms, eggs, and herbs was incongruous. Neither Bryan nor I really liked this dish.
At another time, we tried the Warm Salad of RI Squid ($13), strips of soft squid tossed with marinated cabbage and deep fried barley croquettes.
Our friends had raved about the Whole Roasted Aged Duck, a larger format dish (suitable for a whole table of diners!) consisting of a whole duck prepared via three different methods: roasted breast, confit legs, and duck liver mousse on toast.
First they come and show the whole duck to you. Then, they take it away and cut it up, preparing it so it's really easy for a group of diners to share. The breast pieces are sliced, and the duck liver mouse comes sliced on toast.
The skin was gorgeously crispy, the meat was cooked perfectly, and overall it was a great dish.
In general, I have always enjoyed the food at Loyal Nine. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors are creative, and the food is a lot more vibrant and energetic than what you might expect from a restaurant that claims to make "colonial food." Chef-owner Marc Sheehan injects plenty of seasonal produce, fresh local seafood, and lots of fun little bites that are definitely different from bites you'd get at most New American restaurants.
I think because of its location, sometimes people don't think of it right away, which is too bad. On a Friday evening a couple months ago, we were surprised how empty the dining room was. I am hoping it was a fluke, and that this place usually bustling with people, because the food is genuinely very good. Sure, there are occasional creative experiments that don't work. By and large, however, we've enjoyed the food we've had here and would happily return.
Loyal Nine Cambridge
660 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA, United States