Even if you aren’t familiar with the name Frederick Law Olmsted, chances are you’re acquainted with his work.
Olmsted is widely regarded as the godfather of American landscape architecture. In the latter half of the 19th century, Olmsted devoted his career to the design of urban parks and green spaces. Among the highlights of his spectacular resume are New York’s Central Park and, closer to home, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the parkway that stretches from Back Bay to Dorchester and includes such tranquil sanctuaries as the Public Garden and the Arnold Arboretum. Olmsted moved to Brookline in 1883 and did much of his design work from his home office, which also served as the nation’s first full-time landscape architecture firm. He called his estate “Fairsted.”
More than a century later, Olmsted’s adopted hometown still bears his imprint. And on Beacon Street, a thoroughfare that would look unfathomably different without Olmsted’s influence, Fairsted Kitchen offers a nod to the famous landscape architect.
“We always tell people that Fairsted [Kitchen] could only exist in Washington Square, nowhere else,” bartender Will Isaza says while expounding upon the spirit of the neighborhood’s chief designer and onetime resident. “He made Beacon Street what it is today.”
The restaurant honors Olmsted not only nominally but aesthetically as well, capturing the essence of a Victorian-era home with its antique accessories, vintage-style wallpaper, and long curtains clasped behind floor-to-ceiling windows. A long table in the dining room and a menu teeming with small plates recall the sense of community that Olmsted promoted with his public parks.
But if the work of a 19th century urban planner doesn’t particularly resonate with you, Fairsted also evokes an atmosphere that may have a more sentimental appeal. “The owners wanted it to feel like grandma’s living room,” Will says. And that may be an even better way to describe the space.
Despite having opened its doors just over a year ago, Fairsted has the appearance and character of an old-fashioned, well-maintained home. Hardwood floors and wooden tables, glowing candles, polished silver, and sconce lighting give it a sense of timelessness.
And as you might expect of a beloved grandparent’s house, Fairsted is neat and tidy but dotted with conversation pieces. Behind the 12-seat bar, with its stainless steel surface, is a collection of odds and ends such as books, toy dinosaurs, and a globe. None of the plates, silverware, or glassware are coordinated, giving the impression that they’d belonged to disparate collections that have lost pieces over the years.
Taken together, the subtle touches serve to make Fairsted feel cozy and lived-in, like a home that’s been blessed with a steady stream of occupants and visitors over the years.
Of course, your grandparents probably never made the sort of drinks you’ll find here.
Fairsted Kichen stands out in a neighborhood that isn’t known for its variety of craft cocktail bars. Fairsted’s beverage program, designed collectively by the staff, is highly original but approachable. There’s a deliberate effort to “keep it light,” as Will says, particularly with drinks named for movies (Days of Future Past Punch) and songs. With a nod to both the Beastie Boys and the town Fairsted resides in, No Sleep Til Brookline combines bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, lemon, and Angostura bitters.
The Fresh Tracks, made with vodka, thyme, lemon, and Chartreuse, is surprising. With strong flavors like thyme and Chartreuse, I was expecting something bold and intensely herbal. Instead it’s light, refreshing, and well balanced, with a mild bitterness. Will explains that Fresh Tracks is made with a thyme- and tarragon-infused vodka, as opposed to a syrup, which seems to soften the flavor somewhat.
There’s nothing soft about the Foreign Legion, though, with its mix of mezcal, sherry, Ancho Reyes, and Punt e Mes. Mezcal’s distinctive smoky character is a natural partner for Ancho Reyes, a spicy ancho chile liqueur, and the Punt e Mes adds its trademark bitterness. The sherry contributes a rich, nutty flavor and keeps the whole affair pretty balanced.
Much like the bar’s menagerie of mismatched oddities, Fairsted’s drinks are intended to spark conversation. On that note, few drinks command more attention than the Black Sails, with its unexpected display of pyrotechnics. This blend of rum, lime, Cappelletti, and cacao garners oohs and ahhhs when a dusting of cinnamon is ignited while being sprinkled over the top of the drink (an event I most assuredly would have photographed had I known it was coming). The cocktail itself lives up to its fiery presentation, with bold notes of chocolate and cinnamon.
A cascade of sparks might be an obvious conversation starter, but many of the drinks are intended to prompt a question or two on account of their sometimes unusual composition. “Count Me In!” is a crisp, bitter cocktail made with fresh orange, Becherovka, Campari, and soda. You’re far more knowledgeable than I am if you know what Becherovka is without having to look it up.
The Southern Cross is made with cognac, clove, Amaro Meletti, and bubbles. The source of the up-front clove flavor is mysterious – is it a liqueur? a syrup? an infused spirit?
You can pull out your phone and discover that Becherovka is an herbal liqueur made in the Czech Republic (and that their website is maddening to navigate). You can speculate about the source of the clove flavor in the Southern Cross. Then again, why not just ask?
“We keep the lines of communication open,” Will says. “We don’t want to scare anyone away.” And he acknowledges that something like “clove” is deliberately vague. “We try to keep it simple in terms of the flavor components. If people want to ask about the ingredients, we can tell them. If not, at least they know the flavors.” (I did ask – it’s a clove and cardamom syrup.)
If any of Fairsted’s drinks demand a little interrogation, it’s the rotating selection of draft and bottled offerings. Among local establishments, Fairsted has been at the forefront of this still emerging trend. Will acknowledges that the decision to offer pre-made craft cocktails has its roots in efficiency, a means of minimizing customer wait time and speeding up the production of some labor-intensive drinks. “But after that, it became ‘let’s see how weird we can get’,” he says.
There’s plenty of weirdness coming through those draft lines. The herbal Doctor’s Orders is an unusual cocktail made with rye whiskey, cherry, fenugreek, and Punt e Mes. The name is appropriate; fenugreek is a plant often used for medicinal purposes.
The Katsura is a draft aperitif that combines sherry and a scotch infused with capers and apricot. It’s a variation of a Bamboo cocktail and named for the signature work of a famous bamboo artist. The flavor is utterly unique; I mean, who infuses scotch with anything, let alone capers and apricot?
Will says the staff thrives on devising creative combinations like that, although there are limits to which ingredients can be served in draft form. Citrus and fruit juices, with their acidic content, would tear up the draft lines. But when it comes to bottling cocktails, pretty much anything goes. Will explains that the biggest challenges with creating a good bottled cocktail is making something that’s spirit-forward, fresh, and can be carbonated.
The bottled Chasing Daylight combines aged gin with spiced pear and apple, with a twist of lemon over the top. Fruity but not sweet, it’s a crisp drink with a natural pear flavor and a little spice.
Beyond the twin challenges of being as weird as possible and approachable as possible, Fairsted’s cocktail program tries to make season-appropriate drinks that complement the food menu. This is a “kitchen,” after all. There’s an emphasis on sharing, with a diverse offering of snacks and small plates. Like the drink program, the food selection balances accessibility with creativity.
And yes, there’s a little “weirdness,” too.
It’s not every day you see a pig head lettuce wrap, but it’s something of a signature item at Fairsted. The meat is indeed from a pig's head that’s braised overnight and crusted in panko. Served with carrot, daikon, cilantro, and chile pepper, it’s a crunchy, smoky, spicy bar snack.
Deviled eggs, topped with scallions and a sweet sauce, were on special during one of my visits. They were a little too chilled, but satisfying nonetheless.
Seasonal ingredients and clever flavor combinations infuse the rest of the regular menu. Potato latkes are served with a sweet saffron apple butter and scallion cream. Gnocchi is made with crosnes (a Chinese artichoke), walnut, roasted garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are savory and vibrant, while the hazelnut spaetzle has a warm, nutty flavor.
The Turkish meatballs, though, are a true standout. Made with lamb, seasoned with allspice, and served with Greek yogurt, these flaky, spicy meatballs pretty much melt in your mouth.
Thinking back to Will’s remark about Fairsted’s cocktails complementing the seasonal cuisine, it’s easy to see some thoughtful parallels among the winter vegetables, savory ingredients, and sweet flavors that can warm your bones on a chilly night. But I think the most effective pairing I encountered came during dessert. It’s rare to see a carefully thought out menu of dessert cocktails; I feel like after-dinner drinks are often limited to some combination of coffee, cream, chocolate, whiskey, and Baileys. But Fairsted offers a rotating list of dessert drinks that are as imaginative as their regular libations.
The Armchair Sailor combines rum, vermouth, and homemade orgeat syrup for a rich, sweet cocktail served in a perfectly sized glass. It pairs beautifully with a slice of blood orange pie.
Topped with two thin slices of blood orange, the spices in this custard-like pie complement the sweetness of the rum and the almond flavor in the syrup. With decadent pairings like this, you’d be wise to save room for dessert.
Just like grandma would have suggested.
Address: 1704 Beacon Street, Brookline
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