When you think about the early battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War, towns like Lexington and Concord quickly spring to mind. You never hear much about Arlington. That might be, in part, because Arlington wasn’t called Arlington back then – it went by the name Menotomy, an Algonquin word meaning “swift running water.” But Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride from Boston to Concord took him straight through Menotomy, and British and American blood was most certainly spilled on the streets of the town we now know as Arlington. You tend to pick up little nuggets like that during a visit to Menotomy Grill & Tavern.
Arlington’s Menotomy Grill celebrated its two-year anniversary earlier this summer, but if you tell owner Billy Lyons that his restaurant looks a lot older than it is, he’ll probably take it as a compliment. Lyons is a lifelong Arlington resident and a history buff with a particular affection for the American Revolution; once in a great while, you might even see him decked out in Minute Man garb.
His restaurant reflects his passion. Paying homage to the town’s history, Menotomy Grill’s décor recalls the character of an 18th century American tavern.
Brick walls, hardwood flooring, and an exposed ceiling give the space a simple, functional look, while a tall stone fireplace, antique-style chandeliers, and candle-lit tables contribute a sense of warmth. Reproductions of old town maps and the official flag of Menotomy adorn the walls.
Iron lanterns resting on fixtures add a historical touch; you can almost picture rebels huddled around flickering candlelight, sipping ale and fomenting revolution.
Of course, they probably never had a bar as nice as this one. A large, wraparound bar is surrounded by 24 comfortable seats, and cozy booths round out the bar area.
And speaking of ale, Menotomy boasts an impressive selection of microbrews that changes on a near-weekly basis. There’s plenty of New England fare among the 20 draft offerings, including Slumbrew, Downeast, and Peak Organic. Wormtown Be Hoppy, brewed in Worcester, has distinct notes of grapefruit, and is just as hoppy as its name implies.
The spirit selection is expansive as well, and that’s not something to take for granted. It was only in recent years that Arlington, long a dry town, shrugged off some of its more arcane liquor laws and allowed restaurants like Menotomy to pour more than just beer and wine. Freed from such restrictions, Menotomy’s cocktail program is modern, inventive, and diverse. Bar staff are encouraged to contribute drink recipes, and the broad spirit assortment features offerings from Massachusetts distillers such as GrandTen, Privateer, and Berkshire Mountain Distillers.
The New Old Fashioned is a smart twist on the most classic of cocktails, combining Maker’s 46 bourbon, muddled Luxardo cherry, orange, brown sugar, and rhubarb bitters. It’s a bit sweeter than a traditional Old Fashioned, but the rhubarb bitters give it an earthy touch. This is an excellent cocktail.
The Menotomy Sunset is an original drink created by one of the bartenders. This mix of Milagro silver tequila, Aperol, agave, and lime has shades of a margarita, but the Aperol gives it an unexpected herbal bitterness and – true to its name – a warm, orange hue.
So it Goes, meanwhile, is crisp, floral, and dry. Made with Berkshire Greylock gin, lavender simple syrup, and lemon, it’s a simple, refreshing cocktail with a lot of flavor.
And have no fear – rosé, the most fashionable of wines at the moment, is available too.
Overall, Menotomy’s beverage program is thoughtfully balanced. While the beer selection leans heavily toward popular microbrews (definitely not a bad thing), the cocktails are as modern as they are accessible. That’s a smart move – given Arlington’s location, the bar draws customers from Cambridge and Somerville who may be accustomed to the latest trends in mixology, along with guests from farther-out suburbs who might be nonplussed by, say, a bone-marrow-fat-washed scotch.
Menotomy’s food program takes a similar approach. Chef Mark Thompson, who’s previously worked as a chef at Stoddard’s and the defunct Chez Henri, has authored a dynamic menu that is both creative and approachable. Upscale but reliable pub fare is served alongside daily specials that allow Thompson and his kitchen to flex their culinary muscles. The taco of the day always offers some surprises, like the combination of braised beef, purple potatoes, quinoa, and shaved radish that was available during my first visit. Topped with a spicy ají sauce, these bad boys were peppery and vibrant.
Brussels sprouts with bacon and mustard are available as a side dish, but their ample serving size makes them perfect for sharing with the table. The mustard adds a little pungency, and what vegetable dish is not elevated by bacon?
There’s no bacon in the chef’s vegetarian tasting, but it’s artfully presented and offers a mix of seasonal veggies, like orange glazed beets (which might make me rethink my aversion to beets), yucca rosti, and grilled green onions, served with gingered quinoa pilaf. The crispy yucca patty steals the show.
One of the true highlights of the menu is the seared mahi mahi. This generous portion of tender fish in a crunchy coating is served on a bed of coconut scallion rice with vanilla-scented pineapple and crispy plantain. A habañero vinaigrette provides a distinct kick, but the sweeter notes from the fruit serve to complement the heat. There are plenty of unique flavors on this plate, but they work in concert – no individual component stands out or, worse, gets lost. At one point I wasn’t even hungry anymore but just kept eating.
Which is not to say that I couldn’t manage to force down some dessert. Menotomy’s pastry chef creates a rotating array of mouthwatering treats and confections, like the orange creamsicle bomb. With a name like that, I was expecting something heavy and decadent, and was surprised to find that this mix of ice cream, orange, and a graham cracker crust was simple and light.
And yes, it did sort of taste like an orange creamsicle. Elegantly presented, it made for a sweet conclusion to a summer evening.
Arlington’s always had its share of culinary treasures. It’s short on chains and long on independently owned restaurants. But Menotomy Grill & Tavern is the only place I know of that embraces so many of the culinary and beverage trends that characterize the bar and restaurant scene in Boston and Cambridge. They have their finger generally on the pulse of what’s popular in the city, but they’re not just mimicking that. Their approach is fresh, authentic, and tailored to a diverse customer base. And the enthusiasm of the staff, from owner Billy Lyons on down, seems entirely genuine.
Oh, and one more thing. As I mentioned earlier, chef Mark Thompson previously worked in the kitchen of Chez Henri, the popular French-Cuban restaurant that closed in 2013 after a 19-year run just outside Harvard Square. While Chez Henri’s inventive, high-end cuisine garnered widespread acclaim, it was the Cuban sandwich, available only at the bar, that won the restaurant such a fervent local following. That sandwich was absolutely amazing, and ever since Chez Henri closed its doors, countless fans (myself included) have mourned its loss.
Well, good news – chef Thompson made more than his share of those sandwiches during his time at Chez Henri, and he hasn’t forgotten the recipe. The Cubano isn’t on the regular menu at Menotomy Grill, but it does appear as an occasional special.
I was fortunate to get one on a return visit to Menotomy, and it was just as divine as I remembered – house-roasted pork loin, cheese, ham, spicy aioli, and pickles on buttered, grilled, crunchy bread. I haven’t laid eyes on this beauty in far too long, and yet with just one taste, the lost time melted away and I fell in love all over again.
Address: 25 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington
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