by Lingbo Li
Finding a great restaurant is like finding a significant other: difficult, if you’ve got high standards.
Like dating, you can try out a different restaurant every night of the week. Even better, while people woo with promises, restaurants go straight for the stomach with butter and salt. Unfortunately, there’s always the risk one tries to ply you with booze and feed you crap.
Finally, location matters: we all know the fate of many a doomed LDR (long-distance relationship). If you’re looking for the boy next door, Somerville teems with excellent restaurants. But how do suitors farther afield stack up against local contenders?
I went on one date with Davis Square’s much-buzzed Foundry on Elm (255 Elm St) and another with the South End’s The Gallows (1395 Washington St) to see which suitor merited a second try, regardless of distance.
I pitted them against each other on major categories and declared who won my heart – and my stomach.
Foundry on Elm vs. The Gallows:
Both are gastropub newcomers opened by industry veterans, with The Gallows predating Foundry’s September opening by a few months. Foundry boasts Ashmont Grill and No. 9 Park alums and straddles a hazy line between brasserie and gastropub. Practically speaking, both restaurants serve cheffed-up comfort food with high quality ingredients and pair their dishes with a well curated drink list and cocktails. As for menus, The Gallows pushes the envelope more with bluefish pate and lobster sausage, while Foundry plays it safer. Do gastropubs seem awfully familiar these days? You can credit it to the lousy economy. There’s nothing like a stiff brew and lobster mac’n’cheese to ease the budget deficit pain.
Is it shallow to care about looks? Yes. But does it matter? Yes. Foundry on Elm, on first glance, is like the guy who picks you up sporting slicked-back hair and a scarlet pocket square in his jacket. The venue is tinged with retro throwbacks, featuring red leather booths and black varnish softened with the warm glow of lamplight. The Gallows, on the other hand, is like the guy in a plaid shirt with impeccable hair and shoes. The wood plank ceiling and exposed brick are totally rustic chic.
Winner: Foundry. It’s hard to argue with red leather.
Best things first. Each restaurant, like a potential date, has a few bragging rights, whether that be celeb status or a spare yacht. In the case of Foundry on Elm, theirs is spaetzle, a kind of German egg noodle. It is soul-satisfying stuff: rich, buttery, eggy, and well browned, available as a side with pecorino or a main with Neuske’s ham, mushrooms, and hazelnuts.
The Gallows highlights include a mean Scotch egg, London by birth and Boston by execution. Theirs is soft-boiled, a yolky egg in a shell of fried sausage. You can also get a nontraditional addition of foie gras with your poutine, that Canadian classic of french fries with gravy and cheese curds. Purists beware: The Gallows’ curds are soft, loose clumps, more like dabs of ricotta, rather than the teeth-squeaking curds of its Montreal brethren.
Winner: The Gallows, by a french fry.
What better way to start off a date than with a few appetizers? Foundry didn’t hit the right opening notes with their poutine, whose fries quickly went soft under a pile of peppery gravy, best ladled directly from dish to mouth with a fork. But if maxing out on gravy and cheese is your prerogative, it’ll do just fine. Both offer charcuterie plates, another gastropub menu convention. Gallows calls theirs the Ploughman, a satisfying rabbit terrine eaten with crunchy pickled veggies and a pleasant invention called carrot marmalade. Foundry’s plate adds more bells and whistles: a quartered black mission fig, specks of lardo, cornichons – but doesn’t pull out ahead.
Winner: The Gallows.
Getting to Know Each Other:
Now that things were moving along smoothly, it was time to head into entrees. Foundry’s burger was perfectly acceptable and served with very good fries, but cooked past the requested medium rare. The Cajun shrimp etouffee proved uninspiring, but it redeemed itself with hush puppies and won a few hearts. Over in Boston, The Gallows put up a stiff competition the next night with Cristal Farm Chicken that married golden, crackly skin on dark meat with bread pieces soaking up a pool of potent lemon herb jus.
Winner: Indeterminate. My date with The Gallows was cut short by limited stomach volume.
One way to gauge your date’s friendliness is how often they smile. In the case of Foundry, it was an awful lot – my server, Jodie, was one of the warmest and most attentive I’ve ever encountered. She even brought me a sample of the Pretty Things Jack D’or beer I’d been eying when I didn’t finish my Ginger Smash cocktail. (It was good, but I’m a lightweight.) How chivalrous! Over at The Gallows, service was friendly and competent, but didn’t quite have the same zeal.
Winner: Foundry on Elm.
What is a date without some sweet nothings whispered at the end? Foundry’s chocolate mousse trio looked humble, but proved more interesting upon first bite. Dark chocolate and Grand Marnier were perfectly serviceable, but the last flavor blended ancho chile and chocolate for a surprising hit of fire. Gallows set my expectations higher with a Fluffernutters Brulee (from the bottom: rum-macerated banana, peanut butter, chocolate ganache, and torched marshmallow fluff) but felt more like a too thick, too sweet pudding. That said, if nothing is ever too sweet or rich for you, you’ll get butterflies.
Winner: Foundry on Elm.
When my next great restaurant love (or at least a second dinner date) doesn’t take more of an investment than $1.75 in T fare, the playing field can get tricky to navigate. The Gallows won in the menu department, which appealed to my penchant for more creative dishes. However, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with Foundry again for a second try, since Foundry squeaked by with more wins (three to two) in a pretty evenly matched competition. This could be the beginning of something special – as long there’s spaetzle on the menu.