"Recently voted 4 stars by the Telegram & Gazette, April 2010"
April 15. 2010 12:00AM
Boynton discovers perfect formula
By Bill Clapper Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
Neighborhood tavern. College hangout. Thirty-six beers on tap. Outstanding dinners. Copious lunches. The Boynton has something for everyone.
The Boynton traces its roots to a 1930s-era neighborhood tavern frequented by Worcester Polytechnic Institute students, staff and faculty. The name Boynton is firmly established in the neighborhood, thanks to one of the founders of WPI, John Boynton.
A gift of $100,000 by Boynton, a successful manufacturer of tin products, helped establish the Worcester County Free Institute for Industrial Science in the 1860s. The school, which opened in 1868, eventually became WPI, and today Boynton Hall is the primary WPI administration building.
Fast forward a century to 1969 when James and Irene John bought the tavern and established a restaurant to complement the local watering hole. Acquisition of adjacent businesses over the years and a major renovation in 2004 transformed a small neighborhood bar into the landmark it is today.
We received the full spectrum of the Boynton experience one Friday night as we enjoyed 45 minutes in the bar before being seated for dinner. The Boynton does not take reservations, so be prepared to wait, especially on weekends.
Once seated at a table adjacent to the bar, we dove into the menu, all the time relying on the advice of our server, Will, who gave us a brief history of the establishment, made excellent wine and dinner suggestions and deftly passed the server baton to Jamie when his shift changed.
We decided to keep things simple and selected the Boynton Munchie Platter as our shared appetizer. For $10.49 we found highlights of the starters menu — mozzarella sticks, potato skins, chicken fingers, Buffalo wings and onion rings.
The presentation was pleasing and all the munchies were first-rate. Another of the Boynton’s claims to fame is its use of fresh food most of the time. On our overfilled platter, only the mozzarella sticks were prepared commercially.
I couldn’t help noting possible appetizers for a return trip. Tuna sashimi ($8.99), cherry pepper calamari ($8.99), nachos el grande ($9.49) and apple baked brie ($12.99) stood out.
I was intrigued by the duck piccante ($16.99) and the accompanying fried spinach. Yes, fried spinach.
The fried spinach — fresh spinach momentarily dunked into the fryer — was crispy yet still crunchy. It served as a vegetable and a garnish to the neatly arranged slices of duck breast on my plate. The duck was suburb. The Cajun-seasoned, pan-seared breast had but a hint of the fat or gamey flavor that so often comes with duck.
The duck itself was fork tender, slightly pink, pleasingly warm and covered with a sweet onion and white wine demi-glace.
Accompanying the duck was a generous portion of red pepper risotto that proved to be unlike any risotto I have had. This risotto had consistency and integrity without being pasty. The red peppers gave it a zing that elevated it from the ho-hum rice offerings of most restaurants.
My partner chose the filet mignon ($20.99), which was charred on the grill to retain its tenderness and much of its juices. The steak knife passed right through the filet without hesitation and the meat was just at the right temperature.
Covering the filet was a very well-prepared brown mushroom gravy that actually retained the delicate taste of the mushrooms.
If I had to categorize Boynton’s menu it would be eclectic, which is fitting for a restaurant with such a diverse clientele. Entrées ranged from the ubiquitous spaghetti and meatballs ($10.99) to a seafood trio ($22.99) to pizza ($7.99 to $20.99). Toss in some sandwiches and burgers ($6.49 to $10.49) and you pretty much have something for everyone.
Children are not afterthoughts at the Boynton. The kids menu features three penne pasta dishes, baby back ribs and mini pizza to go with the traditional kids’ fare of hot dog, chicken fingers and grilled cheese. All meals from the children’s menu are $4.99 and include a take-home cup and ice cream.
Vegetarians have a number of choices, especially if ordering from the appetizer menu. And gluten-free pizzas are available.
To top off the evening on a sweet note, I ordered the xangos dessert, a Mexican treat that combines cheesecake and banana, rolled in a tortilla and deep fried. A dusting of cinnamon and a caramel sauce added elegance.
The triple chocolate mousse cake is in a league all its own. Three layers of chocolate mousse — bitter-sweet dark, milk and white — make up the cake. A biting chocolate flavor, creamy almost silky texture and a sugar-caffeine rush that doesn’t stop make this dessert a treat for the senses.
If there is one downside to the Boynton, it is its size and the noise level. My partner and I were fairly shouting at each other across the table for two. But the boisterous atmosphere is what is attractive about the Boynton.
Dinner for two with a glass of wine and a beer totaled $75.15 before tax and tip. We deemed that reasonable, considering the quality of food, the oversize portions and the conviviality. The Boynton is the kind of place where we would return time after time and never grow tired of the experience.