Boston's Hidden Restaurants

Bess's Cafe

224 Cypress Street, Brookline, MA 02445
(617) 879-0993 Find location!

Photo of Bess's Cafe, Brookline, MA It's a rare occurrence to feature two restaurants on this site that have the same address, but it has indeed happened in the past, including the long-gone Scup's as well as the quirky KO Pies which took over Scup's space in the East Boston shipyard in the summer of 2012. And while those two spots were relatively different (Scup's was as offbeat as KO is, but had a much different menu), there is one space in a quiet part of Brookline that has been visited in order to check out two completely different dining spots--Brick Wall Kitchen, a breakfast and lunch place that offered inventive takes on classics, and Bess's Cafe, a little-known Chinese eatery that features dumpling and noodle dishes. Bess's is the focus of this review, and it is such an impressive spot that it takes a bit of the "sting" off the closing of the wonderful Brick Wall Kitchen back in early 2017.

Much like the old Brick Wall Kitchen, Bess's Cafe is a tiny, plain-looking spot that, while bright and sunny, feels closer to a sub shop or a pizzeria than a full-service restaurant. The place actually straddles the line between counter service and full service, as customers do order at the counter but dishes are then brought out to the tables. Takeout is definitely an option here, as there are only a few tables, though on weeknights it isn't all that crowded so it is very unlikely that there would be a wait to sit. Bess's seems virtually unknown in part because it is still relatively new, but its off-the-beaten path location near the northern edge of a section of Brookline called Whiskey Point keeps it from getting much foot traffic, and no, college students and certainly tourists will tend not to find this place, which still has the look of a working-class neighborhood with its triple-deckers and little independent shops.

Bess's Cafe focuses in part on foods you might find in the Jiang Nan region of China, which includes the city of Shanghai, and this kind of fare tends to be a bit milder than some of the fiery-hot Szechuan or Hunan dishes found at some other Chinese restaurants. As mentioned earlier, house-made dumplings and noodles are big here, and you could easily stick to just those options and be more than satisfied. Highlights include savory pork and chive dumplings, chicken dumplings that have a bit of a kick to them via a spicy sauce (the restaurant does have a few options with heat), dan dan noodles with a sauce that has a mix of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors, and a wonderful crispy chicken noodle soup with fried and breaded chicken cutlets that are a bit like that of Japanese katsu dishes. Bess's has some non-dumpling options as well, including some marvelous pork belly buns which are a bit like little sandwiches with the meat placed into a pillowy steamed dough. A more familiar option is the scallion pancakes--and the restaurant also offers scallion pancake wraps that can include beef or crispy chicken in them. Cold dishes include edamame and a cucumber salad, while those looking for dessert can choose from a few options, including ice cream sandwiches. Bess's does not have a liquor license, so drinks are limited to coffee, tea, soda, and water.

It wouldn't be surprising if Bess's Cafe remains strictly a neighborhood spot much like the old Brick Wall Kitchen was, mainly because few even know of the existence of Whiskey Point in Brookline. But with the quality of food that this dining spot offers, the place could get "found" by those who love the sense of discovery with hidden gems such as Bess's. It may be a shame that Brick Wall Kitchen is no more, but its replacement is every bit as good, though in a much different way.