Boston Restaurant Blog -- January, 2011
Monday, January 3, 2011
I've always wondered what the difference is between a "gastropub" and a "beer bar." I guess in my mind, a gastropub may concentrate a bit more on high-quality food than a beer bar does, as a beer bar focuses more on high-quality beers. But who knows, really--both definitions seem to be overused anyway these days, and the term "gastropub," especially, seems to be heard everywhere right now. So having said that, we finally made it over to a little spot in Allston that features great beers and decent food, and whether Deep Ellum should be referred to as a gastropub or a beer bar, well, who cares, really; all I know is, we ended up liking the place a lot.
If you didn't know anything about the place, you might think that Deep Ellum is just another dive bar or college beer joint, with its tiny storefront on the relatively quiet western edge of Allston, its plain signage out front, and its rather stark and unassuming appearance from the outside. And its interior--until you look at the food and drink menu, that is--might not do much to change your opinion of the place, as it is narrow and dark, with nothing more than a row of tables on the right and a long, narrow bar on the left (there is outdoor dining out back, however). A high ceiling gives the tiny spot a bit of a cavernous feel, while exposed brick along the wall, which often gives places a trendy look, doesn't add much trendiness to Deep Ellum's somewhat bare-bones room. To me, the whole overall vibe is that of a place where serious drinkers go, and perhaps some do, though like I mentioned earlier, one look at the upscale comfort food on the menu and the impressive array of craft beers and cocktails will convince most that this is anything but a dive bar.
Our recent trip to Deep Ellum was on a very slow weeknight--being that we went during Christmas vacation, not many college folks could be found in Allston, which is usually one of the most popular neighborhoods in Boston for students. We sat at a table toward the front door and were immediately greeted by our server, who clearly wanted to talk about all of the different beers available. This was fine with me, since I am a beermaker in my spare time and love getting tips from people who are in the know, and this person was definitely that. He sold me on the cask beer that night, which was a Williams Brothers Scottish Session Golden Ale. The light-tasting and slightly fruity beer had almost no bitterness, so for hops lovers, it is probably not a good choice, but I loved it, so much, in fact, that another beer we tried that night--Pretty Things Jack D'Or, which is one of my favorites--seemed like a step down after having the Williams Brothers beer. Along with a round of beer, we also ordered steamed pretzels with mustard to start (the pretzels were soft, slightly greasy, and delicious) as well as a cup of chili (also excellent, with lots of ground beef and beans, as well as heat from the peppers that had a real kick on the back end). Our dinners were just as good, with the Moules Frites (an appetizer, really) having a zesty lemon garlic aioli adding much flavor to the PEI mussels, and the duck confit macaroni and cheese being incredibly rich--perhaps a bit too rich--due to the heart-stopping combination of duck meat, duck fat, and cheddar cheese (the cubes of butternut squash offset some of the greasiness and oiliness of the dish). More beers were ordered with our meals, including the aforementioned Pretty Things Jack D'Or and a Pretty Things Saint Botolph's Town that was dark, malty, and slightly smokey, with some spices adding an overall warmth to the drink. Prices for the food and drink were in line with similar items at competing Boston-area spots, though it seems like about half of the cost of the evening came from the drinks, which is how things tend to be when you go to beer bars or gastropubs.
I'm not quite sure that Deep Ellum is a hidden gem (it definitely isn't if you're a college student), but it is certainly a place I'd return to again. Unlike The Publick House in Brookline or Highland Kitchen in Somerville (two places that I love, by the way), Deep Ellum seems very laid-back and low-key, and because it's small, the place has an almost intimate feel to it. A very big thumbs-up for this gastropub, er, beer bar, er, whatever, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves craft beers.
For those who want the address for Deep Ellum, here it is: Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA, 02134. The phone number is (617) 787-2337.
Nice review! One of my favorite places, and their Hemingway's Daiquiri is hands down my favorite cocktail in Boston.
Posted on 1/3/11
I enjoy reading your reviews of restaurants, but just want to say in no way would I ever consider Deep Ellum a "hidden restaurant" - and that doesn't just go for college students. With 389 reviews on Yelp, I think the place has most definitely earned its "known" status.
It's your blog so obviously feel free to disregard anything I say in this post, but I just wanted to let you know that I saved your site so that I could try to find places that I didn't already know about - when you review places like Deep Ellum and Publick House which are almost sort of "legends" in their area, I feel like it clashes with the mission that is your website's namesake. But whether you agree/disagree or simply disregard my comment - thanks for putting your thoughts/reviews out there for us all to read :-)
Posted on 1/3/11
SL, I totally understand where you're coming from on this. What we do (and admittedly, we sometimes don't make it clear enough on the site) is use the "featured reviews" section for true hidden gems, while the blog within the site is for various posts, including restaurants that aren't quite as hidden or perhaps didn't impress us as much as others. In the case of Deep Ellum, we didn't feature it because (as we mentioned in the post), it isn't really a hidden gem, especially among college students in the area. Most people I know outside of the area don't know about the place, but I still wouldn't call it unknown, hence it is in the blog. If you want to check out what we consider the real little-known spots, they can be found by searching through the featured reviews not in the blog. Thanks for posting! :-)
Posted on 1/4/11
Glad to see a write up of Deep Ellum by Boston's Hidden Restaurants. As a resident of Allston and a non-student, Deep Ellum is a refreshing departure from the college bars that over-saturate the area.
Next time try one of their cocktails, they are delicious and creatively prepared by their skilled bartenders.
And a huge plus - when the weather is warmer, they open up a back patio!
Posted on 1/6/11
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