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Boston Restaurant Blog -- September, 2009

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Culinary Greatness at Highland Kitchen, Somerville

As most of you probably know, I go to what is probably an inordinate number of restaurants in the Boston area. Some are good, some are not so good, and many are simply average. Then there are the relatively small number of restaurants that seem to achieve greatness, and beyond that, well, a very select few that are in my personal "hall of fame." Now I've only been to Highland Kitchen in Somerville a couple of times, but if the place isn't already in my hall of fame, it's very, very close. And based on the crowds that this gastropub pulls in night after night (including both nights I have been there), I feel that I am not the only one who thinks this way.

photo of Highland Kitchen, Somerville, MA Highland Kitchen is in a rather pleasant part of Somerville (on the edge of Prospect Hill, midway between City Hall and Somerville Hospital) that is not exactly an area brimming with restaurants, as it is mostly residential. Indeed, it is one of the only dining options in this section of the city, though Davis Square is admittedly not too far away. The exterior of Highland Kitchen has an attractive sign hanging over the entrance, as well as a neon martini glass and "eat" sign in the windows. The interior almost has the feel of a Southern honky tonk, with dim lights, lots of old wood, a jukebox filled with old blues and country music, and little in the way of upscale touches even though it mostly considered an upscale restaurant and pub. The space isn't big, but they make do with what they have, with the tables being relatively close together. An attractive bar sits to the left, while the main dining area lies mostly to the right.

The food at Highland Kitchen fits in well with the Southern feel to the restaurant, as many of the items on their menu are what you might find at a BBQ joint or a soul food place. And some of the Southern-style dishes I have tried there are simply awesome. The pulled pork, for example, was better than most I've had in New England, with a tangy vinegar-based sauce that is firmly rooted in the eastern areas of North Carolina. The collard greens with smoked bacon was another dish that greatly impressed, with a ton of flavor coming from the slowly cooked meat. The macaroni and cheese was neither too clumpy nor too runny, and had a flavorful mix of cheeses and bread crumbs. And while gnocchi is not exactly a Southern dish, the version at Highland Kitchen comes close, as the delectable pan-fried pasta pillows I had there were mixed in a ratatouille that you might possibly find in a Cajun meal. The other dishes I tried at Highland Kitchen were all above average, with the "devils on horseback" (dates wrapped in bacon) being one of the best. The North African plate was also impressive, with the hummus being a bit watery but otherwise tasty, the pureed roasted red peppers getting an extra kick from pomegranates and ground walnuts, and the sweet-tasting carrot puree getting a boost from ground almonds. Other items I tried at Highland Kitchen were the burger (juicy and tasty, but not all that memorable), the handcut fries (crisp and nicely browned), and the smoked bluefish cakes (mild, moist, and tender, and served with a sweet and spicy mustard/mango sauce). I also tried several beers at Highland Kitchen including Pretty Things Jack D'Or, a tremendous Belgian-style beer with a fruity, floral taste.

All it took was two visits over the past several weeks (including one earlier this week) to make me fall in love with Highland Kitchen in Somerville. In a way, it is a bit like another place I really like that is south of Boston, namely the Fat Cat in Quincy; both are upscale gastropubs with excellent food, varied beer lists, and friendly, laid-back environments. And both are incredibly popular, which means that neither one could really be classified as a hidden gem. Between the two of them, I would probably give the nod to Highland Kitchen, partly because of the truly outstanding food, and partly because I feel that the atmosphere at the Highland is just a bit more pleasant (can't go wrong with either place, though). Definitely a huge thumbs-up to Highland Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in the entire Boston area.

If you want the address and phone number for Highland Kitchen, here it is: Highland Kitchen, 150 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA, 02143. Phone: (617) 625-1131

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Highland Kitchen

Related Blog Entries: Somerville restaurants

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