Below is a transcript of a live online panel discussion on outdoor dining in the Boston area and elsewhere in New England, which took place on Thursday, April 7, 2011. The panel included several panel members, with food writers, bloggers, and media people participating. The hour-long chat included talks with the panel on lesser-known Boston-area and New England restaurants with outdoor dining, as well as "hidden" outdoor patios, with the chat including viewer participation as well. [Note: The original discussion can be replayed at the following link: http://www.hiddenboston.com/online-discussion-0411.html and please go to the restaurant discussions link to check out our other chats.]
Marc H. (hiddenboston): Hi all! Welcome to another discussion focusing on restaurants. Today we'll be looking at outdoor dining in the Boston area and beyond.
Marc H.: This is our 11th discussion, and once again, we have a few panel members who you may recognize. Let's begin with some introductions. I'll start--I'm Marc, the founder and owner of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and the news-based blog Boston Restaurant Talk.
MC Slim JB: I review budget restaurants for the Boston Phoenix, fine dining restaurants for Stuff Magazine, Boston bars for Serious Eats, and blog about the local food/drinks scene at http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/ Twitter: mcslimjb
Marc H.: Hey, MC!
@JustinCanCook: I write www.justincancook.com which chronicles some of my cooking experiments. I also tweet about cooking, eating, and dining out at @JustinCanCook.
Marc H.: Hi, Justin! Welcome to the chat!
Marc H.: We should be seeing three, or possibly four others today on the panel, though they might not all be getting here right away.
Marc H.: While we're waiting for them (and we'll start in a minute whether they are here or not), have either of you been to any good dining spots over the past few days?
@JustinCanCook: I tried 5 Napkin Burger with a few friends last week. I enjoyed the Original, and thought the tuna burger was surprisingly good.
Marc H.: I *almost* went to 5 Napkin Burger last night, though I was short on time so it didn't happen. Soon, hopefully!
MC Slim JB: Always doing research for something. Lately been enjoying La Frontera, a Salvadoran mom-and-pop place in Eastie. Hoping Roast Beast gets its licensing issues squared away; it's a fine new North Shore style roast beef sandwich place in Allston.
Marc H.: The Roast Beast issue sounds like it may be resolved soon (hopefully!).
MC Slim JB: I had a good first experience at the Boston 5 Napkin Burger, though the service is a little green still.
Christine: hi, i'm christine. eating is my game. @liuliuliu
Marc H.: Hey, Christine! Back for another round of food chat, huh? Feel free to let people know who you are (for those who don't already know).
@JustinCanCook: Who doesn't know Christine?? :)
Christine: i work for urbanspoon as community manager, freelance for publications like boston magazine and the boston globe, and run a little haiku blog at discreethedonist.blogspot.com
MC Slim JB: Two good meals at bars with above-average food lately: Highland Kitchen in Spring Hill, Somerville, and Atwood's Tavern in East Cambridge.
Marc H.: I love both those places, MC. Nothing like a little alt-country while drinking a beer or 5 (Atwood's).
Marc H.: So today we are going to look at restaurants with outdoor dining (and it turns out that this is a timely topic, as it could be in the 80s by Monday!). Because this chat is taking place within the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site, we'll focus mainly on lesser-known spots in the area, so generally, the trendy and popular people-watching spots such as those on Newbury Street in the Back Bay won't really be discussed. Instead, we'll look at places that are under the radar, and we will also look at outdoor patios, decks, etc. that are literally "hidden" (more on that soon).
Marc H.: As with some of our other discussions, we will start in Boston proper, then work our way out to the city's neighborhoods and bordering cities, then move onto the suburbs, and briefly, elsewhere in New England.
Marc H.: And a note to our viewers: For each part of the discussion, we will talk first with the panel, then we will open up the chat to all of you if you have any questions or restaurant suggestions!
Marc H.: Let's get going on this--what are some decent lesser-known restaurants and bars in and around downtown Boston (including the North End, South End, Beacon Hill, Fenway) that have outdoor dining areas? And brushing upon what I mentioned earlier, are there some restaurants, popular and otherwise, that have "hidden" outdoor dining areas? I suppose that Casa Romero in the Back Bay might come under the latter category, as its outdoor patio is kind of hidden away and is a rather cozy spot, especially at night.
MC Slim JB: The South End is loaded with patios, but many are on busy streets. I tend to like the ones on quieter streets like Shawmut, or that are set back or secluded from the main drags. Hamersley's Bistro is one such, B&G Oysters another, Orinoco a third. Two pleasant indie cafes with nice patios: South End Buttery, and the new Wholy Grain, both on Shawmut.
Marc H.: Wholy Grain has a patio? I was in there very briefly a couple of weeks back but didn't really have a chance to check out the place in detail (not that there's much to check out, as it is tiny).
MC Slim JB: Wholy Grain has a little patio out front, and if the neighbors allow it, they'll have a little deck out back, too.
@JustinCanCook: Bar Lola being a block off of Newbury seems to make it a little hidden in plain sight. I like that the outdoor area is not at street level which makes it a little more secluded and quiet.
Christine: cute south end patios: toro (esp for brunch or lunch), south end buttery, picco, tremont 647.
Marc H.: You can often find me in the outdoor dining area at Picco in the warmer months....
Ian: My problem w/ outdoor dining in Boston is that it tends to be too crowded for something is not that great or are located on the side of the road with car exhaust blowing in my face, neither of which I find enjoyable. Got anything to dissaude my opinion?
Marc H.: I agree to an extent, Ian, especially with places in town, but some of the back decks and patios are much quieter, and no car exhaust (or very little).
@JustinCanCook: I agree with MC, I try to avoid the patios that are right off of the busy streets. Nothing like enjoying your brunch as the Silverline idles next to your table.
Marc H.: Hah, definitely true, Justin. That's why I'm not crazy about dining outside along Mass. Ave. in Cambridge. The bus fumes are rather deadly.
MC Slim JB: The roof deck at The Rattlesnake is much more appealing since Brian Poe came on as chef. Especially nice on weekends, when it's not crazy-packed as it can be with the weekday post-work crowd.
@JustinCanCook: The patio at Audobon Circle is great too. It's behind the restaurant and fairly quiet, especially if the Sox are out of town.
MC Slim JB: I miss Rocca: that place had the nicest, most secluded patio in the South End. Coppa is another place with outdoor seating on Shawmut Ave, which gets much less auto traffic than most.
Marc H.: I miss Rocca for many reasons. I thought their food was outstanding.
@JustinCanCook: Devra First posted something on twitter about construction happening at the old Rocca spot. Does anyone have any inside info on what/who is planning on taking over that space?
Marc H.: Not sure, Justin. I'd love to see something new (and good) go into that space.
MC Slim JB: Something going into Rocca would be a pleasant surprise. It's a big space.
MC Slim JB: The Hungry I on Beacon Hill has a tiny interior patio, only open for brunch, quite charming.
MC Slim JB: For fans of secluded patios, Cambridge has a few nice ones: Oleana (wonderful), Harvest (even good in cool weather, as they have heaters), and the Red House.
Marc H.: Hold that thought, MC! :-)
Marc H.: ....because, now we're going to look at Boston's neighborhoods, including Dorchester, South Boston, East Boston, Allston, Brighton, and other areas, as well as Cambridge and Somerville. Let me start here--a "hidden" outdoor dining area that I really like is the terraced patio at The Ledge in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester. You'd never know it was there from the outside, since it is a closed-in area behind the restaurant that is impossible to see from the road.
MC Slim JB: The Blarney Stone in Dorchester has a cool little patio, fenced in so you don't see/smell the nearby traffic.
Michelle: Hey all - Michelle from The Economical Eater (www.theeconomicaleater.com) here!
Marc H.: Hey, Michelle! Welcome to the chat! Nice to see you back for another round of food talk! :-)
Michelle: Thanks, Marc! Happy to be here!
Michelle: In Cambridge, I love the outdoor patio at Cambridge Common.
Marc H.: Yes, I do, too, although as I mentioned before, it sometimes gets a bit dusty and dirty out there along Mass. Ave. with all the car and bus fumes. But beer, tater tots, and mild breezes all make for a good experience.
Christine: patio at ashmont grill is awesome, esp for wine mondays (there's a huge communal table).
Marc H.: It seems like the Ashmont Grill has gone from being the talk of the town when it first opened to a bit of a hidden gem. Love the food there.
MC Slim JB: The Franklin Southie has some pleasant outdoor seating for brunch; not sure if that patio is open otherwise.
Christine: and of course you can't go through any brunch convo without mentioning the neighborhood (secluded with grapevines) in union sq
@JustinCanCook: If you're looking for a few outdoor drinks, The Field in Cambridge has a well-hidden patio away from the traffic.
Marc H.: I just learned that The Field has a patio, which is strange because I've been there 100 times. :-b
MC Slim JB: Damn, been in The Field many times and never knew about that patio!
Marc H.: Well there ya go! :-D
Ian: The Field...Mmmmm Guinness!
@JustinCanCook: Its through an unmarked door in the back of the bar
Michelle: Ohh, nice choice, Christine! The Precinct right there also has a great outdoor dining space - sometimes complete with live music. ;)
MC Slim JB: Whiskey Priest in the Seaport has a fabulous roof deck with great harbor and Logan views, even if the food isn't very special.
Christine: also, the patio at upstairs on the sq in cambridge is DARLING. there is no other word. colors, blooms, the whole thing just breathes.
Marc H.: I know that Townsends in Hyde Park has a hidden outdoor dining area, though I have only eaten (and had drinks) indoors there in the handful of times that I have gone.
@JustinCanCook: Though I haven't tried too many of the options, the area of Kendall Sq with Think Tank and CBC seem to have outdoor seating areas.
Marc H.: Kendall Square is the new Moody Street, by the way. Or soon will be. No fewer than 6 new restaurants on the way!
MC Slim JB: Sam's (upstairs from the new Louis Boston) is another Seaport place with a patio with breathtaking waterfront views, and food that is only just okay.
Marc H.: That seems like a recurring theme here--great views and so-so food along the Boston waterfront. Something needs to be done about that.
Kaz: Kendall Square has outdoor seating for Flat Top Johnny's, CBC, Friendly Toast, and Tommy Doyles.
Michelle: Justin, agreed - the outdoor dining space in Kendall is pretty fantastic, especially at CBC.
Christine: i can imagine that when firebrand saints opens up in kendall there will be some sidewalk tables. also, evoo/za has a pretty cool patio behind the building (if my memory serves me correctly)
MC Slim JB: Speaking of Kendall, the Blue Room should be getting its weekday outdoor lunch grill going soon: tasty and a bargain.
Marc H.: Before we move on, do any of our viewers have any suggestions for Boston's neighborhoods as well as Cambridge and Somerville?
Kaz: Brighton Center has a great outdoor patio *behind* the restaurant that is secluded from Washington St making it very nice for Sunday brunch.
Marc H.: Kaz, which restaurant is that?
Raj a foodie here: Dante.... just a few yards away from Charles, stunning views, stunning food
Marc H.: The views from Dante are indeed pretty amazing.
MC Slim JB: Whenever I get seated on Dante's patio, all I can see is the running path.
Shirley: West on Centre has a wonderful hidden patio (sister to the Blarney Stone in West Roxbury) and we are working hard with the food trucks to get picnic dining at the Boston Artisan Market
MC Slim JB: Just across the Charles, Scampo at the Liberty Hotel has a beautiful, peaceful patio.
Marc H.: Perhaps not a hidden patio (though maybe a hidden gem of a restaurant), but one of my personal go-to places for food and drink is Joe Sent Me in North Cambridge. They actually have a rather pleasant front patio that is often very quiet at night, And the food there can be quite good. Decent beer list, too.
Christine: not-on-the-forefront-place... sushi-teq at the intercontinental hotel. the patio literally is on the water. sip tequila for miles.
Marc H.: Christine, that place is in a great location. I need to get there at some point.
Shirley: also Sophia's Grotto in Rosi Square?
Marc H.: Yes! Sophia's Grotto, which shares the little piazza-type patio with Village Sushi and Birch Street Bistro, is a great place to go at night.
Kaz: Oh, sorry! The restaurant with the rear patio is Devlin's in Brighton. :)
Nathan: Just did a quick scan and didn't see any mention of Deep Ellum (Allston), or Charlie's Beer Garden (Harvard). Very different places, but both noteworthy for size.
Marc H.: Ah right, Devlin's. Been there once--thought it was very good. Deep Ellum does have a patio out back. Love their duck confit mac and cheese.
MC Slim JB: Red Sox home opener makes me think of Kenmore-area patios: Eastern Standard, Taberna de Haro, La Verdad.
Michelle: @Nathan, I adore Deep Ellum. Great menu, and back porch for outside dining!
Roxy: Jumping in later here ... did anyone mention the super sexy patio at Scampo / Liberty Hotel?
Marc H.: Nope, you're the first, Roxy! :-)
Kaz: If I can just insert a comment for discussion by the panel, what I really miss from my occasional trips to Berlin is a true "beer garden". Even in Orlando I went to World of Beer (just beer, no food). Why can't we seem to get a place here in Boston that's secluded, relatively green, tables, and taps? Any thoughts or am I missing some place that's like that in the city (or nearby)?
@JustinCanCook: Well... I don't think it fits that description too well, but for drinking outside Whiskey Priest and Atlantic Beer Garden (both down by the ICA) exist.
Alison Arnett: Jacky's Table will have a patio, possibly by mid-spring, in Brighton. It'll be the only one along there. Very Paris.
Marc H.: Hi, Alison! Welcome to the chat. Feel free to let folks know more about you!
Alison Arnett: Hi, sorry, was in a meeting. Formerly restaurant critic/food writer at Boston Globe. Now a consultant on food and, in full disclosure, doing work for Petit Robert/Jacky's Table.
Marc H.: Let's move away from Boston now. How about the suburbs? Are there any little-known restaurants within, say, Route 495 that have decent outdoor seating areas? Any outdoor decks or patios that are hidden away?
Marc H.: I have several personal favorites in the 'burbs, including breakfast at Leggos in Holbrook (nice tree-shaded spot) and dinner at Allora in Marlborough (upscale Mediterranean restaurant with a deck overlooking a lake).
Alison Arnett: Red Rock in Swampscott has a lovely patio overlooking the ocean -- not exactly hidden but pretty great.
Marc H.: I like Lime Rickey's, which is next door to Red Rock and has a nice little patio.
Marc H.: A really hidden one (and one that I go to every now and then) is the Inn at Bay Pointe in Quincy, which is at the end of a dead-end road by the old shipyard. Kind of a classy, old-school place that has a deck overlooking the water.
MC Slim JB: Dairy Joy in Weston has some nice outdoor picnic tables, feels like a roadside shack.
Marc H.: Dairy Joy can be ridiculously expensive (I paid $20 for a burger, fries, and ice cream last year), but I do love the place--tough to beat on a warm summer night.
MC Slim JB: Domenic's in Waltham has amazing subs and a few little tables out front.
Marc H.: Do any of our viewers have any favorite spots for outdoor dining in the suburbs?
Raj a foodie here: Alma Nove in Hingham shipyard
Paul G: nice outdoor patio at Orleans in Davis Sq, also Mike's
Roxy: Waaaaaay out of town but worth the hour drive is Chauncy Creek -- lobsters in the rough at the edge of the water
Marc H.: Roxy, our last topic will be outdoor spots elsewhere in New England. Chauncey Creek would definitely fit the bill for that topic!
Paul G: Mike's in Davis Sq in Somerville has great big margaritas and buckets for beer
Raj: Alma Nove in Hingham Shipyard has amazing outdoor seating, complete with a massive fire pit and beautiful views
MC Slim JB: Fishbones in Chelmsford: great fresh seafood place (including a retail market), very nice patio.
Marc H.: Another that I like is Heritage Farm in Lowell. Basic roadside food (hot dogs, burgers), but great ice cream and a nice porch area across from the river.
Sarah: Kendall Sq is going to be a big destination for outdoor dining this summer. Lots of new places with patios.
Michelle: This might be a little too far out of the way, but Peddler's Daughter in Nashua, N.H. has a great, waterside patio
Marc H.: We have about 10 minutes left, so why don't we spend it on outdoor dining spots elsewhere in New England? I'll quickly mention a few of my favorites: Lenny's, a seafood spot in Branford, CT; PJ's Family Restaurant in Wellfleet, Leo's, an Italian spot in Bristol, RI, the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret, CT, and Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton, RI.
MC Slim JB: The Back Eddy in Westport, MA near Horseneck Beach has incredible food and a fantastic deck that boats pull right up to.
MC Slim JB: On the swanky tip, 21 Federal on Nantucket has a gorgeous patio, lovely food.
Alison Arnett: Primo's in Rockland, Maine, (Melissa Kelly) has lovely outdoor views.
MC Slim JB: Pat's Kountry Kitchen in Old Saybrook, CT, the only place I've had clam hash, which is terrific.
Marc H.: Clam hash? Hmmmm.....I could be there in two hours, maybe?
MC Slim JB: The Raw Bar in Mashpee: an incredible lobster roll, big drinks, fun crowd.
Alison Arnett: Oh, yes, Back Eddy's is heaven.
@JustinCanCook: Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine for some serious Lobster Rolls.
Marc H.: Definitely Red's Eats. I also LOVE Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor. It's kind of a hippy-dippy place with organic food and great beers, and the outdoor patio includes a bocce court.
Alison Arnett: Wasn't 21 Federal sold and is being reopened as something else?
Marc H.: Do any of our viewers have any favorite outdoor dining spots elsewhere in New England?
Ian: If we are going far, can't beat the patio at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet.
MC Slim JB: Chapin's in Dennis, not far from Cape Cod Bay, lovely old-timey kind of place.
Marc H.: Chapin's....why does that sound familiar. Is it just on Route 6A?
MC Slim JB: No, Chapin's is off in what looks like a residential neighborhood. The Straight Wharf team bought 21 Federal over the winter.
Michelle: Martha's Exchange in Nashua - if you can block out the motorcycles and cars going by
Marc H.: Perhaps this is unfair as I'm trying to keep it in New England, but I have to post a place just over the Vermont border. One of the most perfect outdoor spots for a restaurant/bar, and such a nice town: http://www.hiddenboston.com/blogphotopages/PilsenPubPhoto.html
Marc H.: So just to wrap things up--on Monday, when it's in the 80s, what is the one place in the Boston area that you'd like to go to for outdoor dining (if the patio were open)?
Marc H.: I'll go first--sitting on the patio at Tony's Clam Shop at Wollaston Beach in Quincy, eating a mix of Middle Eastern food and seafood, is tough to beat.
MC Slim JB: Back of Audubon Circle before heading to the Sox-Jays game.
Marc H.: And hopefully the Sox find a way to win.
MC Slim JB: Sorry, Sox-Rays (return of Manny and the Caveman)!
Marc H.: Yikes, if we can't beat the Rays....
Alison Arnett: My porch looking at the ocean
Marc H.: That sounds good, Alison!
Marc H.: I may change mine to drinking a craft beer and/or a glass of wine at the Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton. Love their wraparound porch...
Marc H.: Well, it is just past noon, so we need to call it a day. Thanks once again, everyone, for participating in today's discussion! Enjoy the great weather coming up!
MC Slim JB: Great fun as always, Marc: thanks for inviting me!
@JustinCanCook: Thanks! This was fun.
Alison Arnett: Yes, thanks. Much fun.