It seems that upscale gastropubs and inventive comfort food spots seem to be all the rage these days, with such places as The Publick House in Brookline, Highland Kitchen in Somerville, The Local in West Newton, and the Russell House Tavern in Cambridge's Harvard Square becoming extremely popular places in the Boston area. These spots, along with slightly more mid-level restaurants such as The Fat Cat in Quincy and The Ledge in Dorchester, certainly seem to be big in both urban and suburban areas inside Route 128. But what about further out, heading toward Route 495? Are there any such places in the outer suburbs of Boston? Well, yes, though they are few are far between with only a handful coming to mind, including a real under-the-radar spot in Maynard called Cast Iron Kitchen. And not only is this comfortable eatery west of Beantown a place known for its outstanding food and drink, but because it is pretty far away from the city, the prices are a bit lower than you might be used to paying if you are a fan of these types of spots.
Unlike many gastropubs and upscale comfort food places, Cast Iron Kitchen is a pretty mellow and laid back spot, and it is also extremely easy to miss, being that it is outside of the center of Maynard and doesn't really seem to stand out among the combination of houses and businesses that line this section of Main Street (the sign for the restaurant seems particularly tough to see at night). The space is pretty simple, with a small bar with several seats and a few tables in the front, and a little dining area in the back. The low ceiling, tile floor, bright recessed lights, and jumble of tables, booths, and bench seats make for a space that isn't overly cozy or romantic, but it is by no means unattractive, having a bit of an artsy and eclectic vibe. The mirror in the back of the restaurant makes Cast Iron Kitchen feel a little bigger than it is, but it will never be mistaken for a place like the Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus or Legal Harborside on the Boston waterfront.
Because the menu at Cast Iron Kitchen features all kinds of comfort food dishes among its appetizers and entrees, it can be awfully tough to choose what to order. Take the deep-fried artichoke hearts, for instance (that is, when it is on the menu, as the menu changes a bit each night)--this classic Roman-Jewish appetizer is absolutely out of this world, and one that really should be on more restaurant menus than it is. Another excellent app is the bacon-wrapped dates, which have a perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors, though be forewarned--its over-the-top richness can be a bit of an appetite-killer, so don't eat too many of them if you are planning to have a sizable entree. Macaroni and cheese lovers will probably like the version served here, as the mac and cheese has a delightful mix of cheeses and spices, along with a crumb topping that adds some texture to the dish. (It can also be ordered with slow-cooked beef and tomato sauce.) Another item worth looking at is the steak frites, which features a tender piece of steak in a rich shallot and cognac sauce along with handcut fries and roasted asparagus on the side. The fettucine alfredo at Cast Iron Kitchen is not the overly creamy type you might find at your typical old-school Italian restaurant; instead, the creaminess is much more subtle and doesn't overwhelm the pasta (and the options of sun-dried tomatoes, grilled asparagus, and baby spinach add a bit of complexity to the dish). Another Italian/Mediterranean item is the linguini bolognese, which features a delicious slow-simmered tomato sauce with bits of beef and a hint of cream. Vegetarians might want to look at the black bean cake, which includes peppers and spices along with a red pepper romesco sauce. Rounding out the menu (depending on what day you come here) is a shepherds pie, braised short ribs, fish and chips, tuna steak, baked ziti, maple-roasted chicken pot pie, and more. The beer list at Cast Iron Kitchen is quite impressive, with a variety of local brews available along with microbrewed beers from elsewhere in the country and overseas. Much like the appetizers and entrees at the restaurant, dessert options change nightly, with a couple of good options being the rich-tasting red velvet cheesecake and the utterly sinful brownie sundae.
Cast Iron Kitchen proves that not all upscale gastropubs and inventive comfort food spots (or is it inventive gastropubs and upscale comfort food spots?) are located in or very near Boston. And with slightly lower prices, a lack of crowds, and easy (and often free) parking, going to this Maynard eatery certainly does have its advantages. Sure, it is a bit of a drive from Beantown--and public transportation is not really an option (no commuter rail stops nearby)--but if you don't mind taking a pleasant ride up Route 117, Cast Iron Kitchen is a wonderful option for those who like soul-satisfying food.
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