Boston Restaurant Blog -- October, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
It is no secret that Downtown Crossing in Boston has not exactly been a destination for dining for many years now. But this is slowly changing, with a number of restaurants opening on or just off of Washington Street over the past few years. And one such spot that we went to a couple of times over the past several weeks--jm Curley on Temple Place--is not only one of the top restaurants in the neighborhood for food and service, but it is also a place that could become one of my personal favorites based on the terrific experiences that we had at this fun spot.
From the outside, jm Curley doesn't really look like much, though to be honest, not much looks like much on the rather dark and dusty Temple Place. The interior, however, is quite nice in an unassuming sort of way, with lots of exposed brick, a wooden floor, attractive hanging lights, a long bar to the left (with an impressive display of bottles of all kinds behind it), several tables along the right wall, and a small, private-feeling room back and to the left that will soon become Bogie's Place (basically a restaurant within a restaurant). The overall feel of jm Curley is that of a cozy neighborhood bar that is not pretentious at all, though not exactly dive-y, either. In other words, a place where most people will probably feel quite comfortable.
We tried a number of food items and drinks on our two visits there, with several real highlights along the way. Among the best items were the "cracka jacks" that were made even better by being enhanced with bacon; the braised beef cheek gorditas, which had a richness that was not overpowering as some beef cheek dishes can be; the crispy fried chicken that came with five different sauces, a slightly charred biscuit, and a cup of sweet tea that wasn't too far off from the best versions I've had in the South; a cast iron skillet of gooey macaroni and cheese that was made using a smoked cheddar cheese from Vermont and an amber ale; and what may have been the best of them all, the squash hush puppies, which came with a spicy stuffing, rich-tasting turkey neck gravy, and a cranberry cinnamon butter that had a perfect combination of sweet, tart, and savory flavors. A couple of other items that were also tasty included the beer and cheese soup, which was slightly watery but had a nice mix of flavors from the malty brown ale and tangy Vermont cheddar, and the braised and flash-fried baby octopus that had an intensely fishy flavor. Among drinks, the Ithaca Apricot Wheat was light and fruity, the Boulevard Tank 7 had a wild yeasty flavor that you either like or hate (I'm a big fan), and the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel that had a complex mix of malty, yeasty, and fruity notes. Oh, and then there was the fernet; we had shots of this strong spirit both times that we were there, and it is definitely an acquired taste, but a drink that some folks absolutely love (I do like it, though wouldn't go as far to use the L-word). Service at jm Curley really stands out, as every single worker there seems to love what he or she is doing, and the place is run very efficiently without being done so in an overly serious manner. As for prices, it's the type of place where you can spend relatively little, or run up the bill very quickly, depending on your choices for food and drink. In this way, jm Curley is a bit like Highland Kitchen in Somerville or The Publick House in Brookline, which makes sense, as all three places seem like gastropubs with inventive takes on classic American dishes.
So what didn't I like about jm Curley? Very little, actually, though the noise level was pretty high both times we were there, and getting a table can be very difficult, depending on when you go. And it's this last point that is an interesting one, as you don't really think of long lines and Downtown Crossing as going together. But jm Curley has gotten a lot of press since it opened toward the end of last year, and because it's a bit of an "industry" spot (i.e. a place where chefs, food writers, and the like go), the restaurant is not exactly an under-the-radar place--and seems to get less so as time goes on. So no, it's not really a hidden gem, but it sure is a good one.
If you would like the address for jm Curley, here it is: jm Curley, 21 Temple Place, Boston, MA, 02111. Phone: (617) 338-5333.
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