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CHEAP EATS

Back to delicious basics at Savin Bar

By Bella English
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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When the popular C.F. Donovan’s Pub in Dorchester closed, neighbors in Savin Hill mourned. It was a beloved watering hole with good bar food. Then in March, Savin Bar + Kitchen moved in. The new owners opened up the dining area and the kitchen and added large windows. For the bar, they brought in reclaimed oak from a mill in Vermont; and there are pretty new light fixtures. The feel is light and airy, more South End than Dorchester.

But the locals didn’t love the fancy new food, so the restaurant responded by changing the menu and hiring a new chef, John Norton, from 14 Union in Plymouth. “We listened to the neighbors,’’ says general manager John Murray, who grew up in Savin Hill. “They were screaming at us for more affordable, regular food, like a nice steak, fish, a nice chicken dish, mac and cheese.’’ Owners Ken Osherow and Driscoll Docanto both live in Dorchester; Osherow owns McKenna’s, a bustling cafe across the street from Savin Bar + Kitchen, open for breakfast and lunch.

When we sit down at Savin Bar + Kitchen, a warm basket of bread arrives, served with cinnamon-sugar butter. It’s an odd thing, more suited for a breakfast biscuit, perhaps, but after the first bite, we aren’t complaining.

The menu ranges from sandwiches - including a Cuban ($10) to die for - to small and large plates, salads, and sides. The small plates concept still may sound South End, but in truth they’re generous appetizers to share. Try the fried calamari ($8), which the calamari snob at our table declares perfect. Lightly breaded, they are golden and tender, easily cut with a fork. They’re served with a coarse romesco sauce. Cajun popcorn shrimp ($10) are also light, no heavy batter hiding the flavorful shrimp.

Clams casino ($10) are littlenecks stuffed with garlicky crushed Ritz crackers, giving a nice crunch to what can be a soggy affair. Shredded bacon adds a smoky note. We love the chicken tostadas ($10 for two), a meal in itself. The tortillas are grilled and loaded with chicken drizzled with a mango hot sauce; there’s a grilled corn salad on the side. It’s an excellent summer dish.

Savin Bar + Kitchen is just a few blocks from Dorchester Bay, so it offers a “beach menu’’ of fresh steamers, clams, shrimp, and scallops. Nightly specials include one on Red Sox Fridays: For 5 bucks, you get a ballpark frank, fries, and a pint of Narragansett. Notes Murray: “At Fenway, it will cost you $9 just for the beer.’’ The tequila bar offers 39 kinds, and on Fridays, there’s a margarita special with some Mexican dishes, too.

The general menu includes four different mac and cheese dishes, from pulled pork ($14) to lobster ($20). We went with the fried chicken ($14), an odd-sounding but delicious choice. It’s creamy spiral-shaped cavatappi, studded with small chicken bites that have been rolled in panko and herbs. Two of my favorites in one dish; I’d go back for that alone.

Beer can chicken ($18) is a generous portion of a tender lemony bird, with perfectly mashed potatoes and broccolini. For a healthy meal, try miso seared salmon ($18), grilled soy-flavored fish accompanied by green tea soba noodles, Napa cabbage, scallions, and edamame, a real burst of flavor and texture.

Here’s to listening to customers.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.

SAVIN BAR + KITCHEN

112 Savin Hill Ave., Dorchester, 617-288-7500, www.savinbarandkitchen.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Small plates $6-$10. Large plates $14-$20.

Hours Mon-Thu 3-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 3-11 p.m.; Sun noon-9 p.m.

Liquor Full bar.

May we suggest Fried calamari, Cajun popcorn shrimp, clams casino, chicken tostadas, mac and cheese with fried chicken, miso seared salmon, beer can chicken.

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor