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Our waitress tries several times to offer my tablemate green beans with her turkey tips ($13.50). She refuses. “Why?” I whisper when the waitress is gone. “They’re probably frozen,” she says.
So I order them, just to see what arrives — and perhaps prove her wrong, because I have a good feeling about this place. My Parmesan-panko-crusted cod ($15.50), a thick moist piece of fish, comes garnished with green beans and garlic-roasted red potatoes with plenty of caramelized edges. The beans are bright, fresh, and cooked just right.
West Street Tavern is just off Route 16 in the Nonantum section of Newton, and you could drive down the street hundreds of times, as I have, and never spot the place. Says co-owner Karl Roche, a Dublin native, “It is off the beaten path by a hair.” Roche bought West Street five years ago, with his wife, Jessica, a lifelong Newton resident. He says he was “more or less born in the business,” and worked as a bartender at Corrib Pub in Brighton for a dozen years. Another Dubliner, Gordon Power, is in the kitchen. “He’s like an Anthony Bourdain,” says Roche. “Been all over the world, working and eating.”
They worked on the food, buying most everything fresh, even making the coleslaw in house (it’s wonderfully creamy, but needs more salt and vinegar).
Power has good ideas and plenty of talent. While you might find loaded nachos and wings on the menu, along with burgers, sandwiches, and bowls of chili, you’ll also see big fried risotto balls ($8), with a crisp, golden coating and cheesey centers. And a delicious grilled sausage, which comes with pickled hot peppers ($6.50). And well-made sauces, garnishes, and roasted and glazed vegetables.
Sweet potato fries ($6.50) are slender and crisp; a “lake” sandwich of grilled pesto chicken with roasted peppers ($10) is juicy and inviting; barbecued steak tips sandwich with pepper Jack cheese and caramelized onions ($11) is equally good; and a slow-roasted pork shank braised with puttanesca sauce, served with garlic mash and Brussels sprouts ($17.50) is a luscious hunk of meat that might have been even better with another hour in the oven.
But fish and chips ($14) is just serviceable and considering the outstanding risotto balls, should be a triumph. Fries on two visits are pale and undercooked. A tavern burger is nothing to write home about and the rolls that come with some dishes are flaccid and doughy.
A chicken and ham pot pie ($13) has a lovely sauce and squares of crisp puff pastry overlapping on top. They weren’t baked on the pie, but rather set on the dish after the fact so they’re really flaky. And Maine steamers ($14.50), a special one night, cooked in beer with cherry peppers, and served with lobster butter, are exceptional.
More than a few customers hug Roche on the way in or out. “Eighty percent of the customers are regulars,” he says. “We don’t want to be an Irish pub. We want to be a neighborhood restaurant and bar.” His theory about running a place full of regulars is to “keep it simple and do it right.” Which he seems to be doing.