Matt’s Blackboard Restaurant
565 Rounseville Road, Rochester
Hours: Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Given that Matt’s Blackboard, open since last November, is the only full-service restaurant in this rural town of rolling farmland, it might be easy to understand why it’s a pretty busy place.
But even that won’t sustain a restaurant if the food’s not good. That’s not a problem here, where the food is abundant, local - and very good. It is the brainchild of New Bedford native Matt Gurney, who learned to cook in area restaurants “from some of the best,” he said, including at the former Mattapoisett Inn, which was owned by his aunt, and Turk’s Restaurant and The Nest Diner, both also in Mattapoisett, where Gurney now lives.
Monday nights at Matt’s Blackboard in summer and early fall are great if you like old cars and accompanying period music. Gurney said those are the nights his menu resembles diner fare, befitting the nostalgia as classic old cars fill the restaurant parking lot, at the Plumbs Corner plaza on Route 105.
“The rest of the week, the menu is more extensive. I go to the New Bedford waterfront on Wednesdays and Thursdays and bring in things like fresh tuna and swordfish,” he said.
The gimmick of the place, if you want to call it that, is its blackboard “specials” on various walls of the wide-open eatery that seats 70 in booths, free-standing tables, and a spacious granite countertop overlooking the kitchen. The specials change daily, depending on what Gurney has picked up in local markets. This time of year, fresh vegetables figure huge, most notably Rochester corn, famous for its hearty sweetness, usually bought at Cervelli Farm just up the road.
The Monday night we visited, we started out with scallop and corn fritters ($8), moist, thick, and loaded with scallop chunks and that fabulously sweet corn, served with a tangy lemon aioli. We also snacked on some spicy buffalo fingers ($8) that made a warm night seem a little warmer still.
One appealing blackboard item we didn’t try was the cookout special, which our server Chrissie said is a very popular summer item, a choice of two hot dogs or a burger with potato salad, corn off the cob, and coleslaw ($8). Gurney said another favorite is his seafood ravioli, stuffed with shrimp and scallops and served in a shrimp-and-butter tomato sauce ($18), which tops out the high end of a decidedly non-pricey menu.
We had to have some comfort food, and nothing’s more comfy than meatloaf ($9), a giant slab of ground beef with a massive dollop of mashed potatoes with a well of gravy, served with sautéed zucchini and onions.
Our party of four also had the lemon-broiled sole with salad ($11), a generous, flaky portion of fish with fresh vegetables, and we were wild about the wild mushroom ravioli with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables in a light white-wine sauce ($15), a dish so huge you’re almost guaranteed not to finish it.
Taking full advantage of the seasonal bounty, we had a fresh summer vegetable sauté over pasta ($10) loaded with artichoke hearts, mushroom, tomato, and roasted red pepper.
It didn’t seem humanly possible to fit in dessert, but we felt compelled to try the homemade blueberry cobbler ($5) and custard ($3), which were a fitting and filling ending to the evening.
They do a brisk lunch business here as well, Gurney said, with the choices and prices largely mimicking the dinner menu, but with the ever-present blackboard specials changing daily. Breakfast is served on Saturdays and Sundays only, with such unusual blackboard entries as prime rib, two eggs, and home fries ($11) or more usual early-morning fare such as omelets, French toast, and pancakes.
Matt’s Blackboard is located in a former pizza restaurant, and carrying on that tradition, the new eatery is noted for its pizza, locals say. The white variety calls for a thin crust brushed with olive oil and garlic and topped with whatever you’d like; the red version uses the same thin crust but with tomato sauce as its base. One interesting pie, either red or white, looked to be the pulled pork, roasted corn, scallions, and peppers ($13).
Without liquor (they serve beer and wine here), the final tally was $72.94 not including tip, a modest price for generously apportioned - and most important - tasty food. Matt’s Blackboard Restaurant may be a bit out of the way for some, but it’s well worth the trip.
PAUL E. KANDARIAN