On a Saturday evening, Steel & Rye is bursting with energy. The tables are full, the bar area is bustling, and everywhere you look, people are deep in conversation, eating food from steel pans and off wooden boards, or sipping drinks and watching the Bruins on TV.
The restaurant, which opened last November, is owned by chef Chris Parsons, general manager Dan Kerrigan, and Bill Scannell.
Parsons, who formerly ran Catch and Parson’s Table in
Winchester, was looking for a large space near Boston to house a restaurant. Kerrigan, a friend of Parsons since they met at Chiara Bistro in Westwood more than five years ago, found the 6,800-square-foot warehouse space on the Dorchester-Milton line, and the two opened the restaurant.
Arriving about 20 minutes before our reservation, we joined the commotion at the bar. Beverage manager Ted Gallagher’s bar program offers everything from craft cocktails ($10 to $12) to Pabst Blue Ribbon on draught ($4) and cans of Sixpoint Sweet Action ($6) to an ever-growing selection of rye whiskeys. (There are plans in the works for whiskey seminars and tastings.)
The atmosphere is very rustic yet refined, very Restoration Hardware, very industrial — from the woodwork and window frames, to the light fixtures with exposed-filament light bulbs, to the ducts running across the 30-foot-high ceilings. We later learned from Kerrigan that several designers wanted to give the space a tavern-like feel, but Brendan Haley of BHaley Designs let the space dictate the design.
From the bar and some tables, there’s a view of the open kitchen with Parsons and the rest of the staff hard at work. They surround a Molteni range, hand-built south of Lyon, France. Because a Molteni is so expensive, Parsons searched for a second-hand model and finally found one when Norman Van Aken’s Los Angeles restaurant closed.
The Molteni, which Parsons calls the “heart of the restaurant,’’ features several different cooking surfaces where the team produces the dishes. There are typically five or six chefs cooking around the island stove, and Parsons can see all of them. The layout encourages communication, and diners who want to watch the action can sit at the chef’s counter.
We sat around the corner from the kitchen toward the front of the restaurant. After placing our orders, we started right in on the bread. The thin, fresh pieces come in a steel pan with a generous smear of soft butter and a heavy-handed sprinkling of coarse sea salt. The crunchy salt adds texture to the soft bread and butter.
Off the “Snacks’’ menu, we tried thimbles of Tete de Moine, a Swiss cheese whose name translates as “monk’s head,’’ over quince jam and pastry chef Meghan Thompson’s black pepper bread ($4). The thin bread was crunchy yet chewy at once. Pepper generously dusted the cheese and balanced the sweetness of the jam.
From the “Shells’’ menu, a refreshing East Dennis oyster ($2.75) was simply served on a bed of ice with small cups of mignonette and cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon.
The sweet potato soup ($8) was the star of the evening and joined the list of best soups I’ve ever had. The bowl contained a stunning presentation of silky soup, a thin slice of tender sweet potato, a toasted house-made marshmallow, crispy sage, small pools of maple syrup and brown butter, and a dusting of dried chiles.
The texture was pure velvet and the flavors were clean. Something about that toasted marshmallow, perhaps its roasty, campfire notes, perked up the dish without conjuring up memories of saccharine sweet-potato casserole.
The Colorado lamb meatballs ($11), with harissa, pine nuts, and Greek yogurt, circled a just-set hen egg. A single poke with a fork released runny yolk, providing the perfect accompaniment to the spiced meatballs.
We also tried the grilled flatbread with smoked chicken, balsamic onions, slow-cooked tomatoes, fontina, and house-made ricotta ($14). I was about to write off the orangey tomatoes until I got one with a bite of flatbread and realized that it was full of flavor. It’s obvious with one taste that the chicken is smoked, but the smokiness is more of a subtle background note.
After our appetizer plates were cleared, our waiter took our dinner orders. I appreciated that we weren’t rushed into ordering dinner and were able to pace our meal.
The Creekstone Ranch 16-ounce ribeye ($34), cooked medium, was red throughout and had notes of lime. Smoked mushrooms, pearl onions, and fingerling potatoes were served on the side, sitting atop “pommes Robuchon’’ (a creamy, buttery potato puree created by Joël Robuchon).
The massive one-pound double-cut pork chop ($26) was served with sauteed, finely shredded cabbage and garnished with whole-grain mustard, a sprinkling of crispy fried greens, and chunks of fried bread. Parsons explained that the pork chops are vacuum-packed and cooked at 149 degrees for an hour, to an internal temperature of 142 degrees, then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking. The chops cook evenly throughout and become tender, but don’t caramelize at all. For dinner service, the chefs place the chops in a 140-degree oven for an hour, then deep-fry them 30 seconds to create the browned, crusty exterior.
I can’t imagine a better end to the meal than the affogato ($9), a disk of chocolate semifreddo topped with vanilla gelato, surrounded by amaretti cookies and shards of chocolate-covered pop rocks. Upon the dessert’s presentation, the server poured some decaf espresso over the whole dish. The silky-smooth semifreddo contrasted with the crunchy cookie bits and the lingering sizzle of the pop rocks. The espresso tied the components together, subtly melting the gelato into the semifreddo and pooling in the bottom to be scooped up.
The menu changes often, and the menu on the website gives only an idea of what you’ll find. For Parsons, the idea is to create food that is meaningful and creates memories, and it does. That sweet potato soup is still on my mind.