South End Buttery

From Viennoiserie to veal: a local bakery grows up
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 29, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

VEAL DEAL The rosemary-and-tomato-braised veal — the meat cut into strips and done up in a slightly creamy sauce — has slow-food depth.

South End Buttery | 314 Shawmut Avenue, Boston | 617.482.1015 | Open Sunday–Wednesday, 6:30 am–10 pm; and Thursday–Sunday, 6:30 am–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access to some tables
South End Buttery started with cupcakes and coffee, but opened up a dining room below street level two summers ago, and has since gradually taken on more serious cheffery. The present kitchen god, Joe Brenner, is an Olives survivor who brings consistency and flair to a modest menu.

Given bakery roots, you expect something hot and fresh in the breadbasket and get it: meltingly delicious focaccia. This is a buttery, and here’s the ramekin of sweet butter. Another bakery treat lurks in the golden-beet salad ($8): two Yorkshire puddings! So much for the salad as diet food. It’s otherwise notable for handsome leaves of Bibb lettuce, a classical vinaigrette dressing, and the interplay of chunks of golden beet and Maytag blue cheese. The Caesar salad ($8) is rather traditional, with homemade croutons and a decorative fried radicchio leaf atop a stack of romaine spears reassembled into something resembling a whole heart.

Pan-seared Jonah crab cake ($11) isn’t very seared, but crab fans won’t care because it is almost all meat, and really more like a warmed salad with lots of arugula, shaved shallots, and some shredded celery root. The soup of our day was Vidalia onion ($8). Instead of the usual oversalted beef stock and overloaded cheese, it had a mild, sweet-onion stock, a sprinkle of Romano, and a slice of baguette.

Entrées — usually the highest mountain for a take-out joint that’s growing into full restauranthood — are smooth as a cricket pitch. Something like rosemary-and-tomato-braised veal ($18) already sounds flavorful, but has actual slow-food depth. The veal, which might even be breast meat, is cut into strips, truly braised (which is to say it’s been browned before stewing), and done up in a slightly creamy tomato sauce with more garlic than rosemary. It sits on some very garlicky sautéed spinach, over soupy polenta, which makes for a comforting and delicious medley of the browned and the simmered. At the other extreme, where marketing trumps technique, is the grilled New York sirloin ($29): just a terrific piece of beef, done as ordered, with a bit of glaze. It’s served with oven-fried potatoes and watercress — all food where the chef does just enough to stay out of the way of natural flavors.

Penne Bolognese ($16) is rather last year’s dish done to next year’s standards. The pasta has some chew, and the meat sauce has the light richness of several meats chopped and cooked down into a real Italian ragu, then enriched with some cream. Two light eaters could share it. A special halibut ($28) was a superb piece of white fish, overly undercooked when it came out, on a platform of tabouleh with cold boiled shrimp. Because we are in what was once the heart of Boston’s Syrian-Lebanese-immigrant community, I demand fresher lemon in the tabouleh out of respect.

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