A Family Affair in a Clubby, Contemporary New Spot
Richard L. Cravatts writer
Those familiar with the stretch of Route 16 in Wellesley coming in from West Newton probably remember well the strip of storefronts on the right, just before the site of the old Grossman’s hardware store. There was the newsstand/smoke shop; a short-lived ice-cream parlor; and a coffee shop and restaurant, where locals enjoyed homey standbys like meatloaf with thick gravy and chicken croquettes. Those familiar spots are gone now, and in their place is a sleek new block of freshly built-out businesses that includes a new Wellesley eatery, Bobby’s Grille, which formally opened this past November.
The eponymous restaurant is the creation of a father-son team, long-time Wellesley residents Bob Walsh and son, Bobby Walsh, who actually developed some of the dishes and sauces now showing up on Bobby’s menu in the kitchen of their home, just around the corner from the restaurant. Their vision for the physical space Bobby’s now occupies was straightforward: an elegant, clubby room seating around 100 guests, enhanced with a soaring, matte black ceiling; chandeliers; tiny candles on tables; onyx sconces on the walls; and dark, nearly Chinese-red walls, hung with bold, contemporary art. A broad walnut bar winds along the left side of the room, offering a space to sink into the mood of the room and enjoy one of the playful, classic cocktails, such as the “Dark N’ Stormy,” with Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer, or the “Dirty Shirley,” a grownup version of the Shirley Temple, with black cherries, Van Gogh cherry vodka, and ginger ale. A selection of wines, in both red and white varieties, is available by the bottle ($27 to $195) or by the glass ($7.50 to $12).
For starters, Bobby’s follows the current trend of offering “sliders,” but widens the usual repertoire by adding unexpected flourishes to the mini-hamburger including the luxurious filet mignon slider ($10), topped with roasted onions, sharp cheddar, and a spicy ketchup; the country-style pulled pork slider ($10), with spicy pickles and country Dijon mustard; or the Maine lobster slider ($14)—each served on three soft rolls, along with fries or onion rings.
Bobby’s executive chef is the ebullient Stephen O. Bell, whose stint as the owner of the Savory Tastes Café in Reading afforded him the opportunity to develop some signature dishes, several of which have made their way to Bobby’s menu. The Long Island duck appetizer ($9), for example, is presented with grilled, tender breast slices atop a rich, smoked Gouda-infused risotto and laced with a sweet, almost confectionary, balsamic reduction. Plump, earthy cremini mushrooms are stuffed with a mushroom duxelle and shards of Maine lump crabmeat ($9). “Lolly Pop” lamb chops ($12), meant to be eaten with fingers, are prepared with a Greek influence, along with vinegary greens and a tzatziki sauce of yogurt, cucumbers, lemon juice, and dill.
For those opting for a salad, either as a side or as a complete meal, Bobby’s has five choices, including two standbys. One is the Chef Salad 81 ($9), studded with julienned turkey, ham, roast beef, Swiss cheese, avocado, bacon, egg, scallion, tomato, and olives, and dressed with 81 Vinaigrette. The “81” is derived from the street number of the Walsh house and signifies one of the dishes they created in their own kitchen. A classic Caesar salad can be had plain ($8), or topped with chicken ($11), shrimp ($14), or filet mignon ($15).
Since there is no separate lunch menu at Bobby’s, the house was thoughtful enough to offer sandwiches as an option, including the appealing pressed Cubano, with sliced pork, Swiss cheese, sweet onion, slivers of garlicky pickles, and a chipotle-infused mayonnaise ($9); a rich Maine lobster roll served on a butter-slathered hot dog roll ($14); or a Mediterranean-inspired wrap stuffed with smoky grilled eggplant, fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomato, arugula, and an olive tapenade ($8).
Entrées can include some dishes refined by chef Bell in his earlier life as a chef-owner, including the rich haddock in a silken sauté of Asiago-spiked sour cream, red onion, and mushrooms ($24). Some comfort food standbys are also available here, including the bubbling mac & cheese with white cheddar and fontina cheeses ($10), or dressed up further with ham and green peas ($11) or decadent chunks of lobster meat ($15).The shepherd’s pie ($11), another dish your mother may have whipped up on a winter night, here is crafted with Angus sirloin and roasted root vegetables in a beef demi-glaze below a blanket of whipped potatoes.
Atlantic salmon ($26) is encrusted with panko breadcrumbs and horseradish, and served atop a Parmesan-rich risotto with green peas. The stuffed chicken breast ($18) is an oven-roasted Statler cut—a boneless breast with the drumette and skin still on—that actually has a local connection: its name was coined as the cut once used at Boston’s Hotel Statler, now the Park Plaza Hotel. Here, it is filled with an herb and goat cheese stuffing and served alongside Israeli couscous of semolina and wheat flour. A Southern-style pork tenderloin, prepared before grilling with a dry rub of spices, comes draped in the house’s 81 BBQ Sauce, and is served with a sweet corn succotash, a homey hash of red bliss potatoes, and cool coleslaw ($21). The Southern influence is also evident in the execution of another house specialty, a dish called the Rustic Chicken Cutlet ($19), which comes to the table as a prodigious portion of boneless breast, breaded with coarse, homemade breadcrumbs, and fried like a chicken fried steak. Drizzled over the cutlet, and the accompanying angel hair pasta, is a silken, creamy sauce studded with sweet sausage, mushrooms, and green pepper—an altogether satisfying and indulgent concoction that, in fact, was recently included in a cookbook after Bobby Walsh’s aunt submitted it to the publisher.
From the section of the menu called the 81 Grill, diners craving meat can choose from the impressive 12-ounce veal chop ($29), served with savory potato pancakes laced with goat cheese and grilled asparagus; a glistening, herby grilled rack of lamb ($28) with cheddar-rich scalloped potatoes and grilled zucchini; or a 12-ounce rib eye ($27) with garlic-spiked whipped and roasted potatoes and a silken reduction enhanced with mushrooms and cream.
Desserts, all $7.50, offer a range of tempting choices, some expected, such as cheesecake, brownie sundae, crème brûlée, flourless chocolate cake, or a fruit tart, and some unexpected, such as something called Baba’s Coffee Ice Cream Pie, studded with Heath Bars, or the house’s own Chocolate Pecan Pie 81, which enriches with chocolate the decadent sweetness of pecan pie.
Bobby’s Grille brings to Wellesley what should be a successful formula for suburban dining: an attractive, inviting dining room; a varied menu with multiple price points so that diners can have just a sandwich and soft drink or a complete elegant meal with several courses; and a staff with a commitment to making sure that the restaurant’s guests—many of them neighbors and friends—can come here often and feel right at home. Judging from the full house at Bobby’s Grille on a recent Monday night, normally a slower night in the restaurant trade, that welcoming formula seems to be working just fine.