What to Order at Chef Matt Jennings' New Restaurant Townsman
By Scott Kearnan Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager| April 20, 2015 |
Food & Drink
Chef Matt Jennings comes home and starts fresh with his new restaurant, Townsman.
Townsman’s succulent lamb porterhouse is procured from a small farm in Maine.
For years, chef Matt Jennings has been at the forefront of New England’s farm-to-table movement, helping diners appreciate fresh foods raised right in regional soil. But with the opening of his new Boston restaurant, Townsman, Jennings is the one reconnecting with—and reclaiming—his local roots.
“Growing up here, you go through a period where the worst thing you could call someone is a townie,” says Jennings. But the Boston native has built a reputation that extends well beyond local borders. A four-time finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious award for best chef in the Northeast, Jennings is probably best known for his heralded Providence, Rhode Island, restaurant Farmstead Inc., a forerunner of today’s now ubiquitous eateries focused on hyperseasonal, locally sourced American cooking. But last spring, after 12 years and shortly following the birth of their second child, Jennings and his wife, Kate, a pastry chef, decided it was time to sell Farmstead and return to Boston to raise their family—and launch a new restaurant—on their old home turf.
The result is Townsman, nestled on the ground level of the Radian, a 26-floor luxury apartment building on Kingston Street where Chinatown, the Ladder District, and the Financial District meet. Its name is a proud allusion to that other t-word, a semantic choice that reflects the maturation of a chef and his city. “I’ve watched downtown Boston undergo this amazing transformation,” Jennings says. He recalls his younger years, when his mother admonished him to avoid the city’s then-blighted Combat Zone, and compares the area then to its current landscape of revitalized theaters, soaring new towers, and lively restaurants. “I really wanted to be downtown, part of the urbanness and energy,” he adds. “That feeling of homecoming is important to me.”
Townsman’s homey-meets-chic interior.
Jennings’s menu reflects this celebration of one’s native place, with Townsman prioritizing the thoughtful sourcing of top-notch ingredients. At the American brasserie’s 10-seat crudo bar, guests find a light, fresh escabèche: Rhode Island clams, Nantucket Bay scallops, and Maine mussels tossed with an avocado-based dressing and topped with tobiko and squid ink crackers. Even more delectable are the shareable multitiered towers of shellfish and charcuterie, including terrines, pâtés, and cured meats specially provided by the Waltham gourmet delicatessen Moody’s.
It’s no surprise that Jennings, whose butchery know-how earned him three consecutive wins in the esteemed nose-totail culinary competition Cochon 555, offers a meatcentric menu at Townsman. Highlights include the lamb—procured from a small farm in Maine and presented as a supremely tender, vibrant porterhouse with cranberry, beans, and creamed spinach—and a luscious tartare of hormone-free beef neck blended with sirloin and velvety chilled beef fat. Herbivores, take heart: Working with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, Jennings taps regional purveyors for veggie-focused dishes like broccoli rabe with native walnuts and crispy garlic.
Wine director and general manager Meredith Gallagher, an alum of powerhouse Barbara Lynch’s Menton, Boston’s sole Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux property, oversees Townsman’s wine program with a discriminating taste for terroir. (Think Sicilian wines made with grapes raised on the volcanic soil of Mount Etna.) And dapper bar manager Sean Frederick finds inspiration in Townsman’s kitchen: His Orchard Collins showcases freshly extracted Granny Smith apple juice alongside vodka, absinthe, and Czech bitters (with baking notes of cinnamon and honey), while the funky Kingston Cup, a spin on the Pimm’s, employs house-made ginger beer with Sichuan pepper and fennel seed. It’s a sophisticated but accessible cocktail program he describes as a “warm, welcoming handshake” for guests.
And warm welcomes are what it’s all about, according to Jennings. “At the end of the day,” he says, “we’re here to make people feel at home.” 120 Kingston St., 617-993-0750