If someone were to ask me my biggest gripe about Boston the third thing on my list would be the dearth of quality eats around the conference center; numbers one and two are reserved for the confounded green line that breaks down almost every time you’re on it and the fact that their sports teams have won a championship in every major sport over the last ten years while Ohio teams…well, you know. With the conference beginning on a Saturday and myself not at all planning to dine on catered food or the cafeteria-style options of the center, the one recommended spot that was open on Saturday and within walking distance was Sportello, a counter-style Italian themed spot from acclaimed local chef Barbara Lynch. With plans already made to visit Lynch’s flagship No. 9 Park for my final dinner in Boston a quick look at the menu made my decision easy – as a bonus, the standard lunch menu would be supplemented with Brunch items as well.
Arriving at the restaurant early during our lunch break I was slightly confused by the hidden entrance and lack of signage to the point that had I not been looking for the address I’d have certainly walked right past it. Entering the door and climbing the stairs to the sounds of happy-go-lucky 80s pop I was next surprised by how empty the restaurant was – only two other diners present and the staff largely standing about chatting. Greeted promptly I was told I could sit anywhere I liked and making my way through the white and wood motif I selected a spot at the bar closest the open kitchen and with the place-setting serving as one menu I was handed the brunch specials while my water glass was filled by my cheery server, Haley. With time constraints noted given the number of lectures I wanted to see and having already browsed the online menu I quickly made sure the items I’d targeted were available and within minutes my order was placed.
With the restaurant quite quiet save for the music and the sound of the griddle I have to admit that the space was much smaller than I’d expected, but with a bakery in one corner and unique retail items and books near the door I have to admit Lynch’s ability to put a lot in such a tiny space was admirable. Upscale yet casual both in style and in server demeanor I was next asked if I’d like bread to enjoy with my meal and with the obvious answer being yes a plate of moist and dense Scali bread with sesame seeds arrived warm alongside a plate of creamy ricotta, olive oil, and fresh rhubarb compote – a lovely sweet yet savory touch that made me wish I’d have had time to return in order to sample more of the bakeries offerings (or that the bread service at No 9. Park was half as good.)
Having eschewed appetizers and bakery selections instead opting for two main courses – one savory and one sweet – I watched my first plate come together piece by piece as one cook worked the grill and the other the oven to construct Smoked Duck Hash with slow scrambled eggs, root vegetables, potatoes, and griddled toast. A rather standard preparation rendered impressive through the use of top quality ingredients each aspect of the dish was nicely done with the duck smoky and supple and the eggs nearly a buttery porridge in consistency. While I personally would have preferred the vegetables a bit more crispy that was hardly a quibble as the previously confited and subsequently heated cubed carrots and turnips were quite delicious.
For my second course the preparation would unfortunately not begin until I was nearly done with the first and given the duration of its cooking time my planned meal of less than an hour ended up taking nearly 80 minutes. Noting the delay, I can certainly say that the souffle pancake with huckleberry jam, powdered sugar, and maple syrup from Vermont was worth the wait as I watched the whites and yolks folded together then quickly pan seared, flipped, and finished in the oven to create a puffy single plate-sized cake with a slightly crunchy top and fluffy interior very much like a soufflé. With fresh huckleberry jam (incidentally sold in the store) and pure maple syrup finishing the plate this was essentially a $12 dessert well worth the price.
With the bill paid – a somewhat pricey $35 with tax and tip for brunch – and my thanks to the staff I gathered my things and with the restaurant now perhaps 1/2 full as the hour approached noon I made my way back to the street where a quick walk would have me back at the conference center less than 1:45 after I’d left and all the happier for having done so. While certainly not the best lunch/brunch/or meal of my trip Sportello’s location, hours, quality, and service put it in a league of its own in Boston and if there is ever another conference I should attend in Boston I’d return without hesitation for the gnocchi, rigatoncini, or some selections from the bakery.