The Maine lobster roll ($18) is a reliable remake of another standard item: cheap bun, lots and lots of lobster meat, maybe a little too much mayo, but truly superb French fries. A bar-restaurant can go a long way on fries like these.
Desserts are not amazing, but an improvement from my recollections of Scollay Square. In particular, the chocolate mini-bundt cake ($8) is sort of molten and very chocolaty, and better cooked than the half-baked version I tasted at the sister restaurant when it opened. It's now a top-shelf chocolate dessert. Carrot cake ($8) is everything but large. The key-lime pie ($8) is the only weak choice, lacking in sour-bitter key-lime flavor to offset the richness. Decaf and decaf cappuccino are wonderful.
These rooms have come a long way since the famous Peabody sisters (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne; one married Horace Mann) had their literary salons here. In the 1970s, a modern architect opened up a tri-level, glass-ceiling marvel that is beginning to show its age with cracked panels and a bit of dirt on the outside. The interior bare-brick, polished-wood, and café-tables scheme still shines, and the collection of slightly naughty black-and-white photos (cityscapes, plus perhaps after-hours at the fashion shoot) is fun stuff.
Service before the serious drinkers arrive is first-rate. Food comes out hot and in order. Our server was there when we needed her, and not hovering otherwise. Because of the three-tier arrangement, it never seems overcrowded, and it doesn't get as loud as it looks. The downside is limited wheelchair access.
Since every Tom, Dick, and Mohammed is trying to do bar food that is just really good, you would think that more of them would hit the spot. But they don't, which is why Max and Dylan, or their parents or owners or inventors, are worth a visit, here or at their new location in City Square, Charlestown.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.