As any industry veteran can tell you, it's hard to make a new restaurant go, harder still to keep it going for decades. Even in a city as historic as Boston, our long-lived restaurants are few. So I'm always happy to find, say, a J.J. Foley's Cafe, the 100-year-old South End tavern run by the grandson and great-grandson of its namesake founder. Likewise, I'm grateful I finally got to Mandy & Joe's, a friendly neighborhood spot that opened in 1948 and is now in its third generation of family ownership. It has achieved that rare longevity by turning out classic American fare in its bright, clean, workmanlike setting at gentle, everyday prices.
Judging from the wood paneling and tangerine accents, the 10-booth, 17-stool diner set-up here got a makeover sometime in the 1970s, but the menu would offer few surprises to a time traveler from 1950. Breakfasts follow the mid-century greasy-spoon playbook, minus the grease, exemplified by a plate of two eggs cooked to order with bacon, ham, or sausage ($4.25), good corned-beef hash ($6.95), or a fine little diner steak ($10.95). The accompanying home fries are well-crusted and mercifully free of that ubiquitous orange paprika-and-MSG spice mix. Three-egg omelets ($4.95–$8.50) are enormous and overstuffed. The griddle turns out okay French toast ($3.50) and dandy buttermilk pancakes ($3.75–$4.75).
Lunch hits similarly vintage notes with an excellent cheeseburger club ($6.25), a messy but delicious hot roast-beef sandwich ($6.25) with grilled onions, melted cheese, and mayo, and an admirable oversize Reuben ($7.95). Younger customers should probably sample what I call the "grandpa dishes" before they vanish from the modest-restaurant landscape forever: sandwiches of liverwurst ($3.95), sardines ($4.95), and ham salad ($4.25); a knockwurst plate ($6.95); a heartwarming chicken pot pie ($6.95); calves liver with bacon ($6.95); and that frugal Yankee staple, fishcakes and beans ($5.25). How many places serve Jell-O with whipped cream ($1.95) or house-made pudding ($3.95) anymore? Naturally, the filter coffee ($1.50) is wonderful, as is the old-school New England frappe ($3.95).
Ultimately, what makes dining at this venerable lunch counter so appealing is its combination of solid execution and unvarnished sincerity. The Marino family has plainly been doing this kind of humble, high-value American diner and Americanized Jewish delicatessen fare, with barely a menu update, for more than half a century. Mandy & Joe's conveys a genuine sense of continuity with a bygone time: there's nothing faux, winking, or retro about it. It's the real deal.
Mandy & Joe's Restaurant, located at 328 Washington Street, in Brighton, is open Monday–Friday, 6 am–4 pm, and Saturday, 6 am–3 pm. Call 617.254.9843.