Review: Kelly's Roast Beef

A new Allston outlet captures the flavors, if not the charm, of the original
By MC SLIM JB  |  June 26, 2010


In a city with hundreds of unreviewed independent restaurants, I generally avoid chains. But the new Kelly's in the former home of Marty's Liquors in Allston felt different. The Revere Beach original is a Boston institution, justly celebrated for its '50s-vintage beach-shack atmosphere. Getting some fries stolen from your Kelly's plate by aggressive seagulls as you dine on a seaside bench is a Boston cheap-eats rite of passage. I'd never been to any other Kelly's location, so it seemed worth asking: does this shiny, huge (160-seat) new edition measure up to its hallowed forefather?

The proof must start with the roast-beef sandwich, a wildly popular North Shore specialty that Kelly's originated. Positives: an excellent seeded, buttered/griddled roll (the Achilles heel of Kelly's imitators), and lovely rare-to-medium-rare beef, pleasantly chewy from slicing that is slightly thicker than the deli standard. The large ($6.95) merely piles more beef onto the small ($5.95), already a generous sandwich. But the beef's leanness makes it bland: it needs the oomph of sweet/vinegary barbecue sauce and fierce horseradish. The clam platter ($16.95), another famed dish, is wonderful: a good dozen-and-a-half whole-belly Ipswich clams, perfect in a light batter with an impeccable fry job. The included onion rings and fries are respectable, though folks with seafood allergies should avoid them; Kelly's doesn't scrupulously separate its frying systems. Clam chowder ($4.50/cup; $6.95/bowl), another vaunted specialty, avoids the gloppy thickeners common to tourist joints, correctly relying on starch from potato cubes for body. It doesn't stint on chopped clams, but clam flavor is disappointingly muted by a cream-heavy broth. A lobster roll ($16.95) is well-laden on a good split-top roll and avoids excessive celery or dressing, but the less-than-piquant flavor of previously frozen lobster meat is apparent.

Beyond the usual bottled and fountain soft drinks, ($1.75–$2.25), Kelly's serves a good, thick frappe ($3.95). The cavernous room is spotless, its granite-and-Naugahyde booths and spinning stools not unattractive once you leave the glare of the McDonald's-like counter and open kitchen. But mementos of the bygone Revere Beach amusement park, like black-and-white photos and a beautiful wooden carousel horse and façade fragment, can't capture the faded glamour of the original, even if the kitchen successfully replicates its flavors. The student and late-night post-drinking crowds may not care, and a quality fried-seafood plate should be welcome in any neighborhood, but I suspect I'll seek the company of seagulls the next time my Kelly's craving hits.

Kelly's Roast Beef, located at 1227 Comm Ave, in Allston, is open daily, 10 am–2 am. Call 617.782.3999.

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