DELICIOUSLY BAD IDEA: You’d think shrimp corn dogs would be a disaster, but instead they’re fantastic — one of the hits at the resurrected Anthem.
Anthem Kitchen + Bar | 101 South Market Street (Faneuil Hall), Boston | 617.720.5570 | Open Sunday–Wednesday, 11:30 am–10 pm; Thursday–Saturday, 11:30 am–11 pm; Late-Night menu daily until 1 am | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Sidewalk level access
The original Anthem (RIP, 2007) was half bistro, half sports bar, all competent in a way that made it the best oversize restaurant ever between the Department of Mental Health and the variously named Boston Garden. I remember it fondly, but remain puzzled why the owners would wait three years to revive it in . . . Quincy Market, where it replaces the Plaza III steakhouse.
What is the Anthem brand supposed to represent? As it turns out, it represents exactly what it did before: half bistro, half sports bar, all competent, delivering notable quality in a location where you don't need to be this good. They have even retained some of the old dishes, as if someone who didn't have a previous review stored on their computer could remember food from three years ago.
Well, they'd probably remember the deep-fried Twinkie ($8), of which the menu boasts, "Okay, okay, it's back." More remarkably, they have fixed all the problems I noted on the opening of the original Anthem, such as the unappetizing "crème" filling of real Twinkies and the unripe fruit of the original plate. This was pure fat-and-cholesterol heaven with the ripest unseasonal berries this side of Market by Jean-Georges. (The other side, too.)
My favorite appetizer was also in the super-junk-food category — shrimp corn dogs ($12). I mean, what an amazingly bad idea. You take the usually horrid frozen jumbo shrimp, add a skewer, and then you dip it in rather sweet cornbread batter. Well, this bad idea turns out to be the best fried-shrimp dish north of Chinatown. The corn batter emphasizes the residual sweetness of the shrimp, and the peppery mustard dip does what the old Chinese-mustard-mixed-with-duck-sauce used to do. It's four skewers, and if there are an odd number of diners, it could get ugly.
Then there's the bag of warm house-made chips ($7). Well, yes, it is possible to fry potato chips on-site — that's how they were invented. And it's always possible to have them with onion dip, even in a classy restaurant that makes their own with enough hot pepper to sell extra beer.
There are bistro appetizers, such as the old Anthem tuna tartare ($14), but my advice would be a grilled flatbread pizza for the crowd. The classic is still Margherita ($13), originally a version of the Italian flag, with tomato sauce, mozzarella (here house-made and silky), and fresh basil. It's shaped oblong, more like a flag than a pizza pie, but somewhat in the Todd English Rustic Kitchen look. It's not an Italian tricolor, or there would be less cheese and more tomato and basil, but it is very, very good, from the crust on up, maybe six or eight odd little pieces for a crowd.