Some restaurants are haunted by ghosts; it can be hard to like a new place that took the spot of a bygone one you loved (sorry, Joe V's). The Wholy Grain, a new South End bakery/café, has ghosts of a different kind: it used to be the "social club" where the notorious local mobster Philip "Sonny" Baiona conducted business for decades. The DEA and FBI put eventually put Sonny in MCI-Walpole for good, leading to the swift demise of his other concession down the block, the Waltham Tavern. I miss that bar, the South End's last truly seedy dive, but must concede that not all kinds of gentrification are bad.
The Wholy Grain pours quality Illy "expresso" ($1.75–$2.25), cappuccino and latte ($2.95–$3.45), filter coffee ($1.65–$1.95), chai tea ($2.75–$3.45), and Dammann Frères tea ($2.09). It bakes a bounteous array of sweet and savory pastries, adds croissants from the estimable Iggy's, and serves from-scratch sandwiches, salads, soups, and rice bowls. There are 12 seats indoors, a cute eight-seat patio out front, and a pending 10-seat backyard deck. The baked goods are eye-catching and mostly high-quality: a recent sampling included a fine blueberry mini-tart ($3.95), an excellent pecan bar ($1.75), a terrific mini-quiche ($3.95) with diced ham and tomatoes, and a superb "Jordan Marsh" muffin ($2.75) with lemon/poppy filling. Sandwiches are piled high on excellent Iggy's baguette or ciabatta. The roast turkey ($7.95) includes house-roasted bird, brie, sliced cucumbers, quality bacon, greens, and cranberry chutney: substantial, gorgeous, delicious. Wraps ($6.95) include unexpected successes like wasabi tuna and corn salad with roasted peppers, cucumbers, and greens.
Daily-changing soups ($3.95/cup, $4.95/bowl) — like Portuguese kale, chouriço, kidney bean, and potato in a smoky broth, and a silky tomato/feta, rich and loaded with fresh basil — are knockouts. The Wholy Grain Salad ($7.95) features the trio of new-potato salad with chickpeas, not-overdressed cabbage/carrot slaw, and simple green salad with pumpkin seeds and good French dressing, rather unattractively jammed into a plastic takeout container. The Wholy Bowl ($4.95/small, $6.95/large) is tasty, light yet filling: a foundation of brown rice layered with black and pinto beans, fresh sliced avocado, sour cream, fiery salsa, black olives, shredded cheddar, and fresh cilantro; adding hot roast chicken or turkey ($2) is a good idea. In all, the Wholy Grain's combination of freshness, charm, and quality should prove irresistible to the same well-heeled, too-busy-to-cook locals who now crowd Flour Bakery and South End Buttery. I imagine Sonny, who prowled the block when it was still lined with decrepit rooming houses, would be appalled.
The Wholy Grain, located at 275A Shawmut Avenue in Boston, is open Monday–Friday, 7 am–8 pm, Saturday 8 am–6 pm, and Sunday 8 am–4 pm. Call 857.277.1531.