Review: Geoffrey's Café

Sure-handed comfort food and great value
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 23, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars

TASTY TOWER Whether as a light dinner or plus-size appetizer, the eggplant Milanese  —   a three-slice tower with melted cheese and tomato sauce — is excellent

Geoffrey's has been around — in the Back Bay, South End, Roslindale, even Utah — but has succeeded for two decades with a sure-handed mix of comfort food and little cheffery, very good prices, and generous portions, especially on dessert. I don't know what they learned in Utah, but the Roslindale period connected them to the redoubtable Tony's Meat Market, an old-school butcher whose sausage still features in appetizers, pizza, and elsewhere on the Geoffrey's menu. They've upped a few of the Rozzy prices since moving to their current spot at the hinge of Back Bay and the South End, but this is still one of the cheapest good meals for many blocks around.

To get back into the most overheated dining-out market with cool food and reasonable prices, Geoffrey's jumped into the former space of Laurel so fast that some Roslindale fans were dismayed at the speed of the move. The most obvious changes were to make one of the quieter Boston dining rooms fashionably loud (but not unbearably so) and to confuse the décor of dark wood, cherry tables, and neo-Edwardian paneling with modern round mirrors in an abstract droplet design. It's a jumble, but it communicates a kind of pleasant informality that suits the menu.

The quickest way to Tony's house-made sausage is via the grilled sausage appetizer ($5.95), which produces a large Italian sweet with distinctive chunks of meat, served with pickled onions, mustard, and a little salad of field greens with a sweet dressing. Same sweet dressing on a house salad ($3.95/"petite"; $7.95/"full"), and a warm goat-cheese salad ($8.95), the cheese warmed on melba-like toasts. Shrimp cakes ($8.95) have a nice, spicy chipotle-ranch dressing, but are overly fried.

No such issue with the excellent eggplant Milanese ($8.95), which is a three-slice tower of friend eggplant, some melted cheese, and a good tomato sauce. This could be an appetizer for four people or a light vegetarian supper. For the vegan, there is an entrée, "seven-vegetable cous cous" ($9.95), that will fill anyone's tank, with a quasi-Moroccan scent of cinnamon and pasta pressed into a most un-Moroccan (but perfectly delicious) cylinder. On the other side of the ledger, "Geoffrey's Amazing Steak Tips" ($14.95) are not really amazing, but they are cooked to order and very good — although again, a sweet marinade may not be everyone's favorite. With them come smashed skin-on potatoes, quite tasty, and not-quite-finished grilled zucchini — an easy fix. Comfort food dominates the printed menu; the bistro stuff is smuggled in as specials. For example, I loved the chicken saltimbocca ($14.95), scallops fried as well as can be, with mushrooms and capers, if not the classic ham-and-sage layers of the Italian veal saltimbocca. But this is another round tower set on mashed potatoes, so what the heck? The only weak entrée was a special on goat cheese, pine nut, and broccoli rabe ravioli ($14.95). The pasta was excellent, but the stuffing flavors seemed to cancel each other out. A workable tomato sauce is always helpful on an inexpensive menu.

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