Pity the poor would-be restaurateur in the city of Boston. Up to a cool quarter-million for a liquor license, cranky neighborhood associations, hellish parking and valet costs, competition from deep-pocketed national chains: who needs it? Chris Parsons, chef/owner of Winchester's bygone, well-regarded Parsons Table, had considered expanding to Boston last year. Presumably, he ran the numbers and concluded Milton was a better bet, opting to open his new Steel & Rye there. Not that the cavernous space he chose is easy to fill: it's a big old car-barn with room for 150, including 20 at the long bar, with a nicely raw, industrial feel from concrete floors, blond wood, leather, and a lot of Machine Age factory fixtures and exposed infrastructure. The noise level can boom, though a front dining area a few steps down is quieter. The bar represents another welcome instantiation of the craft-cocktail movement, with old-timey classics like a Manhattan made with any of a dozen American straight ryes (Rittenhouse is the default, $10), Antica Formula sweet vermouth, bitters, and a quality cocktail cherry. The nine draft beers ($4–$8) favor New England microbrews; another 18 bottles and cans run from familiar American macros ($4) to more flavorful imports ($6–$10). The modest by-the-glass wines run from $8 to $13; a handful of bottles crack the $100 mark, but most whites run from $30 to $50, reds from $40 to $80.
The menu combines Parsons's two prior concepts (the farm-to-table Americana of Parsons Table and the seafood focus of its predecessor, Catch) and adds a gastropub accent, with many ingredients cured, confited, pickled, and smoked in-house. The small-plate "snacks" section includes ham salad ($5), a friendlier name for ham-based coarse pâté topped with aspic, salty and delicious spread on pumpernickel with mustard. Pickled quail eggs ($3) colored magenta with beets are pretty but less successful, a tad rubbery. "Today's cheese" ($4) features Tête de Moine, a Swiss pressed raw cow's-milk cheese, scraped tissue-thin with a girolle into gossamer rosettes resembling carnations, its equally delicate flavor contrasted with quince jam on black-pepper bread. Appetizers include delectable Colorado lamb meatballs ($11) sauced in harissa, dotted with yogurt and pignoli; some observers may lament the overuse of lightly cooked eggs to top dishes, but one works beautifully here. Starches ("From the Gristmill") feature an above-average risotto ($15) for a high-volume kitchen: slightly soupy, not overdone, and crammed with sweet Maine shrimp. Mains include a fairly terrific burger ($15) of prime beef topped with aged cheddar, plus sides of kettle chips and a kicky house-made steak sauce (but brioche-bun haters, beware). Country-style veal ($22) is effectively a meatloaf the size of a small football, mild, juicy, and well complemented by white gravy, pearl onions, mushrooms, and shaved fried garlic.