No religious experience, but decent Italian food
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 23, 2008
1.0 1.0 Stars
CHEESEBURGER: With seasoned French fries, this is a Fenway classic.

Church | 69 Kilmarnock Street, Boston | Open Mon–Fri, 5–11 pm; and Sat & Sun, 11 am–3 pm and 5–11 pm | AE, DC, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking; free lot behind restaurant, except on red sox home-game days | Sidewalk-level access | 617.236.7600

The former occupant of this space, the old Linwood Grill, wasn’t such a bad bar. I mean, a little gentrification is okay, but did the new owners think it had to be called “Church” to send a message? They also partitioned it like a former British Colony, putting in separate entrances and blocking connections between the restaurant and nightclub halves. Okay, there is a (secular, abstract) stained-glass window in the dining room. But the background music still features enough blues and soul to go with the departed barbecue — no organ, no choir. A hint of Goth is as close to a cathedral as Church dares to get. Of course, for lots of people, it’s a place to eat near Fenway Park. For that, it’s not in a league with Eastern Standard, but it has some satisfying comfort dishes, some decent Italian-American food, and some competent bistro specialties. My impression is that the kitchen’s theme music is neither hymns nor blues but “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

We started with a major-league breadbasket, full of sourdough slices, a couple of crisp wafers — not communion, though — and some tasty but overly dense mini muffins of gingerbread and cranberries. The pink stuff the bread comes with looks like bean paste, but it’s some kind of sweetened butter.

My appetizer recommendation is fritto misto ($11). In Italy, this dish would have a lot of small, bony fish. But nearer Fenway Park than Pisa it’s got chunks of filet (cod and salmon), scallops, shrimp, and squid, with a very good marinara dip. We also liked steamed mussels ($9), plumped up to seasonal scrumptiousness and served with an excellent white-wine sauce and French-bread toasts.

I wasn’t as crazy about beef empanadas ($7), which have a filling somewhat like the Argentine kind but a flaky pastry that is all wrong in this context. Served with a fairly serious Vietnamese-type chili sauce, though, the four little crescents are a pretty good snack on their own terms. I also jumped ahead with a half-order of tagliatelle Bolognese ($8; $16/full order) as an appetizer. The thick homemade pasta ribbons are the real deal, but the meat sauce is burger-flavored and loaded with cheese, not the real ragù. It just tastes like average Italian food.

An entrée of eggplant rollatini ($16) has something of the same generic-flavor problem, though Italian-style eggplant is never a mistake in my book. I have to admit that my favorite entrée was the absolutely classic grilled cheeseburger ($12). Seasoned French fries, iceberg lettuce, pink tomato — take me out to the ballgame, indeed! Church could drop all this bistro pretension and specialize in burgers.

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