The edge of gentrification can present some close-minded folks with a barrier to finding good cheap eats. I have prosperous white friends in the South End who are wary of venturing even two blocks from the Washington and Tremont Street restaurant rows to visit the fine little Peruvian/Brazilian/Mexican place Don Ricardo's in Villa Victoria. If the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of a well-run, safe public-housing complex makes you nervous, what are the chances you'll venture west of Mass Ave? Perhaps what it takes is a dose of Back Bay familiarity, in the form of a second outlet of the long-running Parish Cafe.
The new South End location clones the menu of the original, offering oversize sandwiches designed by famous local chefs, like Lydia Shire's Steak and Blue ($15.75), a generous heap of rare sliced tenderloin with pickled red onions between thick slices of blue-cheese-studded white bread. Mounds of red-cabbage slaw and baby-green salad make this a hefty meal. Tony Maws's Egg Sandwich Lyonnaise ($9.75) is a welcome plate of breakfast-for-dinner, two over-easy fried eggs, good bacon, tomatoes, and frisée on thick toasted white Pullman, with a heap of Bliss potato salad on the side. Appetizers include the Bowl-o-Rings ($7.50), a mountain of adeptly fried, large onion rings, the batter chock full of chopped chives: slightly refined but still suitably greasy bar food. Entrées don't slouch, either: Sean's Simple Chicken ($14.50) plates two sautéed, lightly breaded breast cutlets on a foundation of good mashed potatoes, elevated by a terrific sauce of tomatoes, lemon, garlic, and capers.
This food goes well with what is now the South End's best beer selection: 16 draft beers and 80 in bottles and cans, encompassing enough macro crowd-pleasers and obscure craft beers for the casual swiller and discerning beer geek alike. Examples include the whimsically labeled Butternuts Moo Thunder Stout ($5.50) and draft Miller Lite ($4.25). Building on 17 years of experience, the new Parish Cafe is a slick operation, offering congenial, polished service mere days after its opening. It doesn't deliver the cheapest modest meal in the neighborhood, or groundbreaking cuisine. But I'm hopeful that its tried-and-true formula of well-made American fare, plus its creditable beer selection (along with decent value-priced wines but forgettable cordial-based cocktails), may just be familiar and safe enough to lure the lily-white denizens of the new South End past the edges of their comfort zone. From there, it's only a few short steps to more adventurous cheap eats, like Ali's Roti.
The Parish Cafe and Bar, located at 493 Mass Ave, in Boston, is open daily, 11:30 am–2 am; the kitchen closes at midnight. Call 617.391.0501.