The Mission Bar + Grill

It’s not impossible to find good food in a bar
Rating: 1.0 stars
August 15, 2007 5:57:44 PM
PERFECT COMFORT: Chicken saltimbocca and cola-marinated barbecue steak tips.

The Mission Bar & Grill | 724 Huntington Avenue, Boston | Open daily, 11 am–midnight; bar open until 2 am | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | 1.5 hours parking in stop & shop lot | Sidewalk-level access | 617.566.1244
We have to stay on mission and avoid mission creep, so: what is our mission here? In terms of this column, it is to find good eats of any style, at any price range. The mission of this bar and grill, however, is more about beer, with a lot of drafts and the conceit of serving them in their native glasses: Stella Artois ($4.50) in a tulip, Radeberger Pilsner ($4.50) in a tall stein, and Guinness ($4.50) in what turns out to be a Magners cider glass, but is pretty close to that of a classic Guinness pint. (Mission Hill, the locale, is named after the Mission Basilica, but repentance is for later.)

So this is bar food, and it has its own rules. It’s often salty and peppery to promote drinking, but the Mission Bar doesn’t overdo it. Bar food tends to the familiar. Indeed, some bar food seems so familiar you’d suspect it was all coming pre-packaged from the same supplier. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. At the very least, the chefs add a few twists to spice up what could otherwise be considered run-of-the-mill food.

Beet and arugula salad ($8.99), for example, has bits of both regular and striped Chioggia beets, with goat cheese that’s been breaded and fried into a patty. The Caesar salad ($7) is distinguished mostly by unusually good croutons. But the “steak ‘n’ bleu” salad was a successful platter with strips of flank steak, green beans, a very flavorful blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, and a neat topping of French-fried onions.

Regarding “crispy” fried calamari ($8): the correct adjective is just “crisp,” so some literalist may take this the wrong way — expecting, perhaps, something along the lines of an English potato-chip crisp. But fried squid actually don’t get that crisp, so maybe the literal “crispy” is a better descriptor here. These are hedged with two dips: marinara sauce and a garlic mayonnaise that I liked even better. Strips of pickled red pepper added a bit of heat. Only the crab cakes ($10.99) were disappointing. The three small ones that arrived featured more crumbs than crab, and therefore were a little greasy.

Bars are often judged by their burgers, and the “Mission burger” ($8) is very competitive. The meat is tasty and just charred, pink inside as ordered, and juicy enough even without fine toppings of caramelized onions (75 cents) and sautéed mushrooms (75 cents). I’m not so sure about the bun. It’s soft and full, but with an egg-glazed dome that makes it a little crunchy, especially since ours came toasted. The French fries are terrific, with just a hint of salt and seasoning.

Fish ‘n’ chips ($13.99) are supposed to be “English style. With coleslaw, tartar sauce, and malt vinegar.” But I had to ask for the malt vinegar. My best recollection of the English version of this dish is that it had fresher fish, more breading, and inferior French fries. So I was happy enough with the American style featured here. But I was even happier with cola-marinated barbecued steak tips ($14.99), especially when they came rare on the second try. I suggest substituting the baked rice that comes on this plate, though a sauté of onion, carrot, and zucchini was fine.

My personal favorite was chicken saltimbocca ($13.99), which is absolutely inauthentic and makes for perfect comfort food. The Italian-restaurant version of this dish used to be veal saltimbocca (“jumps in the mouth”), which involved a scallop of meat and a stuffing with fresh sage leaves. A chicken breast can be flattened and fried, but here the sage is forsaken and the chicken is loaded with two kinds of cheeses and a layer of ham. It’s more gooey than quick — and slides more than jumps into your mouth — but it does all end up tasty, with even a few crisp bits of the ham, a bit of spinach, and whipped potatoes to cover the food groups. (Note to kitchens: don’t over-whip potatoes; they get ropey.)

Now, about those drafts. The Guinness was impeccable. And the Radeberger, a rather light German pilsner, looked great, but the aftertaste was a little off. I’ll have to try this one fresher and closer to home. It came in a great stein, though. You can also order coffee, but there’s no decaf. (With a crowd pretty solidly under the age of 30, why would it?)

But there are desserts. One of my servers said a truly wonderful thing, if you love language: “We were out of cheesecake before, because it was still too frozen, but I’m pretty sure we have it now.” I had the chocolate cake ($6), which was large and had plenty of chocolate, without much other distinction. It was rather heavy cake, so the whipped cream was helpful. I guess the mission is to drink, but you needn’t lose focus just because you’re hungry, or even if you want dessert. You’ll find everything you need, and it all works.

The space, which used to be a rougher bar called the Chopping Block, has been redone with black ceilings (to match the black-clad staff), dark wood, and a couple of lamps that could be “Mission” in the furniture-decoration sense. It’s an easy room in which to relax.

No surprise, then, that the bar is almost always full of young people, sort of clean-cut and vaguely middle-American. Perhaps they’re Northeastern students with full-time jobs in the nearby medical district? Whatever the case, they know who they are, what they want to watch (each other and sports on any of the many TVs), and where to find each other any night of the week. Now you know where to find them, too, and what to eat there if you get hungry.

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Robert Nadeau:


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