Buckman and Munroe are Lexington’s most treasured and historic taverns. After last Wednesday there is a third: The Vine Brook Tavern on Waltham Street.
Vine Brook isn’t your great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s tavern. Buckman’s colonial guests dined on freshly-shot game made into a stew of the day, washed down with grog.
Vine Brook owners Marcus Palmer and Brian Lesser, along with Chef Chris Frothingham, offer modern and more appetizing fare for 21st century visitors. During last Wednesday night’s grand opening guests noshed on morsels from the tavern’s extensive menu.
Servers carrying white rectangular porcelain trays, heavy with Frothingham’s specialties, weaved through the milling crowd in the restaurant’s upper room.
Small cups of creamy clam chowder garnished with a crispy oyster cracker were popular along with miniature plates of chopped prime rib, seared and slow-roasted to bright pink and covered with creamy aromatic whiskey butter. (Whisky, if your Scottish.)
Meatball sliders with a sliver of cheese and curls of arugula that peeked through the bun were followed by cups of parsnip puree and fresh tuna covered with a brown butter sauce.
Spicy pork dumplings leaned into the small white cups, the dough’s creases filled with a warm plum sauce. The food just kept coming – and the people kept eating.
Guests stood under the aged caramel-colored wood-beamed ceiling, which once covered the town’s second post office.
“We opened up the ceiling to the rustic old timber,” Palmer said of the two-story restaurant that formerly housed Buca di Beppo and Vinny Testa’s. “The stuff we could restore, we did.”
That’s verbal and historic balm in this town.
It’s worth noting the restaurant unofficially opened weeks ago and already has a following. The first floor was filled with the hum and murmur of satisfied patrons.
Palmer said there are more than 40 types of the “brown” liquor, which means American and Irish whiskey, along with bourbon and Scottish whisky without that “e.”
Don’t mistake this upscale tavern with a sandwich-serving pub grub. Vine Brook Tavern, Palmer said, offers high quality and beautifully prepared and presented food. Most items on the menu contain at least five ingredients – locally sourced and cooked with care.
The name, of course, comes from the Vine Brook, which runs along Vine Street and underneath the current post office on Massachusetts Avenue. It crosses there and pops up again at Hayes Lane, saidDick Michelson, of Michelson's Shoes.
“We’re excited about this new tavern,” Selectman Peter Kelley said as he stood beside Michelson. “It will be well received.”
Susan Rockwell, chairwoman of Lexington’s 300th Anniversary Committee agrees, especially since it coincides with the town’s 300th birthday.