Those seeking Grappa Restaurant might be surprised by where they find it—nestled inside a small building that used to be a house, in the middle of an industrial-warehouse street, between two commercial districts. But behind the front door lies a different atmosphere—only 11 tables sit inside the 700-square-foot space, surrounded by walls striped in pale yellow and blue and decorated with Botticelli paintings. At the center of the room, venetian Fortuny lamps cast light from behind white and yellow silk emblazoned with gold designs. The petite restaurant reverberates with classic pop tunes by singers such as Frankie Valli, often accompanied by crooning from the restaurant's three servers—Will, Carol, and Natalie—who also urge the regular clientele to join them.
Grappa Restaurant's chefs base their menu of traditional Italian food on dishes from the owner's childhood, when her grandmother and mother would fill the kitchen with aromas of seared veal, chicken, and marsala-wine sauce. The chefs conjure these familial scents and flavors as they stuff veal or chicken saltimbocca with ham and mozzarella; toss fettuccine bolognese with chicken sausage, meat sauce, and basil-almond pesto; and drape spinach-and-ricotta ravioli in housemade tomato sauce. Servers often end meals much like sophisticated elementary-school students end food fights: with traditional Italian desserts such as housemade ricotta cannolis.
Though lunch cars were everywhere when Deluxe Town Diner was built in 1947, these precursors to the diners of today have all but vanished. But the 65-year old building—which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999—has continued to thrive well into the 21st century. Today, the Levy family runs the place, adding fair-trade coffee and cage-free eggs into the mix of make-your-own omelets, steak and eggs, and signature pancakes that they serve all day long. Garnishes of Merton’s maple syrup or mixed berry compote with whipped cream crown the selection of blue-cornmeal, sweet-potato, and fruit-infused flapjacks, a blueberry version of which Boston magazine called "rich and velvety, like blueberries bathed in sweet cream." At 4 p.m., the cooks begin slinging classic diner fare ranging from southern-fried chicken platters and tuna salad sandwiches. The desserts fit the diner theme as well, as fountain soda floats pair with flaky slices of apple or cherry-crumb pie. Should customers feel the urge to recreate the house pancakes at home or make snowmen that actually last for once, Deluxe Town Diner offers their signature pancake mix and Merton’s syrup for sale.
Five decades ago, Kirio Pantelis wheeled a wooden cart around Kalamata, Greece, peddling syrupy sweets to locals. Today, his son and daughter-in-law oversee the American patisserie and café that evolved from these humble roots, nestled in both Brookline and Brighton. The bakery pays homage to its heritage with walnut-studded cakes and tarts that echo back to communal baking in wood-burning Greek ovens, though the shop draws from all over Europe for luxurious ingredients such as chocolate genoise, poached Turkish apricots, and Belgian cocoa. Puffed éclairs, petits fours, and fruit tartlets evoke the patisseries of Paris, and the bakery’s from-scratch gelato transports tasters to Italy without the hassle of concentrating hard enough to teleport.
Along with these sugary delicacies, the Brighton location also dishes up savory, Mediterranean-inspired fare at a café with marble tabletops and loft ceilings. Diners here fork into cold poached salmon, munch on paninis layered with gruyere or house orange-scented sausage, and savor cold sandwiches filled with roasted pancetta.
“It’s the next best thing to having Greek friends who put a spit in the yard come Easter,” proclaims The Improper Bostonian of Aegean Restaurant. The glowing review should come as no surprise—for one thing, Aegean’s founders Nicholas and Toula Ntasios hail from Greece, and for another, they've been working at it for nearly three decades. In 1972, the pair left their small village to chase after success in America. Their gamble paid off in 1980 when they opened the first Aegean Restaurant. As locals discovered the strip-mall eatery, a spot as deceivingly nondescript as a fortune cookie that contains the president’s phone number, business went from sparse to thriving. In the three decades since, Nicholas and Toula (eventually joined by sons Arthur and Chris) have drawn customers not with glitzy marketing campaigns, but with authentic, personalized food. The Improper Bostonian deems their braised lamb “especially worth the trip,” but Mediterranean influences shine through most in seafood dishes, such as the charcoal-grilled, lemon-kissed swordfish steak.
Fresh from his homeland of Brazil, Chef Rodney Moreira set himself on a path to become a master of Italian cuisine, beginning humbly as a prep cook at Pizzeria Uno. Ultimately, Moreira found his culinary muse, cooking his way up the ladder to his current position as head chef at Porcini's Italian Restaurant, where he holds numerous awards for his pasta and risotto. Building a menu off of these staples, Moreira crafts Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine finished with homemade sauces and fresh herbs. The restaurant's nightly specials and permanent entrees include grilled swordfish steak and pounded veal cutlets, and pair easily with varietals from around the world represented on the carefully curated wine list. The intimate dining room features the warming tendrils of a crackling fireplace, and the garden patio invites guests to indulge in meals under a sky filled with more stars than the sun's rolodex.
The Talk's owners keep their family recipe book wide open, just like the thick steel bank vault in their dining area, which also boasts a wine bar made of polished granite and wraparound booths that hug tables. Chef Billy Holt and his kitchen staff wrap their hands around fresh ingredients when preparing heirloom dishes, such as veal piccata, eggplant parmesan, and chicken marsala, as well as sea scallops broiled with seasoned bread crumbs and pan-seared trout with sun-dried tomatoes.
Sincere servers dart around the dapper dining area, jotting down orders, balancing trays, and seating private parties behind the vaulted door of the Vault room. In the dining room, guests lounge in beige booths and gaze at black-and-white photos or read the vinyl wall print that reads La Dolce Vita. The Talk also boasts awards such as "Best of the Best" in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 from Market Surveys of America, and was voted the number one choice for dinner by Reader's Choice Awards in 2011.