Woods Hill Table is the 153-seat culmination of a vision that encompasses the locavore movement in impressive fashion.
Woods Hill Table, West Concord, 24 Commonwealth Ave, MA
By Glenn Rifkin
The arrival of innovative, fine dining in the suburbs west of Boston is nothing new. Restaurants like Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Il Casale in Belmont, and Lumiere in West Newton elevated the bar years ago. In recent years, the trend has accelerated to the point where a trip to Boston for a culinary high is no longer required.
For example, in Concord, MA, the upscale historic home to Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott, the makeover has been startling. Where once the culinary options ranged from Brigham’s (now Helen’s) to the fusty Colonial Inn, a gustatory revolution is underway and the town is now almost awash in fine new eateries. Bondir (yes, the western sister of the popular Cambridge spot) and 80 Thoreau, whose chef Carolyn Johnson arrived from Rialto, are both destination locations.
And now, upping the ante, is Woods Hill Table, a brand new restaurant that is distinct for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is located in West Concord, the proverbial “other-side-of-the-tracks” part of town. Though the road to West Concord was less traveled for some snooty Concordians, this distinctive enclave has quietly forged its own special identity. New shops and cafes, along with home prices, are shooting up.
For those of us who lived in West Concord, there was a special kind of charm embodied by the 5&10, Debra’s Natural Gourmet, and the 1950s-style West Concord Supermarket. When the old supermarket closed its doors a couple of years ago, it felt like the end of an era. But now, that old building, hard by the commuter rail tracks, has been renovated in spectacular fashion and become Woods Hill Table, a farm-to-table restaurant that makes a trip out west on Route 2 a must.
The handiwork of Kristin Canty, a child of Concord who yearned to open an eatery here, Woods Hill Table is the 153-seat culmination of a vision that encompasses the locavore movement in impressive fashion. Ms. Canty not only bought the old supermarket in March 2013 and began plans to turn it into a restaurant but, a couple of months later, she and her husband purchased a 265-acre farm in Bath, New Hampshire for the express purpose of supplying pasture-raised meat and dairy, and just about everything else on the menu. They renamed it The Farm at Woods Hill. Most new restaurateurs have enough to handle without the task of raising cattle, heritage breed pigs, and chickens, but Canty believed deeply enough in the mission to take on both challenges. She hired a talented young group of farmers to handle the duties.
And the proof, in this case, is definitely in the pudding. Our first visit to Woods Hill Table required a reservation made nearly a week in advance. The buzz got going early and with good reason. The menu is simple but distinctive as Executive Chef Charlie Foster brings a solid pedigree and deft touch to the table. Foster apprenticed with Ken Oringer at Clio in the Back Bay and became executive chef at Daniel Boulud’s popular DBGB in New York City.
My wife Janie loves nothing more than trying inventive new restaurants and part of the joy is in trying as many items on the menu as the wallet and stomach will allow. Both the wine and cocktail menus are extensive and eclectic and Janie enjoyed a JR Italian spritz to set things off. We then ordered the epi baguette: its whole grain crust and whipped grass-fed butter and maple pork fat spread signaled that this meal would be an experience. Among the appetizers we sampled was a remarkable roasted beet dish made with fresh, organic beets, pistachio crumble, whipped goat yogurt, preserved kumquats and horseradish. I’ve never been a big fan of beets served any which way, but this turned out to be one of the highlights of the meal.
Zoe, our lovely and knowledgeable waitress, made sure that each course could be savored before the next arrived. She shared her enthusiasm for the restaurant’s farm-to-table mission and reminded us how much a great waitperson can add to a meal.The beef tartare, served with crispy shallot, rosemary crema, quail egg and toast, was prepared artfully and the charcuterie plate, with a luxurious paté de campagne, was a meal in itself. But we were just getting started.
We shared a potato gnocchi dish, with maitake mushrooms, pine nuts, broccoli rabe and pecorino followed by an entrée special of braised short ribs, with maitake mushrooms and a creamy polenta. It should be noted that Canty is a former vegetarian who takes great pride in the raising of humanely treated, pastured animals. I don’t know if the short ribs tasted better because of that treatment, but if a restaurant is a reflection of its philosophy about the source of its food, Woods Hill Table is taking an admirable course.
Needless to say, we had no room for dessert but Janie ordered the olive oil cake, served with goat cheese cremeux, pistachio crumble and honey ice cream, anyway. I would have preferred the chocolate layer cake, but that is a minor complaint.
Woods Hill Table’s interior is warm, inviting, and beautifully designed. Using part of the original West Concord Supermarket sign above the bar is a nice nod to those who came before. The bar was packed on a Thursday night and I had to remind myself, by gazing out the window at the 99 Restaurant across the street, that I was not in the Back Bay but in West Concord. On your next foray to Walden Pond or the Old North Bridge, do yourself a favor and make a dinner reservation.
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including The New York Times for more than 25 years. Among his books are Radical Marketing and The Ultimate Entrepreneur. His efforts as an arts critic and food writer represent a new and exciting direction.