Cajun sensation opens in Back Bay
Buttermilk and Bourbon offers Southern warmth in chilly Boston
Buttermilk and Bourbon
Sun – Thurs, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri – Sat, 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
160 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
With Mardi Gras having recently passed, the semester picking up in intensity, and winter temperatures still prevailing into late March, I’ve been finding myself in a certain frame of mind more and more often: to quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “I wanna be in New Orleans.” While a jaunt down south still seems far off (but hey, spring break anyone?), I was able to sate a bit of the spiritual craving last week at Buttermilk and Bourbon, chef Josh Santos’s third Boston offering and, as I discovered, a winning spot for Cajun-fusion comforts.
I visited Buttermilk with my girlfriend Mary last Monday before the big snowstorm — we’d been unable to grab a Saturday reservation, but found the spot to be pleasantly uncrowded while we were there. The restaurant, which opened late in February, is two blocks from Copley Square and looks like a nondescript Comm Ave basement on the outside, but offers an intimate, moody atmosphere indoors thanks to its small dining spaces and rustic, magnolia-tinged decor.
Buttermilk mainly dishes out tapas, which run about $10–13 apiece. We began with the Cajun guacamole, served with shrimp inside the guac and homemade barbecue kettle-cooked chips on the side. This was my least favorite dish of our sampling, but was still decently tasty — the chips were a cut above the ones restaurants typically serve, and the shrimp were served cold but had a nice charred flavor, an agreeable juxtaposition. The Cajun guac was less flavorful than most Mexican varieties I’ve tried, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was served very cold, making it especially forgettable compared to the other dishes we tried. Fortunately, this is about the end of the negative things I have to say.
We next asked for the deviled egg toast — a friend of mine on break in New Orleans had sent a picture of his egg-on-toast that morning, so I hoped to show him up. Fortunately, the restaurant was up for the challenge. The toast itself was cooked perfectly, maximally crispy but not burned, and was piled high with toppings. I found the edges, covered with just the eggs, to be mild and unassuming, but as I approached the center of the toast, where the toppings were thickest, the flavors blossomed with savory ham and crab fat, and the faint kick of peppers. Ça c’est bon!
We followed up the toast with the signature fried boneless chicken. We sheepishly ordered it in sweet and spicy sauce — our waiter, who professed to be a spice aficionado, said the “Nashville hot” was too much even for him. The chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside and light on the inside, the sauce vibrant but not overly strong. Overall, it was a solid staple dish.
However, the standouts were certainly the short rib boudin croquettes, which were served in a light baconnaise with mushroom salad on the side. The boudin was rich and savory, with an added bonus of crunch from the fried croquette casing. It reminded me of the comfort of breakfast hash, which, as a breakfast-for-dinner fan, I was all for. The baconnaise was the perfect accompaniment, and the salad, while it didn’t match the dish particularly well, was distinctly tart and enjoyable.
Though we were absolutely stuffed at the end of these four plates, we couldn’t leave without tasting the dish everyone inside Buttermilk was chattering about — the beignets. I’m normally not one for pastries, but my word. There was no trace of fusion here, only pure New Orleans goodness. The dough was light, flaky, and hot enough to melt in your mouth with a pure, tender sweetness. The vanilla cream which came on the side strengthened the sweetness where it was needed, but I used it sparingly, as the pastries were near-perfect on their own.
Overall, the flavors of Buttermilk and Bourbon were top-notch and helped me to forget, if only for an hour or so, the Boston winter outside. The food and atmosphere together inspired true feelings of comfort — something few Boston restaurants are able to achieve.