Durgin-Park (Boston, MA)

(Update: All good things come to an end, and classic restaurants are no exception. Durgin-Park closed in January 2019. There’s still nominally an airport outpost, but it’s really just sharing the name, it isn’t the same)

While my primary goal at Offbeat Eats is to document the obscure and unusual places out there, sometimes I still get to be a tourist. And when it came to finding a place to take several of my fellow walkers on our “Death March”, most of whom hadn’t spent a lot of time in Boston, for me the choice of venue was fairly obvious: Durgin-Park, one of Boston’s venerable restaurants, serving up Boston schrod, seafood, and steaks since 1826. Named after Messrs Durgin and Park who were the original owners of the place, it’s located in Quincy Market at 340 Faneuil Hall (North Market), a location its been inhabiting since it opened, albeit with some (minor) renovations (the plumbing in the men’s room appears to be date from the late Victorian era).

One of the very notable things about Durgin-Park is that it’s one of those time capsule restaurants. Aside from a few (very few) tweaks to the menu, and obviously higher prices, the experience at Durgin-Park is almost exactly the same that I remember from my first visit in the late ’70s (and my visits in ’95, ’99, and ’01, for that matter), although the service doesn’t seem as surly as I recall from some of my previous visits (some of that is probably my getting used to the general surliness of Boston in general, to be honest). I’m sure that if you go back far enough in time you’d find a different experience, but the current Durgin-Park ambiance and menu harken back to at least the 1950s and the era of white-shirted servers and red-checked tablecloths. And that’s one of the reasons I like to go there, since it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the country, and one of the old respected seniors of Boston dining (along with nearby Jacob Wirth and the Union Oyster House, the latter of which goes back to the colonial era).

As I mentioned above, the menu at at Durgin-Park is pretty basic, with a variety of seafood, steaks, and other Yankee classics. If you find yourself craving an old-style pot roast, shepherd’s pie, plate of roast beef, or a breadcrumb-crusted Boston schrod, well, Durgin-Park is one of the places to go. They’ve also got a pretty good selection of fresh seafood, and more than a few steaks (one of the sights as you come in is the very large lump charcoal grill they use for most of their steaks), and prime rib (with sizes ranging from the 12 oz Boston Cut up to the 32 oz Durgin Cut, which comes out as a giant Flintstone-style slab o’ meat overhanging the plate). We ended up going pretty basic: I ended up with the Boston Cut prime rib and an extra order of baked beans, while Carol ordered prime rib and a plate of oysters to start.

The oysters were a great start to the meal, with half a dozen substantial oysters. Nothing fancy here, just a plate of half-shell oysters on ice served up with lemon, fresh-grated horseradish, and cocktail sauce, but quite the good dish of oysters. The oysters were fresh, nicely cleaned, and ready to eat, and a rather satisfying treat after a long day of hiking.

Next up were the baked beans. There was a time, not even that long ago, when pretty much every place within about a 75 mile radius of Boston had baked beans on the menu, often served up in a crock, and Durgin-Park still serves them up like that. I’ll have to admit, while they aren’t fancy dining, I rather like Boston-style baked beans, and the ones at Durgin-Park are definitely some of the better beans I’ve had, with rich molasses and salt pork notes, and obviously having been simmered long enough to be tender and yummy, but not yet falling apart.

Durgin-Park remains olde school when in comes to presentation as well. You order the prime rib, your plate comes, and it’s just a slab of prime rib on the plate. No garnish, just the meat. And I’m fine with that, since they do a rather good job with it. The prime rib came cooked perfectly medium rare, very juicy, and having a rather pleasantly spiced rub crust to it. Not an overly fatty cut, it was a great way to round out a day of walking, washing it down with a Durgin Ale (house beer that’s made by Harpoon).

And actually, when you come down to it, Durgin-Park is actually a good Offbeat Eats destination, since it’s one of the very few places out there still serving the old New England dessert stalwart: Indian Pudding (and doing a decent job of it). And it’s the only place I’ve found that serves coffee jello (also not sampled this time, while interesting, it’s not something I’m craving, especially after a full day of heavy eating). There are definitely more offbeat places, and finer dining to be had, but Durgin-Park earns a spot of respect for me for delivering a consistent experience, decade after decade.

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