15sx (Andover, MA)

(Update: While 15SX actually did an admirable job surviving the pandemic, they instead suffered another unfortunate fate: their building caught on fire in November 2022 and several millions of dollars of damage resulted. Six months later, they remain “closed for the foreseeable future”)

As a NH resident who is primarily going to Boston, Worcester, or Natick when I visit, there are some surprisingly large regions of Massachusetts that I haven’t explored in much detail, just because they sit between my usual traffic routes, such as Melrose (just north of Malden) which I visited for the first time earlier this year, or Andover, which I’d somehow managed to visit every surrounding town but not Andover itself. But a recent Robotics event I was judging in Salem, NH had me looking for cheap but decent hotel accommodations, and I ended up at a reasonably pleasant Holiday Inn Express in North Andover. And, while my various robotic judging activities did include a reasonable amount of food, after things wrapped up one evening I was still interesting in having a light dinner, so I drove over to downtown Andover to finally check it out. It’s a pleasant New England downtown area with a good number of shops and restaurants, and while I originally was eying Andolini’s Italian restaurant, since I was looking for just a light dinner, I ended up in what is essentially their annex next door, 15sx.

15sx (the name is a play on the address, 15 Essex) is more of a cocktail bar with light menu than a restaurant, and that’s exactly what I was looking for as a light dinner. Starting off with the bar space itself, 15sx is definitely a nicely done cocktail bar; there’s a nice, centrally located bar with several bartenders mixing drinks, a handful of tables near the bar, or several other smaller tables clustered throughout the place, allowing you to either socialize at the bar, or have a more quiet cocktail and dinner at one of the outlying tables.

And, when it comes to the cocktails (I don’t normally review cocktails themselves, but I’ve been thinking about revising that policy due to the number of outstanding crack cocktail bars these days), 15sx is no slouch, both cocktails I had were superb: the “Secret Rendezvous”, with tequila, Ancho Reyes, cucumber, pineapple, demerera, agave, and cucumber was a very pleasant botanical riff on your basic margarita. And the follow-on “Don’t Scroll my Photoroll” with aged Plantation rum, Cynar, Allspice Dram, cinnamon, orgeat, lemon, and egg white, dotted with bitters, was a similarly well executed riff on a Planter’s Punch.

However, I came for dinner, and unlike a lot of cocktail bars either lacking for, or for license reasons phoning it in with a few paltry items, 15sx really put a lot of thought into their light dinner menu. The average price is around $15 (although on my visit there were steak and diver scallop entrees well over that), with a selection of salads (include a classic wedge), light sandwiches and burgers, and reasonably sized pasta dishes. The goal is to focus on lighter dishes and not take away from the cocktails, and this seems to be well-designed for that. While both a wedge salad or the truffle patty burgers tempted me, I ended up with their nightly pasta dish, this night being a penne with sausage, peas, tomato, and cream. While nominally a simple dish, the key here was in the execution: the sausage was perfectly crisped, the penne was perfectly al dente, and the cream sauce starting to soak into the pasta while not leaving it overly dressed. Considering I started out craving Italian but not having a huge appetite, this was a nice overall solution.

Overall, I liked 15sx. The cocktails were well-crafted, the staff pleasant and efficient, and the light dinner fare perfectly suited to the cocktail bar and my own appetite. I’d love to come back and explore both the cocktail and food menus a bit more, or wander over to Andolino’s next door for a full on dinner.

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