Inside Olde Magoun’s Saloon, where it’s warm and cozy yet still feels Covid-safe
A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.
Watching the Patriots at Olde Magoun’s Saloon
Last week Gov. Charlie Baker relaxed some Covid-19 restrictions (restaurants can use bars for seating) while the city of Cambridge tightened some (masks all the time outside, and in common areas of residential buildings). The governor’s new regulations on bars calls for parties to be socially distanced, and they still need to order food. As I look at places such as The Abbey, Daedalus and Olde Magoun’s Saloon, where there’s hightop tables snug against the bar, walled off by plexiglass – essentially a two-top projection of the bar – I wonder how this changes anything. To take out the table and turn the chairs to the bar doesn’t really add more volume: Serving four to six at the bar becomes six to 12? There’s also perhaps a need for more plexiglass? Color me confused.
Needless to say, piqued by recent inquiries from the saloon and the desire to see a big game on a big screen in a festive setting, I sauntered over with a degree of trepidation it would be too crowded, and your typical cap-on-backward bro-ness would reign – not that I don’t dig going to any kind of raucous game day gathering, but … Covid. I had not been to the pub in some time (I think a trivia night back when my daughter was in first grade? She’s in sixth now) and was pleasantly surprised on a number of levels. First, this is a pub with a capital P, adorned with old-school dark wood that casts an invitingly warm, cozy ambiance. There’s a classic colonial styled fireplace, where you can almost see the original patriots clanking steins and scheming against the occupying Brits, and a TV on nearly every wall to look at. It’s one of the better sports viewing bars in the area, along with the likes of Shine Square Pub, Cambridge Common and Mike’s in Davis Square. My favorite stealth get-a-prime-viewing-seat-at-the-bar go-to was Cambridge, 1., which has sadly closed.
Upon entrance I had to give information for coronavirus tracing. The bar-area tables were well spaced, there was sanitizer readily available and only about every other table was occupied. My fears were allayed. For lunch I had the simple Smoked Turkey Press, which came with some of the leanest and crisp yet still chewy bacon (North Country smoked Applewood) and a zesty, creamy – yet light – cranberry pecan mayo on toasted sourdough. I had it with a stack of rings that did not disappoint, hot out of the fryer, not overdone or heavy on the batter, golden on the outside and succulent on the inside. Like chicken wings and veggie burgers, onion rings are a thing that is hard to mess up but hard to deliver with distinction.
Other things on the regular menu that caught my eye was the Longcross Crunch, a buttermilk fried chicken breast with some of that North Country smoked Applewood bacon, lettuce, tomato, marinated red peppers and Alabama white sauce (maybe I’d get on the side) on a buttered brioche bun. Say “brioche” and I’m in; say “buttered brioche” and I’m banging at the door. Magoun’s also has a brunch menu. I recently reported that not many places do brunch in these Covid times; add Magoun’s to the list of those that do. And there’s an Oktoberfest menu coming that includes a wurst plate, chicken schnitzel and Kartoffelpuffer – German potato pancakes, which have the same effect on me as saying “buttered brioche bun.”
Did I mention I enjoyed my meal with a pint of Guinness? Magoun’s labels itself a craft beer ale haus and has nearly 30 such selections on tap. It also has 50-cent wing night on Mondays (with a variety of sauces and preparations) that has drawn my eye. As for the funky name, it comes from the surrounding square, named after John Calvin Magoun a Somerville civil servant who owned a farm where Broadway and Medford Streets intersect, in the early to mid 1800s.
Going into a restaurant during Covid is a personal choice, and one I don’t take lightly. The tightness of seating in the North End has always given me pause, and a recent trip to a Back Bay eatery gave me even more. No one took my cellphone number; in Cambridge, most places have urinals blocked off for social distancing if there’s a bank of them – and this tight Back Bay restroom didn’t do that either. The dining experience was otherwise fine and safe, but the degree of Covid-safe attention felt a notch down from our side of the river.
The other good bit of news from back at Magoun’s: The Pats won.