Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The catfish po’boy at Somerville’s Highland Kitchen. (Photo: Sakurako K. via Yelp)

With so many restaurants coming and going, the notion of down-home comfort isn’t as much a thing. Many of the longer-ensconced bastions tend to be in and around Union Square, which has become home to the most eclectic melting pot of food cultures and social vibes. On that comfy side, J and J Restaurant near the McGrath and O’Brien underpass and The Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery on Bow Street come to mind. They both have Portuguese influences and are family-run, so homey is baked in. I also lean in on Highland Kitchen, which isn’t old-school per se, as it’s got that B-Side/Delux Cafe tragically hip thing going on – and I say that in the most flattering sense.

The B-Side sadly is a thing of the past (now Lord Hobo), but the Delux in Boston is still kicking it, serving carrot tacos these days. The Highland, despite its popularity and sometimes long lines to get a seat (true at Delux too) is an inviting come-in-and chill-and-relax spot, a place to imbibe and leave the world behind, something the Highland’s been doing consistently since 2007.

The menu at Highland has always had a pronounced bayou/Southern twang to it. Spicy jambalaya, goat stew (we will serve no Brady before his time!), gumbo and fried chicken are the bones. It reminds me some of the long-gone Tim’s Tavern in Back Bay that served the best hush puppies this human ever tasted, a gumbo chock full of crawdads that was incomparable and an alligator stew. Green Street Grill in Central Square in early incarnations offered similar cuisine, but it too has shuttered. The Highland treads on those legacies, the distinctively something different done exceptionally well, and by focusing on that creates a destination dining experience, without the pomp and punch of landing a hard-to-score table at the hot culinary rave du jour. 

The food is simple in ingredient, yet complex in the blending. My go-tos here are the reliable andouille and chicken gumbo with the requisite okra in a belly-warming gravy surrounding a mound of jasmine rice. It’s satiating, not spicy and, as an appetizer not too filling for your next indulgence. The spicy jambalaya is great, as it it comes with duck confit to go with the andouille, shrimp and jamon but also comes in a veggie variation with Beyond meat and blackened carrots.

I’m a fanatic about the Highland’s blackened catfish po’boy, though, which comes on an uber fresh baguette with a remoulade sauce and relish. The blackening spices add plenty of bite that’s offset nicely by the sauce and relish, and it all comes together nicely on that soft French bread. The fish is always tender and moist and never overcooked. They have it down to a science in the kitchen.

There are fun sides such as sweet potato mashed, and you can get fried plantains off the appetizer menu. Another great thing about the Highland experience is its personable bartenders and waitstaff, who add to that homey comfort. The Highland has that neighborhood-haunt aura while offering a night-out dining experience.

Highland Kitchen, 150 Highland Ave., Spring Hill, Somerville

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.