The Improper was an original rabid fan of Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions in Waltham, giving it a glowing review and a Boston’s Best award last year. Those laurels rested on the strength of its extraordinary housemade charcuterie, salumi and sausages, and the brilliant sandwiches built from them. Lately, we cheered to see its wholesale arm, New England Charcuterie, getting its products into area gourmet grocers like Formaggio. When Moody’s opened a table-service restaurant called the Backroom in an adjacent storefront, we lined up there, too, wondering if chef/co-owner Joshua Smith could wow us with techniques beyond smoking, curing and pickling. In that, he has admirably succeeded, though he brought Moody’s occasionally eye-popping prices with him.
A 16-seat bar dominates the 50-seat room, serving delicious originals like the Accommodation ($12), which evokes old-school Tiki flavors with rum, the sweet-spiced Caribbean cordial Falernum, lime juice and grapefruit bitters. Guests are greeted with a complimentary dish of housemade “Bugles” (like a conical corn chip) and a few slices of salami. That should whet your appetite for one of the best reasons to visit the Backroom, the charcuterie plate ($15 for three choices), which features generous portions of housemade cold cuts and pâtés along with sweet-tart pickled peppers, olives, mustards and toasted baguette. We chose the spreadable sausages ’nduja and sobrasada as well as thin-sliced coppa. In a town with a hundred self-styled charcuteriers, these outstanding products are showing up on many fine-dining menus for good reason.
Smith loves cooking with fire and has installed one of the prettiest open-kitchen fixtures in town, a domed, copper-clad wood oven. His “never the same” meatballs ($14) spend some time in it, coming to the table in a vivid tomato sauce sprinkled with fresh parsley, shaved parmesan and crumbly Romano. They are phenomenal: big and richly fatty, with nicely crisped exteriors. The oven also produces wonderful thin-crust pizzas like croque-madame flatbread ($15), which boasts many slices of the little-seen jamon qui, squiggles of creamy Dijon and a poached egg in the middle. It has a beautiful, bubbly, barely charred crust, but that smoky-salty ham is the star. A deep-flavored ragù adorns black-pepper spaghetti in bacon and egg bolognese ($16); another creamy poached egg turns this into a novel mashup of bolognese and carbonara.
The Moody’s wedge salad ($14) presents another interesting hybrid, taking components of the classic wedge, making useful substitutions (baby gem for iceberg, a thick slab of lightly cured pork belly for skinny bacon) and deconstructing it like a Cobb salad. A salad of butter lettuce ($12) with sliced shallots, tomato confit and copious fine herbs is likewise big and pretty, dressed with just enough milkily emulsified vinaigrette. Caramelized onion soup ($14) features the essential quality beef broth and a thick crouton coated with stretchy Emmentaler. Well-browned pan-seared local sea scallops ($18) nestle in lemon brown butter with crisp adornments of fennel, snap peas and shaved asparagus and long radishes. Entrees include a lovely array of thick slices of smoked Wagyu brisket ($36), which boasts terrific smoke flavor and tenderness, though scant little survives of the fine-grained marbling that makes this cut worth the premium.
Desserts include a cake-like chocolate terrine ($11) enrobed in ganache and flanked with excellent peanut brittle and salted caramel ice cream. A delightful, faintly banana-flavored panna cotta ($11) is nicely complemented by peanut butter crumble and chocolate sauce, like a more elegant presentation of an ice cream truck novelty.
The Backroom styles itself as a serious wine bar, with a globe-trotting list and by-the-glass options kept fresh with a costly nitrogen wine-preservation system. It’s easy to love by-the-glass options like a 2013 Pibaleau Touraine L’heritage d’Aziaum ($14/glass, $56/bottle), a Loire malbec redolent of stone fruits and chalk, or the 2011 Réveille “Climax” Côtes du Roussillon ($13/glass, $52/bottle), with its almost pruney spiciness, but a check with local retailers makes the markups feel a bit stiff for Waltham. The gentlest multipliers are on the 10-deep list of trophy wines (most $450-$600/bottle). We splurged on a glass of 1998 Chateau Margaux premier grand cru classé ($100/glass, $500/bottle) for a transporting few mouthfuls: so complex, subtle and velvety, and a bargain considering it retails for $450 a bottle when you can find it. Alas, most of us can’t afford to drink like hedge-fund managers.
The room feels like a sunny, airy barn that has been carefully refinished and comfortably furnished, from the wide bar seats to the cozy banquettes, with hams and salamis hanging from the dark beams and a bathroom with a heavy door like a butcher shop’s walk-in cooler. Service is relaxed and attentive, adding to the casual, convivial feel. Much like the deli, the dining room serves food that is unequivocally delicious in its straightforward fashion, at prices that occasionally strain credulity for the neighborhood. If you skate around the menu’s priciest elements, say, by sticking to that singular charcuterie plate and rounding it out with a salad and flatbread or pasta, the Backroom looks a lot more like an awesome little neighborhood place and less like the rarified one-percenter joint its wine list can suggest. Order that way and be happy.
-Bacon and egg bolognese
-Smoked Wagyu brisket
Hours: Tue.-Sat., 4-11 pm
Parking: Metered spaces and nearby public lots
Liquor: Full bar
The Backroom at Moody’s 468 Moody St., Waltham (781-216-8732) moodyswaltham.com/the-backroom