In the wake of Boston’s recent development boom, good restaurant help has become increasingly hard to find, making it tough for new places to get out of the starting blocks smoothly. Few restaurants have the luxury of debuting with a highly experienced staff. But local hospitality star Esti Parsons, her husband, Drew Parsons, and his brother Jon Parsons have brought exactly that to the Maiden, their brand-new spot in Southie’s Lower End. With the help of a veteran crew that has followed the family through several prior ventures, it is already purring like a well-oiled machine. That machine’s engine is chef de cuisine Jason Cheek, whose menu emphasizes New England raw and cooked seafood, an array of cured meats and cheeses, and a few dishes influenced by his Southern upbringing.
Raw oysters ($3-$3.25 each), mostly from New England waters, are an essential starting point: immaculate, exquisitely fresh and cleanly prepared. Raw uni from Maine ($7) wrapped in shiso is likewise pristine, and creamy. Curation has as prominent a place here as cooking. Eleven cheeses ($8 each) served at the proper temperature include the finely salt-crystal-streaked Boerenkaas Grand Cru, a Dutch raw cow cheese, and vivid orange Mimolette, a firm French pasteurized cow cheese. Boards (three for $24, five for $38, seven for $52) include accompaniments of fruit preserves and nuts. Cured and smoked meats get similar care in selection, including great salumi from Waltham’s New England Charcuterie (the folks behind Moody’s Deli), like the Tuscan-inspired, fennel-infused salami called finocchiona ($8), and fiery ’nduja ($8), a spicy, spreadably soft salami in the Calabrian style.
Cured selections include two incredible hams from North Carolina: Lady Edison ($11), with the melt-on-the-tongue fattiness of jamón ibérico de bellota, and Reserve Two-Year ($8), a fiercely smoky and salty country ham. Cheek is no charcuterie slouch, either, essaying a fluffy chicken liver mousse ($9) that gives Ashkenazi deli some Francophilic lashes of sherry and tarragon. As with the cheeses, boards (three meats for $24, five for $38, seven for $52) bring piquant accoutrements like housemade pickles and mostardas.
One could easily revisit the Maiden again and again just for the raw bar, some cold cuts, a cheese or two and the good bread.
But then you’d miss roasted oysters ($16) sauced with uni butter, minced piquillo peppers and breadcrumbs: four delectable bites that vanish too quickly. Smoked fish (scup on one visit) and radishes ($14) spikes crunchy vegetables with chewy toasted nori and hot-pink radish vinaigrette. The substantial, pretty salad of beets, grains and ricotta ($12) is hearty with farro, toasted kasha and chunks of sweet potato. An excellent pub-style burger ($16) layered with Boerenkaas cheese, chopped iceberg, pickled onions and a Thousand Islandish sauce on a substantial sesame-seed roll also boasts a mess of very good hand-cut fries. Honey-brined chicken ($25) is a beautifully tender half-bird served with Brussels sprouts “kraut” and smoked pear. Boudin blanc ($24) weirdly but successfully pairs a mild, very fine-grained white sausage (of foie gras with chicken hearts, livers and thighs) with dollops of coral-toned muhammara, plus more-familiar rösti potato, pommes puree and grilled apple. The weekend menu includes another smashing sausage: smoky, kielbasa-like hot pork links ($16) served with absolutely first-rate hush puppies. Cast-iron honeyed cornbread ($14) is a sneaky vegetarian dazzler with fabulously butter-rich red beans and rice.
With only a cordials license, the Maiden’s cocktail efforts shine best in long drinks like the fizzy McSooty ($12) of crema de mezcal, lime, blackberry liqueur and grapefruit-lemon soda, and the tinto de verano-like Holden You Down ($12) of red wine and cola, given bite by Fernet. Stronger potions like the Maidenform ($12) of Irish whiskey and apricot, chamomile and allspice liqueurs run a little sweet. The draft beer list ($4-$8) reaps decent stylistic coverage from seven Northeast craft breweries. Given the menu, many customers will gravitate to the 18 wines by the glass (most $9-$15), with a bias toward food-friendly styles from France and Italy. The quite affordable, 64-deep bottle list ($33-$230, most under $60) is cleverly organized as a matrix: The X-axis arrays wines from familiar/safe to odder/hipper, while the Y-axis descends from lighter/brighter wines to richer/deeper ones. This led to a 2011 Zenato Ripassa ($60), a ripasso-process valpolicella from the Veneto with some of the inky, raisiny virtues of Amarone at a fraction of the price.
In ambiance, the Maiden has the feel of a swank, understated neighborhood bar: lots of plain woods, including a bar with seats well-spaced for comfortable dining, muted colors, scant adornments and a rear dining area of cozy communal tables. With tolerable noise levels, it’s something of a grownup oasis amidst a bevy of louder, younger-skewing establishments. It certainly sets a higher bar for service in the neighborhood, its entire staff intimately knowledgeable on the food and drink, demonstrating the kind of balletic coordination only seen in veteran crews that have long served together. That’s not just a blessing for Southie, but an advantage any new restaurateur would dream about.
-Cast-iron honeyed cornbread
Hours: Sun., noon-midnight (kitchen till 10 pm), Mon.-Wed., 4 pm-midnight (kitchen, 5-10 pm), Thu.-Fri., 4 pm-1 am (kitchen 5-11 pm), Sat., noon-1 am (kitchen till 11 pm)
Parking: Metered street spaces
Liquor: Beer, wine and cordials
The Maiden 28 W. Broadway, Boston (617-315-7829) themaidenboston.com