I moved to Quincy in 2008. My wife and I outgrew our condo in Southie, so we started exploring the South Shore. Our search method could be explained as: “Take a left off 3A and see what happens.” That led us to Hough’s Neck, a peninsula that juts out into the harbor. The Neck, as it’s called, is the self-proclaimed flounder capital of the world, even though the fish stock was decimated by pollution and overfishing by the ’90s. But you could buy lobsters off the boat down at the public landing, go on waterfront walks around Nut Island and drop a mooring pretty much anywhere you wanted in the bay. And houses cost the same as a one- or two-bedroom condo in Southie. We loved it, despite the fact that the peninsula has a propensity to turn into an island on those days when Sea Street lives up to its name. There was just one main drawback: For a city of 90,000 people, Quincy didn’t have much going on when it came to restaurants.
If you wanted fine dining downtown, Alba—a huge Italian steakhouse—was your only choice. And Alba was an island surrounded by nail salons, massage parlors and bizarrely outdated stores. You’d park a block or two from the restaurant, and on your way in you’d walk past a vacuum cleaner repair place and a typewriter store. If you wanted to shoot a movie set in the ’70s, Quincy was a great spot. In fact, my neighborhood supermarket, the IGA, was used for a scene in the Cameron Diaz movie The Box. That movie is set in 1976.
The place seemed primed for a resurrection, though. All these people, great beaches and coastline, a few stops from South Station on the Red Line: Why isn’t there more investment in this place? Quincy in 2008 had the feeling of potential that I imagine was there in the South End in 1995, or the Seaport in 2003. I told anybody who would listen that Quincy was the next big thing. “Yeah,” my friend Dave agreed, “This will be a really cool place to live, 15 years from now.” Dave lives in Weymouth, so I figured he was just jealous.
But his timeline is proving prescient, if a little bit conservative. Street-Works’ controversial $1.6 billion plan to completely reinvent downtown failed to reach fruition, but it set in motion the craze of construction that’s currently consuming Hancock Street. And it helped prove that the citizenry’s palate ranges far beyond fried clams and lobster rolls. Alas, I didn’t stick it out—I moved in 2011—so I recruited one of my friends, a Quincy native, to lead me on a tour and show me what I missed. As it turns out: a lot.
The Pour Yard
We meet at The Townshend, one of many Quincy Center restaurants that didn’t exist when I lived in the Neck. The place is quiet ahead of a lunch rush, and we take a seat at the bar. The Townshend’s owner, Devin Adams, came from Drink, and the menu looks very Boston, which is to say the menu includes food you know that’s described with words you don’t. I wish this place had been around in 2011. I’d have killed for a good escabeche, I’ll bet. But that’s on the dinner menu, so I go for a Bibb salad with the idea that I want to keep it light for my culinary crawl. It’s excellent, and I’d love to sit here for a while nursing a nice saison, but we have places to go.
Namely, down the street to Fuji at West of Chestnut, a sleek Japanese place on the street level of a new luxury condo building. We slide in at the bar, and Fuji owner Jimmy Liang materializes and starts slinging the best damn sushi I’ve had this side of Toyko. “How’s it been in here?” my friend asks. “Busy,” Liang says. “I’m about to head up to New Hampshire for the weekend to take a break.” Liang has his hands full these days, as the JP Fuji Group has nine other restaurants throughout the Boston area. But it started here, in Quincy. And now we’re cooking wagyu beef on hot stones right in front of us and dipping it in ponzu sauce. I’m happy for Liang that he’s hit this level, and happy that Quincy is a place that can support sexy $35 entrees. While we’re at it, I’m happy that the walk here took us past the tombs of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and that these two titans of democracy are no longer buried in the middle of a rotary. Yes, downtown Quincy’s insane traffic pattern was improved, too. It’s hard to fully describe how it was before, but it was like a pinball machine loaded with ’98 Monte Carlos and elderly pedestrians.
From Fuji, we continue down Hancock to Zef Cicchetti & Raw Bar, an industrial-looking brick-and-wood space that serves Venetian small plates and seafood. Contractors are working on a set of metal stairs leading up to the roof, where owner Leo Keka is building a massive 6,000-square-foot roof deck that will top both Zef and Alba next door. Keka also owns Alba, which I’d consider the cornerstone of downtown Quincy’s ongoing transformation. “When I opened Alba, 16 years ago, the only steakhouse was Outback,” Keka says. “And everybody told me this was a failing location. I saw it as an opportunity.”
Alba already had a modest roof deck, but Keka didn’t go too crazy with it because the imminent Street-Works project was supposed to swallow the entire block. “I liked what they were planning—like Assembly Square in Somerville,” Keka says. “And that’s sort of what’s happening now, but just bit by bit. Downtown is changing.” With no Street-Works buyout in the future, Keka embarked on his own plan, buying the building next to Alba, opening Zef and designing the mega-deck. I tell Keka that it was hard to imagine any of this even when I was an Alba regular, not so long ago. “In 2001, when we opened, this area was a different place,” he says. “There were a lot of pubs. And video stores. And Braintree Vacuum.” I now feel a little pang of regret that I never went in there. It’s a Dyson world these days.
We walk out of Zef, and I see that the entire block on the other side of Cottage Avenue is a construction zone. This is the future site of Nova Residences, a commercial building with 171 apartments and 15,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Next door, the city is building a 700-spot parking garage. Right now, it’s all rubble. But things are changing so fast that Google can’t even keep up—on the satellite image of downtown Quincy, Fuji at West of Chestnut appears as an empty lot, and this empty lot is currently all buildings. I’m struggling to remember what was here. Falafel King and a bunch of vape shops? I hope Falafel King found a new home, anyway. I think any urban plan should include delicious falafel.
Italian Cafe Gelato
We walk a block to Chestnut Street and stop into Italian Cafe Gelato, a mashup of a coffee shop and gelateria. I’m too full for gelato, but the coffee is excellent. Across the street, it’s good to see the Fat Cat and Sully’s going strong. Sully’s, with its signature pink neon sign, embodies the challenge of remaking a city whole cloth. It’s no big deal to lose the mediocre skanky bars, but Sully’s has that unforced old-school honesty that can’t be manufactured. It’s supposed to be the oldest bar in Quincy, and whether that’s true or not, it looks like it. It’s the kind of place that might serve you a Sam Summer in January. Sully’s isn’t changing its game, regardless of what’s happening outside.
Zef Cicchetti & Raw Bar
But Cagney’s did. Down on Washington Street, Cagney’s used to be a straightforward sports bar—TVs and Bud Light. Owner Mark DiBona kept that foundation, but added a craft beer twist and an indoor-outdoor space next door that’s dubbed the Pour Yard. “We get small kegs of local beer that change all the time,” DiBona says. “They’re on a list called the Local 8, and that’s attracted a whole new segment of customers. Some people come in and immediately gravitate toward that, to see what’s new.”
We walk outside, to the Pour Yard’s 50-seat patio. Over here, you can get duck tacos and they grow their own herbs to use in cocktails. In a way, this blows my mind more than the fancy new joints on Hancock Street. Because Cagney’s and the Pour Yard represent Quincy adapting in real time. You want wings and light beer? You got it. But step next door, and we’ll give you a salsa flight with a rosemary tequila rambler.
That’s where Quincy finds itself at this moment: It’s got an omakase kitchen, but also generates headlines like, “Woman pretended to be blind, robbed Friendly’s employee with a knife.” (May of this year, in case you’re wondering.) In other words, get in while you still can! And check out the Neck. Word is, even the flounder are coming back. ◆