South Boston’s swarms of lately arrived young-professional residents have given rise to a slew of restaurants like Lincoln Tavern, Loco Taqueria and Coppersmith that share common traits. They boast industrial good looks, punishing noise levels and food and drinks that are modernish without getting too fussy. The new Worden Hall, an easy rock toss from the MBTA’s Broadway station, belongs squarely in this niche, with its handsome, cacophonous room of exposed brick, yellow-glowing chandeliers, cozy leather banquettes and long penny-topped bar, buttressed by a versatile, eclectic menu and deep beverage program.
One immediate standout is chef Tim McQuinn’s rendition of Chicago-style deep-dish pies. Forget the horrible casual-dining chain Uno’s; the original as done in Chicago is a treat. It’s a steep-sided, dense, oily crust thickly filled with layers of ingredients, pan-cooked into a hefty pizza/casserole hybrid. Hush your East Coast thin-crust partisanship: Worden’s version is canonical and truly fine, especially the soppressata and garlic sausage pie ($20) with broccoli rabe, a slightly sweet, chunky tomato sauce and three quality cheeses— mozzarella, provolone and the Parmesan-like Grana Padano. The simpler margherita ($20) with that same rustic tomato sauce, good mozzarella and whole leaves of fresh basil is another winner, though a bit wetter than optimum. I’ll be back just for these.
There’s also a riff on the similarly peculiar Chicago dog, originally a steamed frank on a poppy-seed bun topped with mustard, onions, garishly neon-green relish, a dill-pickle spear, tomatoes, tiny pickled chilies and celery salt. Here, the Kobe beef Chi Town dog ($7) is unequivocally bizarre: a messy pileup of napa slaw, fat pickled mustard seeds and a wide smear of Sriracha mustard. It’s not bad, but alluding to the original is akin to adding tomatoes to New England clam chowder. You can do it; just call it something else, please.
A generous plate of crispy chicken wings ($13) is labeled “Carolina-style BBQ,” presumably a nod to the vinegary/sweet glaze. But a Buffalo native must have wandered into the kitchen, topping the wings with chopped celery and blue cheese alongside a ranch dressing dip. It’s weird but undeniably tasty. By contrast, grilled shrimp and green papaya salad ($14) reads like the classic Thai som tam, built on shredded (unripe, thus firm and savory) papaya, cucumbers, mango and some crunchy cashews, but the dressing lacks the essential chili heat and fish-sauce umami of the original, though the topper of plump grill-charred prawns is a saving grace.
Southie old-timers may roll their eyes at the use of “spuckies” (Italian-American subs) to describe Worden’s assortment of sandwiches on Pullman or flatbreads. But the house-smoked pastrami ($15), which is fiercely imbued with more applewood smoke than any pastrami I’ve ever tasted, is still superb, layered with beer cheese, whole-grain mustard and pickles between Iggy’s excellent dark rye. Red lentil and chickpea falafel ($13) is a spot-on take on the Levantine classic of crunchy legume fritters, pickled cucumbers, red onion and tahini in, for some reason, naan. A side of quality curly fries ($6) helps ease the misnomer cringes.
Meanwhile, smoked lamb ribs ($15) feature meaty, chewy specimens served with a good shepherd’s salad and creamy tzatziki, a perfect evocation of traditional Greek flavors. McQuinn also shines when he shows off his French technique, as in Parisienne gnocchi ($11), attractively pan-browned, just-firm, not-too-heavy little dumplings with squash, mushrooms, roasted-garlic cream sauce and good pecorino, likewise in celery root and honeycrisp apple soup ($8), a velvety, savory/sweet puree with shaved cabbage, bits of crisp pork belly and a drizzle of sherry vinaigrette. Entrees show similar finesse, as in sweet, faintly seared scallops ($27) flanked by a lovely bulgur pilaf with roasted corn, and tenderloin-like roasted beef shoulder tender ($28) with horseradish crema, red-wine jus and crunchy rosti potatoes. The few modest desserts include an oatmeal-based autumn fruit crisp ($8) of apples, pears, currants and excellent Christina’s cinnamon ice cream, hearty and comforting enough for two.
The big, bustling bar turns out creditable serious cocktails like the suddenly ubiquitous Last Word ($13) of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice. An impressive spirits selection, notably of whiskey, is another bonus, though menu prices would be helpful. The long, worthy beer list, with 40 taps and 60 bottles, suffers from confusing organization but covers enough ground, much of it local, to keep beer geeks coming back, from the acerbic cask-conditioned Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA ($8) to a big bottle of St. Louis Gueuze ($14), a wild-fermented Belgian lambic with an of-the-moment sourness. The wine list has decent, mostly modestly priced breadth in both glasses and bottles. Service does a respectable job of helping diners navigate the all-over-the-map food and beverages, and should not be blamed for the long pauses between courses on some jam-packed evenings.
Ultimately, while an overeducated gourmand can throw shade at the menu’s occasional malapropisms and odd-bedfellows concepts, Worden Hall still works beautifully overall for its New Old Southie neighborhood, mostly delivering well-executed, at times inspired food and drinks in a lively, convivial setting at fair prices. Tell your food-dork friends to stifle their snickering and just enjoy.
Hours: Mon.-Wed., 11:30 am-1 am, Thu.-Fri., 11:30 am-2 am, Sat.-Sun., 10:30 am-2 am (kitchen closes at 11:30 pm nightly)
Parking: Street spaces
Liquor: Full bar
Worden Hall 22 W. Broadway, Boston (617-752-4206) wordenhall.com