The South End has long been one of Boston’s top dining destinations and, after a few slow years, appears to be roaring back. Wink & Nod, Five Horses Tavern and Boston Chops are examples of newcomers breathing life into old spaces, and more are on the way. Further, the neighborhood is embracing a critical recent trend on the larger scene: leading with a strong beverage program. While not everyone can execute craft cocktails at the level of a Drink or Hawthorne, many new restaurants now offer beautifully constructed cocktails, interesting wines and geek-worthy beer lists. Merrill & Co., the brand-new South End spot from the folks behind Downtown Crossing’s smash hipster-bar-with-food jm Curley, is the latest example of this laudable development.

Both restaurants share talented beverage director Kevin Mabry, and Merrill features a specialty cocktail list full of inventive, delicious originals like the St. Charles Punch ($10), in which late-bottled vintage port adds fruitiness and a beautiful magenta hue to cognac and lemon, with Tiki-like garnishes of nutmeg and mint. A Pimm’s Cup Slushie ($9) out of the frozen-drink machine puts a fun, fresh-ginger-spiked spin on the stuffy British summer cooler. The Chipiona ($11) combines the slightly floral Ford’s gin with fino sherry, blanc vermouth and celery bitters, like a bone-dry martini by way of Dr. Brown’s. Mabry’s interest in fortified wines is further reflected by a 17-strong by-the-glass list of sherries ($8-$11). Twenty-six beers in cans and bottles ($4.50-$12, large formats $15-$38) and 10 on tap ($5-$8) emphasize small American producers but include some Belgian and Germans, plus a few craft hard ciders. Wines are unusual and affordable, with nine by the glass ($8-$12) and 26 bottles ($28-$150, most under $50). Combine the bar staff’s warm hospitality and precise technical chops with well-curated spirits, wines and beers, plus top-quality fresh juices, bitters and garnishes behind them, and you immediately have one of the South End’s best bars.

Meanwhile, executive chef Jason Cheek puts out a similarly useful and of-the-moment menu, spurning the so-last-century app/entree/dessert progression in favor of a share-everything approach based on snacks, small plates and big platters. Raw bar offerings include a daily selection of local oysters—not cheap at $3 a throw, but fresh and pristine. Snacks are at once familiar and nicely executed, like deviled eggs ($6) accompanied by good house-made pickles, and a heaping bowl of fried pork rinds ($5) with a first-rate vinegar/espelette pepper sauce: excellent drinking food. Generously sized small plates include vegetable dishes that tend toward the non-vegetarian, complicated and umami-rich, like sugar snap peas ($8) with bacon, sweet soy and Meyer lemon; cauliflower ($8) in a terrific onion jam with almonds; and a superb plate of asparagus ($12) with slices of crisp sunchoke and the lovely creaminess of cured egg.

Cheek shows a particularly deft hand with seafood, keeping it nicely simple with hamachi crudo ($13) barely touched with beet miso and ponzu. The wonderful tiger shrimp ($18) is sauteed and given a bit of intense, fermented funkiness with XO sauce and black beans. Octopus ($18) is long braised to great tenderizing effect and afforded fine contrast with kimchee and charred onion. Fried catfish ($12) with a bland kohlrabi slaw and tartar sauce shows a hint of a Southern accent. Similarly skillfully fried oysters ($14) benefit mightily from the strangely marcasite-toned but delicious squid-ink aioli; with luck, the superior original version of this dish with fried smelts ($14) will return. For your friends who have resisted sea urchin, Merrill has a beginner’s version in uni French bread ($16), as unthreatening-looking as dorm-room toaster-oven pizza, but a lot tastier.

Larger plates include a perfectly done and deftly tableside-filleted whole fish (black bass one night, $37) with a spicy, terrific cucumber-based sambal plus two sides. The impressive 32-ounce bone-in ribeye ($54) is given a boost of fattiness with lardo and beef butter. The short list of desserts includes a light, simple version of blackberry panna cotta ($7), though you could opt instead for a classic Brooklyn egg cream ($5) of milk, seltzer and Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup topped with the proper old-timey paper straw.

Fans of jm Curley will recognize the style of service here, signified by raglan baseball tees and snap-back trucker hats: sassy, friendly and informal, as befits a place that seems as much raucous neighborhood tavern as restaurant. Utterly exorcising the slick modern gorgeousness of its predecessor, Merrill’s interior has gone mid-century retro with chrome and black Naugahyde barstools and chairs, pressed-tin ceilings and vintage advertising and neon signs, though modern charcoal tones and polished concrete floors save it from veering too far into malt-shop pastiche. Two additional bars overlook the open kitchen and raw bar, while the large, comfy patio survives as a major asset. You might think of Merrill & Co. as jm Curley with the rough edges burnished off for an older, sedater South End crowd. With its grazing and sharing, love of local seafood, copious bar and communal seating, high-quality drinks and studied informality, it also serves as an attractive compendium on The Way We Eat Now.


MC’s Picks:             

Tiger shrimp


Uni French bread


Whole fish


Hours: Sun.-Mon., 5:30-11 pm; Tue.-Sat., 5:30 pm-12:30 am (full menu till 11 pm)

Credit cards: Yes

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Street and valet

Liquor: Full bar


Merrill & Co. | 1 Appleton St., Boston | 617-728-0728 |



Merrill & Co.

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