99 Essential Restaurants 2014

The Hart and the Hunter

photo by Anne Fishbein

Almost a year and a half after opening, the buzz surrounding the Hart and the Hunter has died down somewhat, and the once jam-packed dining room in the bottom of the Palihotel on Melrose is a wee bit calmer than it used to be. At lunch, the room can be downright serene: The tile walls and vintage plates and oddball artwork take on an almost romantic quality in the soft sunlight. But the cooking, by co-chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga, might be better than ever. This is New Southern cooking at its finest — there is nowhere else in town to get grits this good, much less served, as they are here, under a medium-rare steak topped with fried oysters and a medley of wild mushrooms. The biscuits remain a mystery — how do they cram that much butter into one baked good? There are familiar standbys on the menu, like smoked trout in a jar, which comes with avocado-smeared toast, sliced hard-boiled eggs and the most gorgeous little salad of pickled onions, capers and parsley; or chicken skin cracklins, served with hot pepper vinegar to cut through the schmaltz. A short, weird (in a good way) wine and beer list and a smart and dedicated staff make the Hart and the Hunter now feel like an odd little gem rather than the toast of the town. Really, it should be both.

-- Besha Rodell