348 Congress Street, Boston, MA
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m
Dinner: Sunday – Thursday 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday – Saturday 4:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday – Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
If you’re interested in fine dining in Boston, Barbara Lynch is a name that is probably worth learning. Ever since founding No. 9 Park fifteen years ago, her influence in the Boston restaurant scene has grown, along with the number of restaurants in her culinary empire. The “Barbara Lynch Gruppo” now boasts six restaurants (No. 9 Park, Menton, B&G Oysters, The Butcher Shop, Sportello, and Stir), a bar (Drink), and a catering company (9 at Home). Each offers its own focus, and a couple even have prices that make them semi-accessible to college students. Despite their differences, they all share critical acclaim.
Sportello is described on its website as “a modern interpretation of a classic diner,” but it isn’t like any diner I’ve been to. A ten-minute walk from South Station brings you to the restaurant’s open, airy space in Fort Point. The most diner-esque thing about Sportello is the serpentine counter that weaves through the dining room and accounts for most of the seating. There are only a few tables that can accommodate larger parties, so don’t bring a group without a reservation. Watching the staff prepare food at each of their stations in the open kitchen behind the counter is an added bonus to the meal. The one downside of all this openness though is that when the restaurant gets crowded it can become a bit too loud. The service here is generally good, though there have been times when I have wished my server was a bit more knowledgeable about the menu and more prompt about clearing plates or bringing the check.
The menu has a number of snacks and appetizers, but I’m usually more happy sticking with the one that comes free with your meal. Instead of the typical bread and butter, the complimentary snack at Sportello is bread served with whipped ricotta, olive oil, and figs. It’s light and slightly sweet, and addictive with the fresh bread.
As for the rest of the menu, you should be singularly focused on the “Pasta & Polenta” section. Barbara Lynch has long received plaudits for her pasta at No. 9 Park, and she has certainly relayed her talents to Sportello in this regard. Many view the North End as the city’s mecca for great Italian food, but I’ve never had pasta in the North End that has topped the offerings at Sportello. My favorite dish is the Potato Gnocchi with mushroom ragu, peas, and cream ($22). The gnocchi are light and delicate and nearly melt in your mouth while the fresh peas nicely balance the rich cream sauce. I also recommend the Strazzopretti with braised rabbit, olives, and rosemary ($24), a lighter and almost equally delicious option.
While those two are my favorites, every other pasta I’ve tried here has still been outstanding: the Tagliatelle Bolognese ($24), Polenta with Porcini or lamb ragu ($23. Luckily, you might not have to choose just one. One of the best things about Sportello’s menu is that you can order any of the pastas as an appetizer portion, so you can try multiple dishes in a single meal if you (understandably) can’t decide on just one. Their menu also lists more conventional entrees that are available, like veal cheeks and skate wing, but why bother? They’re a bit more expensive, and from my experience entrees of this type and quality are more common and easier to find.
In the case that you haven’t “accidentally” ordered too much food and are left wanting something sweet, Sportello has you covered. I’ve tried their not-so-sweet olive oil cake and a slightly-too-sweet strawberry and pink peppercorn pavlova (both $8) off the dessert menu, but the real treats are in the bakery counter opposite the kitchen. In this glass case you’ll find a menagerie of cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pies, and pastries, all of which are as reasonably priced as they are delicious. “The Elvis” cupcake (banana cake, peanut butter frosting, candied bacon and honey; $2.25) is one of my favorite desserts in Boston. I can also confidently say that Sportello’s cupcakes are superior to those at other, more hyped bakeries around the city (cough… Sweet… cough).
But it is with a heavy heart that I tell you about the bakery counter, as I have recently learned that it will only be around for a few more weeks.
As Sportello celebrates its fifth anniversary, it will be remodeled, and the bakery counter, paninis, and less formal lunch options will be removed. These changes are scheduled to happen around Thanksgiving, so I suggest you stock up on Elvis cupcakes while you can.