Right where Houston becomes East 1st Street at the corner of Avenue A sits Boulton & Watt, a restaurant/bar that’s decked out in brick and wood and looks right at home in its young professional-filled neighborhood. When I entered on a Thursday evening in early May, the after work crowd mingled with birthday partygoers, clogging up the space by the bar. The establishment is big enough to accommodate standing groups of loud twenty-somethings as well as other diners, all mostly of the younger set but a couple of older men in suits and a family were sprinkled in with the dining crowd.
Party horns honked as I made my way to a seat away from the bar and right by the windows facing the intersection of East 1st and Avenue A. I was told that perching on what appeared to be a large windowsill was the preferable seat at my table (the other, a stool that stood just uncomfortably lower than the sill). Thus, people watching—equal opportunity indoor and outdoor—served as the prime activity as I waited for my friend to arrive. The seating suggestion: so far much appreciated.
In terms of Boulton & Watt being a good place to have an in-depth conversation (I was there in part to catch up with an old friend), Thursday after work probably isn’t the best time. As soon as she got there, my friend was asking me to repeat myself and vice versa as the birthday crowd continued to—rage isn’t the right word, but a much lower scale version of it would work. Still, it felt like we had a private area to hang out in, as our table wasn’t too close to any of the surrounding ones, and we were much higher up (though I was still uncomfortably higher up than she).
Making up for that minor discomfort, both the host and the server knew how to make a patron feel at home. They were courteous, friendly, and attentive, bearing with us as we took a while to make our dining decisions. To start, we landed on the Steamed Littleneck Clams, an appetizer that called for a mental filing away: I would get those next time. The clams themselves were great, but the broth with bacon bits and garlic was what made them special. We were given just the right amount of bread to sop it all up (okay, I drank a couple spoonfuls of it alone, too, because it was that good).
While we decided on our entrees, my friend drank the IPA on tap (“solid”), and I had the Brown Derby, a simple bourbon cocktail with grapefruit and honey. It was refreshing without an overwhelming taste of alcohol or really any overwhelming taste of anything—perhaps because the ice melted as I nursed the beverage.
When we finally did make up our minds on our main meals, the server told us we ordered the two staples on the Boulton & Watt menu, Vegetarian “Spaghetti and Meatballs” and the Blackened Free Range Brick Amish Chicken. First off, I’d better explain what vegetarian spaghetti and meatballs look like. The “spaghetti” was actually spaghetti squash, and the “meatballs” were made of eggplant. The amazing part is that the dish actually looks like spaghetti and meatballs. My friend ordered this and was more impressed with the presentation than she was the taste. After all, it’s not often you get to eat at a meal at a bar that looks like it’s meat and carbs but is actually the much healthier option of vegetables and, well, vegetables. A+ for creativity.
I had the chicken, which was ultimately comfort food talked up as the best dish on the menu, but it fell short of being truly interesting. It wasn’t a meal I thought about after I’d finished eating it. However, the Bacon and Brussels Sprout Potatoes, which served as a bed for the chicken, also served to save it from its blandness (hey, chicken is sometimes just chicken), as did the chicken jus otherwise covering the (large) plate. Though $20, the portion size cemented the value. Not only did I feel satisfied with what I ate at the restaurant, but I also got another full meal out of my leftovers.
Just when we thought we were done with our meal—we were both pretty sated at that point—the server told us we’d be getting some dessert. As I tried to mentally make space in my stomach for this, a skillet full of Chocolate Chip Cookies with a pitcher of milk arrived at our table, then came a glass jar of something brown with a modest side of vanilla ice cream. Before figuring out exactly what the brown substance was (the server likely told us, but we didn’t hear), we dug into the cookie. It was delicious (I want to say, “obviously”) in that gooey, undercooked cookie sort of way. “Is it supposed to be that raw?” was my friend’s initial question, but she quickly came to wholeheartedly embrace the cookie: “People should come here just to get this.”
The chocolatey looking substance in the jar turned out to be brownie batter, so it was very much in the same vein as the cookie dessert. With the ice cream, it, too, was delicious, and the consistency was surprisingly pleasant for a dessert labeled “batter.” Of the two, the cookie was definitely supreme.
Though my back hurt by the end of the meal from sitting on that windowsill bench, I did grow accustomed to the noise level. My friend and I indeed got to catch up in an overall pleasant environment and over a solid, comforting meal if not a fabulous one. We only had one memorable mishearing, when I thought she was describing her boyfriend as “hot and nerdy” but she’d really used the word “awkwardly.” Luckily, those concepts are similar enough.
I would go back to Boulton & Watt for a solid, no frills meal with a beer…or maybe just a late night cookie snack. You can find it at 5 Avenue A in Manhattan, or call 646-490-6004.