You can learn a lot about a restaurant by how it makes meatloaf. At the newest location of the Local Kitchen & Drinks in Woburn, the kitchen is cooking up a winning recipe that puts first things first.
“We were selling so many of our burgers,” says co-owner Frank Santo. “I said, ‘Why don’t we take that prime beef and make a new dish?’” Brainstorming led to an updated version of the comfort food classic. Just a modest amount of egg serves as binder for the substantial loaf. No breadcrumbs are used as filler. After emerging from the oven, each generous slice is grilled to order, topped with mushroom sauce, and plated with roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, and hand-mashed potatoes. Thoughtful, crowd-pleasing details are par for the course at this growing group of restaurants.
Santo, together with co-owner Tom Wynn, opened the first location of the Local in Newton, back in 2008, followed by Wayland and Wellesley in 2013. The hundred-seat Woburn outpost, open since November, is in the space where Masa used to be. The former restaurant’s Southwestern color palette has been replaced by dark wood, exposed brick, and early-20th-century photos depicting life in Woburn and Winchester. Executive chef Tim Henning (previously of Fishbones of Chelmsford) heads up the kitchen.
Even on the early side of Saturday night, expect a half-hour wait. Families with energetic tots are tucking into dinner, while friends in high spirits sip cocktails at the granite-top bar and watch college basketball on mounted flat screens. Snuggly couples make the most of crowded circumstances and cozy lighting.
A crab cake appetizer ($13) takes its cue from the meatloaf. The pan-seared puck of seafood is almost entirely meat, fresh and sweet. Garnished with arugula, shaved pecorino, and a lemon wedge swaddled in old-school mesh to catch stray seeds, it is quite appealing. So is the harvest salad ($11), baby kale and mesclun greens dotted with red grapes and roasted sweet potato, all liberally dressed in citrusy vinaigrette.
Fig and prosciutto flatbread ($16) is a piping hot 12-inch pie, amply adorned with the salumi and peppery arugula. Figgy sweetness shows up in the balsamic-infused sauce rather than as identifiable nubbins of fruit.
Chicken fingers ($8), ordered by our table’s youngest guest, are a surprise hit. These breast meat tenders, battered and fried to achieve a golden crust, are served with skin-on russet fries. Our young friend fends off poaching attempts by the adults.
Not everything achieves those heights. Buffalo cauliflower ($9) sounds promising. We envision fried-crisp florets, seasoned like spicy chicken wings. Instead, mushy morsels arrive on overdressed slaw, doused with a vinegar-laden sauce. Also, be aware that at peak hours this eatery is loud — so loud that it’s hard to hear your server. For a more serene vibe, ask to be seated toward the back, or stop by during daylight hours.
Brunch on a snowy Sunday is just right. The soundtrack is jazzy, and conversation is easy, especially with our attentive server who seems to be in a particularly good mood. “Crabby Benny” ($16) is a satisfying rendition of crab cake Benedict with poached eggs, under a blanket of velvety hollandaise. It comes with cornbread and a scoop of maple-cinnamon butter, plus a drink of choice. Get the Bloody Mary, kicky with horseradish and the perfect amount of salt.
Until last year, Santo also owned Isabella Restaurant in Dedham. He recently sold it to focus on the four Locals. “I used to think it was all about the food,” he says, reflecting on his early years as a restaurateur. “That’s important, of course, but service is just as important,” he says. He trains new staff to remember what’s essential, especially when the crush of customers is heavy.
“I tell them, ‘One guest at a time,’ ” he says.
THE LOCAL KITCHEN & DRINKS
350 Cambridge Road, Woburn, 781-932-5910, www.liveeatlocal.com
All credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Appetizers $5-$14. Soup, salad $7-$16. Brunch $16. Kid’s menu $3-$10. Entrees $13-$26 (most under $20). Dessert $8.
Liquor Full bar
What to order Meatloaf, crab cake appetizer, harvest salad, fig and prosciutto flatbread, chicken fingers, crab cake Benedict.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.