Flash back to 1920’s, to the Speakeasies and Swanky hidden bars, throw into the mix both Southern soul and love, add a cultural willingness to forget boundaries and transform traditions with a cosmopolitan twist and you will begin to understand the Big Easy experience at Buttermilk & Bourbon in Boston, MA – (160 Commonwealth Ave, Boston 02116, 617-266-1122, www.buttermilkbourbon.com/about-us)
If by existential departure one could leap back in time and upon crossing the threshold find themselves dressed to the bees knees, ready for a swing flip of flavors enveloping southern cuisine in the Back Bay, you would be ready for a trip of a lifetime.
Entering Buttermilk & Bourbon from Commonwealth Avenue, located below street level in the Brownstone housing the restaurant, you’re instantly redirected into an intoxicating scene. One can envision F. Scott Fitzgerald heralding stories of escapades with Jay Gatsby, and Ernest Hemingway enthralling the patrons with tales of adventures to rival that of Gatsby. Tennessee Williams is in the Blue Room, providing an overture of literary prose with Brick Pollitt opining on life’s twists and pitfalls, while Arthur Miller chimes in on the singular personality and collective elements of life. John Coltrane and Miles Davis lure citizens off Commonwealth with a soulful-melancholy blend of sax undertones and crisp blue-note trumpet blasts. All of this experience only knows the bounds of one’s imagination. Engaged with friends enjoying the ambience, Jason and his team keep time at bay with creations from the kitchen that provide a Southern inspired culinary taste that knows only love of the type these men sought or wrote prose on to entangle us.
Buttermilk & Bourbon is Chef Jason Santos’ gem in Boston’s Back Bay providing Bostonians and visitors with a remarkable and unique culinary option that cannot be replicated but can only be experienced. Imbibing the flavors and dishes of New Orleans, Chef Santos takes the Big Easy sensuousness and creates tantalizing tapas that have no equal. You’re invited to dine, not eat – dine, and give in to the tastes unheard of in the Back Bay. The clock stands still as this experience feels like a Tennessee play, each tapas arriving in true lyrical prose.
On one evening in March, me and the crew popped in to dine. Having looked for a unique experience in Boston to try, all of us were game to sit back and let Santos’ team take care of us. We turned our entire adventure over to the well honed team at Buttermilk & Bourbon. Now I will quote a few lines from Jason’s stunning and exciting cookbook to make some points, but nothing makes the point better than his food. As Jason notes, he is THE Southern Grandma, and his Honey-Glazed Biscuits leave no doubt! We didn’t want to fill up on bread but couldn’t get enough of this signature dish (so much so I had to take some back and hold for family to try later in the week). Drizzled with an infused honey of hidden treasures and dusted with flaked sea-salt, these warm biscuits were the bees knees when topped with a spread of Smoked Cinnamon Butter or Pimento Cheese. Savory or sweet, you get to pick the direction your tastes buds wish to travel.
With his Peel and Eat Shrimp, Jason “injects the Southern SMACK” down and takes the traditional shrimp cocktail and jacks it up to a dish Maggie would love. Shell on to maximize the flavor, these shrimp get kissed with a jazzed up cocktail sauce winking with some New England flavors of molasses and clove along with standards of horseradish, lemon and Worcestershire sauce. These peel and eats will directly lead to a reduction of the shrimp stock in the greater New England area.
Adult candy of unknown boundaries was brought to our table; an unworldly treat. To say you like bacon seems so passé or overplayed by many after this visit to Buttermilk & Bourbon. Jason has created a savory crackling treat that takes pork, in this case pork belly, to orgasmic (that’s right a guy is using that word) heights. When this tapas dish arrived, in minutes I found all around the table staring in wonder at the Thief because of the guttural notes of pure culinary joy that were being uttered. Soon there was an orchestra of vocal joy that could be set to a Davis score. Jason’s team knows the secret to insatiable desire, for they have to make plenty of his Pork Belly Cracklings with Cheddar Salt to feed not only the patrons but the staff as well. Brined, rendered slow and low in blended oil with duck fat and then crisped, the crackling pork is dressed with a cheddah salt that makes for an unworldly savory treat. The culinary voodoo that Jason imparts in this dish will leave you beggin for more, the Thief guarantees it!
Our culinary trip to the Bayou is by no means over, but a meal inspired by New Orleans must have – repeat must have – Fresh Fried Beignets. Jason notes that there is one word (well four) for this staple of his soulful lineup – fried pillows of love. Combining love with cayenne pepper and bacon fat, these fried pillows are exquisitely soft coming out of the cast iron then doused with cinnamon and powder sugar. To say they rival Café Dumont is an understatement! On our night these pillows of love were topped with a mint green soft serve ice-cream and thick hot fudge drizzle. Melting from both sides, the mint green ice-cream enveloped the beignets like a cool breeze on a hot summah night. If someone could take a Grasshopper cocktail and convert it into a delectable desert this offering from Jason hits that mark. The ice-cream and fudge topping changes each night so count your timing right to catch this Grasshopper in the Back Bay.
The final act of this play ends on what has to be the most decadent of southern influences, though quite unconventionally colonial. The Chef’s Twiced Fried Duck Drummettes are platted with a sauce that all in our party felt was pure genius incarnate. Enveloped in Buttermilk & Bourbon’s signature dredge (using masa flour which imparts a unique nuttiness), the duck drummettes are fried to perfection. Seasoned with Cajun-Viet herbs and sprinkled with rice crisps this tapas dish woke up the taste buds with a little zing and a little zang, but it gets better. Enter the drizzle sauce – using crab fat (yes the Thief said crab fat). A caramelized boiled peanut caramel sauce is drizzled over the drummettes creating a richness and sultriness to this dish that embodies a Lush Life as John could only improvise. These crab-fat caramel drizzled duck drummettes impart a carnal culinary knowledge thru a flavor like nothing this Thief has ever tasted. Whereas the pork belly cracklings drew rambunctious overtones of joy, these drummettes stirred the deep soulful roots of this culinary traveler.
Through his cookbook of the same name and his nightly teases to lucky ones that know which Brownstone to enter, Jason entices his patrons with many signature dishes that will cause all to return again and again to see, taste and enjoy his innovations. Jason says strong signatures are important to a chef because it is what one becomes known for. We at the Chicken Thief Kitchens hope to do justice in showcasing your signature styles Jason in this review. We look forward to returning to be enthralled by the transporting environment and transcendental creations which through your love, lifts our soul. Jason Santos says it well, love of the south is all around at Buttermilk & Bourbon and we at Chicken Thief Kitchens hope you go and check out this southern gem the next time you’re in Boston’s Back Bay.