BOSTON – Fact. Chef Matt Foley is a morning person.
“I never let anyone else open. That’s my favorite part of every day,” said Foley, the chef at The Merchant, a new restaurant in Boston’s Downtown Crossing area. “Turning the lights on. Turning the ovens on. It’s something about the kitchen is fresh. Nothing’s been cooked yet. I like starting the process of our day which is the process of a long day with a ton of work to be done.”
And at The Merchant, you’ll always find him behind the line seasoning, searing, and sauteeing no matter what time of day it is.
New to the Downtown Crossing area, this American Brasserie is a go to spot for casual fare done right. And that’s because Matt put in a number of years at high end restaurants like Radius and Craigie on Main. So, he takes all his fine dining know-how and applies it to a fun, more approachable menu.
“We’re not fine dining,” said Foley. “It doesn’t mean the food can’t be of the same quality. We wanted to go a little simpler. I wanted to have more fun.”
Along with the help of General Manager Tina Reynolds, they’ve converted an old leather goods shop into this handsome eatery complete with red leather banquettes, dramatic high ceilings, a bustling bar serving up inventive cocktails and an oyster bar that may be small. But boy can they shuck.
“Oyster bar is a lot of fun. People like to sit there and watch, kind of interact with the person that’s shucking that day,” said Reynolds.
And while there’s plenty of shucking, sipping and sampling going on in the dining room, downstairs in the kitchen, Matt and his team are putting on a serious show of their own.
Some of their signature dishes include a beautiful baby beet salads garnished with pistachio and oranges, housemade asparagus pasta spiked with shrimp and chorizo, and even sweet breads – a delicasy most customers have never tried before.
“They’re not used to it,” Foley explained. “They don’t know what it is so I tried to prepare it as simply as I could to make it approachable. So we make nuggets out of it. Everyone in America is familiar with chicken nuggets. So we make sweetbread nuggets.”
Reynolds said it doesn’t take customers long to enjoy the dish.
“It’s one of those items that you’re like just try it. If you try it you’ll love it.”
Foley, meanwhile, said the sweetbread nuggets are not your average chicken nugget.
“It’s very similar to a chicken nugget but they’re juicy and they’re just way more succulent than a chicken nugget could ever be,” Foley said of the creation.
The Merchant’s Chicken Wings aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill buffalo. Instead, Foley amps them up with an Asian style sauce he came up with after much experimenting.
“Trust me I love my buffalo chicken wings but we wanted to do something that separated us. I spent three months trying to create an awesome wing glaze recipe. There’s literally too many ingredients for me to list, probably like 30 ingredients.
“I wanted them to she sweet, sour, salty, spicy, just like hit everything you could want. And then we fry therm really crispy and toss them in that glaze.”
Of course, if you just want something simple like a burger, The Merchant has you covered like brioche bun.
“Being a brasserie we said we needed to have an awesome burger,” Foley said. “We wanted to do a huge burger. I said I wanted everything to be over the top. So a big 9-ounce burger. Really nice cheddar cheese, homemade bacon and a huge helping of black pepper aioli. It’s just really juicy, saucy. It’s really rich and decadent as far as burgers go.”
For entrees, The Merchant serves Steak Frites drizzled with a flavorful pan sauce and an artfully presented Halibut that’s straight from the fish pier.
The Slow Roasted Chicken is consistently moist and served on a bed of Mashed Potatoes and Spinach…while the so-called “Pork Two Ways.”
The menu changes daily based on whatever Chef Matt feels like doing.
“Right now we’re doing house smoked ribs and a slow roasted loin,” Foley said. “It’s constantly changing so when you come in here it could be those two things. Me and my sous chef say ‘What do we want to do next with the pork.’ And because it just says Pork Two Ways on the menu we can keep changing it as we want. You need dishes like this on the menu to keep you inspired and pushing forward. It’s fun.”
And Matt likes to pass all of that inspiration down to his team by taking the time to invest in their culinary education.
“One of the parts of my jobs that I love the most is spending time teaching our young cooks to help develop their skills and to get to help them become better cooks,” said Foley. “If I don’t teach them how to do the stuff that I was doing 6 months ago, I can’t learn news things and I can’t keep pushing forward with everything that we want to do.”
And with a team that passionate putting love into every plate, you simply gotta eat here.
Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.
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